31A Vane Attempt

"Don't Need a Weatherman To Tell Which Way the Wind Blows" 

A Series of Innocuous Blogs for Vainglorious Edification.

In Memory of the Warsaw Ghetto April 19, 1943

April 17, 2008 

On May 13, 1931 the International Olympic Committee headed by Belgian Henri Bailett-Latour awarded the 1936 Olympics Games to Germany.  It was a politically controversial decision; only thirteen years earlier German aggression in the First World War had been defeated at great human cost.  The Olympic award was meant to signal Germany’s return to the global community as a reborn, industrious citizen putting politics aside in favor of international good will and athletics.  

Two years later Adolf Hitler was appointed German chancellor and he rapidly collapsed the nascent German democracy into a one party dictatorship.  On February 28, 1933 the Nazi Party instituted its first suspension of free speech, free right to assemble, free press and other basic freedoms.  Hitler’s brand of fascism pressed for the “purification” of the German Aryan race.  And so began a relentless campaign against Germany’s half million Jews, Gypsies and ethnic minorities.  During the next two years the Nazi Party opened Dachau, the first permanent concentration camp; they passed laws excluding Jews from teaching and government employment, and a legal basis for forced sterilization of handicapped, psychiatric patients, Gypsies and Blacks, arrests of homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses and anti-Jewish and ethnic race laws. 

One of Hitler’s first steps in creating his totalitarian Police State was the rounding up and silencing of political dissidents.  These included liberals, socialists, Communists, unionists and intellectuals.  They were arrested and sent to Dachau for re-education through forced labor.  In 1935 Nuremberg laws denied Jews citizenship and prohibited Jews to marry or have sexual relations with people of “German or related blood.”  During this time, with the prospect of a glorious Olympic Games in hand, Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels issued this statement:

“German sport has only one task: to strengthen the character of the German people, imbuing it with the fighting spirit and steadfast camaraderie necessary in the struggle for its existence.”

The German Olympic Committee was directed by the overlord of the Reich Sports Office, Director von Tschammer und Osten.  Hitler and the Nazi Party quickly co-opted the event to promote Germany’s return to the world stage and celebrate the Nazi image of Aryan prowess.  Support for the Olympics was promoted as patriotic and a source of great German national pride.  But worldwide controversy arose over the Nazi Party’s discrimination against Blacks and Jewish athletes.  In 1933 Jewish athletes had been excluded from German sports and athletic clubs and were forced to form their own Jewish athletic associations.  But their facilities were no match for well funded German facilities.  In 1935, as a gesture to deflect international criticism, “Olympic training courses” were instituted for Jewish athletes.  However, no Jewish athlete from any of these courses participated in the Berlin Olympics.

As the Nazi Party continued to exclude and persecute Jewish athletes, a movement in the United States to boycott the Berlin Olympics arose.  In spite of American inequitable treatment of Black athletes, Avery Brundage, President of the American Olympic Committee stated: "The very foundation of the modern Olympic revival will be undermined if individual countries are allowed to restrict participation by reason of class, creed, or race."  And the New York Committee on Fair Play in Sports issued this statement on November 15, 1935:

“...Sport is prostituted when sport loses its independent and democratic character and becomes a political institution...Nazi Germany is endeavoring to use the Eleventh Olympiad to serve the necessities and interests of the Nazi Regime rather than the Olympic ideals.”

The debate for a United States boycott of the Berlin Olympics grew more heated, headed on the one side by Avery Brudage who, in spite of Nazi persecution of Jewish athletes, wanted the games to go on - and Judge Jeremiah Mahoney, President of the Amateur Athletic Union.  Mahoney pointed out that Germany had broken Olympic rules forbidding discrimination based on race and religion.  It was his position that sending an American Olympic team to Berlin was an endorsement of the Nazi Party and Hitler’s Third Reich.  And the controversy raged on.  In November of 1935 American member of the International Olympic Committee, Ernest Lee Jahncke wrote to President of the IOC, Count Henri Baillet-Latour:

“Neither Americans nor the representatives of other countries can take part in the Games in Nazi Germany without at least acquiescing in the contempt of the Nazis for fair play and their sordid exploitation of the Games.”

For his strong stand against the Berlin games Jahncke, a former assistant secretary of the Navy, of German Protestant descent, was expelled from the International Olympic Committee.   Goebbles's Ministry of Propaganda worked feverishly in the background to counter the boycott movement.   By 1934 the Nazi Party had
infiltrated the Olympic Organizing Committee, contrary to the Olympic code which required the Organizing Committee to
be independent of any direct political influence.(1)  But Goebbels, desperate to trumpet his Party and inflate its Aryan image, leaned hard on German pride both at home and abroad.

In the end Brundage won the fight and after the IOC guaranteed their safety, the U.S. agreed to send a team including sixteen Black men and two Black women .  The Black athletes were all from white universities, demonstrating the inequity of training facilities at American Black colleges.  But the attitude of many Black newspapers at the time was it would be better to send athletes who would counter Hitler’s Aryan propaganda and bolster Black esteem.

For two weeks in February, 1936 Germany hosted the Winter Olympics at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the Bavarian Alps.  Under pressure from the IOC, Hitler ordered anti-Semitic posters and slogans removed during the games.  But western journalists observed German troop movements at Garmisch and as a result, Hitler minimized his military presence during the Summer Games.  Twelve days after the end of the Winter Olympics and five months before the Summer Games, German troops annexed the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland between Germany and France.  There was no military response.

The Berlin Olympic Games represented a world class arena for the Nazi propaganda machine which was unsurpassed at staging public spectacles and rallies.  Enormous stadiums, gleaming new fields and carefully choreographed pageantry created a convincing façade hiding the ruthless Nazi Party that imprisoned political dissidents and persecuted religious minorities.  The German Reich Press Chamber under the direction of Goebbels’s Ministry of Propaganda controlled and censored German press, radio, film and publishing.  The Chamber issued a number of directives aimed at strictly controlling the German press and their reportage of the Olympic Games:

"German newspapers will print -- at their own risk -- reports from the Olympics released prior to the official press report." July 22, 1936

"The racial point of view should not be used in any way in reporting sports results; above all Negroes should not be insensitively reported. ...Negroes are American citizens and must be treated with respect as Americans." August 3, 1936

In an attempt to “clean up” Berlin, the Ministry of Interior issued a directive to the Berlin Police to arrest all Gypsies prior to the Olympic Games.  On July 16, nearly 800 Gypsies were arrested and interned under Police guard at a special Gypsy camp at Marzhan.  And in a move to appear hospitable to thousands of international spectators, Nazi authorities suspended anti-homosexual laws for foreigners.  But even as the Olympic festivities promised international harmony and one world vision, a new concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, just 18 miles north of Berlin was under construction.  Soon after the Olympic closing ceremonies, political opponents of the Party, intellectuals, liberals socialists and several hundred Jehovah’s Witnesses, were arrested and imprisoned there. Three years later, September 1, 1939 German tanks and troops rolled into Poland in the first Blitzkrieg of World War II. 

On April 19th, 1943 inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto rose in armed resistance against the German SS and police.  During the month of fighting 7,000 Jews were killed, another 7,000 were sent to the Treblinka extermination center, and 42,000 were deported to forced-labor camps in Poniatowa, Trawniki and the Lublin /Majdanek concentration camp. 

 On April 22nd, 1945 a unit of the 47th Soviet Army liberated the Sachsenhausen camp.  An estimated 35,000 human beings had been exterminated there.

(1) (Krüget, “The 1936 Olympic Games-Berlin,” p. 168-173)

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: