1936 Berlin Olympics

By Kingsley Amadi

Hitler and the 1936 Olympics

Adolf Hitler, who was not a sports fan, had been lukewarm toward the whole idea of hosting the 1936 Olympics. It had taken some effort by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels to convince him that the Olympic festivities could be exploited to advance the Nazi cause both inside and outside of Germany. The Games had been awarded to Germany by the International Olympic Committee back in May 1931, before Hitler came to power. It was the second time the modern Olympics were scheduled to be held in Germany. The 1916 Olympics scheduled for Berlin were canceled due to World War I. Under Goebbels' direction, the Nazis intended to use the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin as a showcase for the "new Germany." The Nazis also hoped to profit from the tens of thousands of souvenir-hungry tourists who would bring much needed foreign currency into the country.

Louis Zamperini

Louis Zamperini was born to Italian-immigrant parents - living in Olean, New York. Often in trouble, Louie's focus changed when he was 15 years old. His brother suggested that athletics might be good for him, and Louie agreed. Still in high school, he decided to run - as fast as he could - everywhere he could. Unexpectedly, Louie had a chance to participate in the 1936 Summer Olympics which were scheduled for Berlin. One significant event had propelled him into the limelight. In May of 1934, he'd set a new record for the national interscholastic mile. His time - 4.21 and two-tenths - stood, unbroken, for eighteen years. Arriving in Berlin, during the summer of 1936, Olympic athletes like Zamperini saw swastikas flying everywhere. The "Juden Verboten" signs - forbidding entry to Jewish people - were temporarily out of sight. As head of state, Hitler opened the Games. Whenever he entered the stadium, to watch events, the crowds cheered for him. Once the audience even spelled out this greeting: Wir gehoeren Dir. Translated into English, that phrase means: "We belong to you." Louie did not compete against Jesse Owens. Instead, he ran the 5,000 meters - a long race that was not his forte - against a group of Finns who'd been winning the race for years. Biding his time, he initially misjudged how fast his competitors would run. When he realized he needed to move more quickly, he kicked into high gear, finishing in 14:46.8 - the fastest 5,000-meter time for an American in 1936. He finished his last lap in 56 seconds. Later, when he met Hitler, Louie was surprised that the German leader remembered him. "Ah," he said. "You're the boy with the fast finish."

Achievements in the Berlin Olympics

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German fans hail Hitler during the opening ceremony of the Olympic games

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Jesse Owens and female USA track teammate interact during a break