The Nazi games of Berlin in 1936

When the IOC decided in 1931 to hold the games of 1936 in Berlin, Germany was ruled by a centrist coalition. In 1933 Hitler came to power and issued racist laws against the Jews. Immediately there was an international doubt whether Berlin was still a suitable host city for the Olympics. The Nazi idea of the superiority of the Arian race was in strong contradiction with the Olympic principle of the equality of all men.

Josef Goebbels, the German minister of propaganda, realized that the games were a great opportunity to demonstrate to the outside world the German organizational talent and the physical prowess of the German athletes. The Germans promised the IOC that they would allow the Jews to compete for a place in the German team - although they made it almost impossible in practice - and the games in Berlin took place. Nazi symbols, e.g. the swastika and the Hilter salute, were omnipresent. But the great hero of these Nazi games was the black Jesse Owens, who proved wrong the Nazi theory about the Arian superiority by winning four gold medals (100 m, 200 m, 400 m relay race and the long jump).

At the games of 1936 the Olympic flame was ceremonially lit for the first time. The games are recorded in the famous documentary 'Olympia' by Leni Riefenstahl.

© KU Leuven, 2012