“The Olympic games held in Berlin in August of 1936 afforded the Nazis a golden opportunity to impress the world with the achievements of the Third Reich and they made the most of it. The signs of “Juden unerwuenscht” (“Jews not welcome”) were quietly hauled down from the shops, hotels, beer gardens and places of public entertainment…” – William Shirer
“almost religious event, the crowd screaming, swaying in unison and begging for Hitler. There was something scary about it; his cult of personality.” – Thomas Wolfe
The Games of the XI Olympiad were opened on today’s date, August 1 in 1936 in the city of Berlin, the capitol city of Germany. That nation was then governed by the murderous Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, one of if not the foremost monster in history. And I thought that with the games of the XXXI Olympiad coming up in Rio de Janeiro in just a few days, that it might be a good idea to take a look back at what happened when Hitler ran the opening show. Because even though, as William Shirer points out the Nazis were determined to put the brightest face on their ugly regime, to many such as the novelist Thomas Wolfe, there was something scary lurking beneath.
Berlin Builds the Biggest Stadium Ever
Berlin had been chosen over Barcelona, Spain, on 26 April 1931, at the 29th IOC Session two years before the Nazis came to power. Hitler was actually indifferent to sports, so it took some convincing on the part of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels to convince Der Fuehrer that the whole thing was worth the effort. But now that Hitler’s crew had the reigns, they were determined to out-do the 1932 Games in Los
Angeles. Towards which end, the Nazi regime sunk 42 million Reich- marks into a fabulous Olympic sports complex comprising some 325 acres. And the centerpiece was to be an enormous Olympic Stadium, built of stone and which could accommodate 110,000 spectators. These Opening Ceremonies were of course held in this brand new edifice beginning with the Parade of Nations (above). A speech by the head of Germany’s Olympic Committee, and then Hitler declared the Games open.
The Opening Ceremony Shows Nazi Precision
The idea of having a torch relay first came up with the Amsterdam games of 1928, but it was Nazis who came up with the idea of having the torch relay originate in Olympia and then be carried all the way to the top off the stadium wherein it would burn throughout the games.
“The Guardian”, a British newspaper summarized the precision of this opening ceremony in its edition of Aug. 3 :
“The opening ceremony of the eleventh Olympic Games took place here this afternoon in the Stadium at the Reich Sports Field. It was probably the longest ritual that has ever heralded the opening of these Games. It was arranged and carried out with mathematical exactitude by the German Organising Committee, and in the course of it there were moments of beauty and significance which one will remember.
“There were others – not many of them – when one felt that the strength of German national feeling had a little outgrown discretion, but it was a memorable ceremony, immensely enhanced by the nobility of the great Stadium in which it was carried out.”
The Pigeons Finish It Off by Making a Deposit on the 1936 Olympics
But the military precision of it all, the determination to glorify the Nazi regime and Hitler himself could not control everything. One bit of pomp turned to poop as related by an athlete who witnessed it, Distance Runner Louis Zamperini:
“They released 25,000 pigeons, the sky was clouded with pigeons, the pigeons circles overhead, and then they shot a cannon, and they scared the poop out of the pigeons, and we had straw hats, flat straw hats, and you could heard the pitter-patter on our straw hats, but we felt sorry for the women, for they got it in their hair, but I mean there were a mass of droppings, and I say it was so funny…”
The Thin Veneer of Nazi Hospitality at the 1936 Olympics
Uncooperative pigeons notwithstanding the truth of this regime and it’s vicious anti-semitic, anti- religious character were always there lurking, except for the more gullible observer. As William Shirer wrote:
“the persecution of the Jews, and of the two Christian Churches temporarily halted, and the country put on its best behavior. No previous games had seen such a spectacular organization nor such a lavish display of entertainment. Goering, Ribbentrop, and Goebbels gave dazzling parties for the foreign visitors …..The visitors, especially those from England and America, were greatly impressed by what they saw; apparently a happy, healthy, friendly people united under Hitler — a far different picture, they said, than they had got from reading the newspaper dispatches from Berlin.”
“The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by William Shirer, Simon & Schuster Publ. 1960