When Nazi Germany hosted the Summer Olympics
Eighty years ago, Adolf Hitler welcomed the world to see the "New Germany"
The Olympic torch is carried into the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremonies of the XI Olympic Games in Berlin on Aug. 1, 1936. | (Getty Images)
In 1931, the International Olympic Committee made a gesture of inclusion to Germany, which had been isolated since the end of World War I, by awarding Berlin the 1936 Summer Games. Two years later, Adolf Hitler came to power.
Hitler initially despised the very idea of the Olympics, calling the multicultural event "an invention of Jews and Freemasons." But he soon recognized that he had a unique opportunity to present his Germany on the biggest world stage, and he spared no expense.
Berlin's Olympic Stadium. | (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
By 1936, the dark rumblings of Hitler's tyranny had grown thunderous, as headlines revealed an increasingly militarized and segregated Germany. Jews were being shut out of German society and non-Aryans were banned from participating on the German Olympic team. Many U.S. and world leaders proposed a ban, but after delegates visited Berlin and Hitler made a few nominal concessions (one part-Jewish athlete, fencer Helene Mayer, was allowed to compete for Germany), the ban failed.
Banners of the 49 nations participating in the Games fly in one of the main squares in Berlin. | (AP Photo)
A crowded street in Berlin as the Games get underway. | (Getty Images)
For two weeks in August, Berlin was flooded with athletes and tourists from all over the world. More countries participated in the Berlin Games than in any other Olympics up to that point. Though the Nazi flag was everywhere, Hitler's anti-Semitic and racist policies were largely camouflaged from foreign guests — "Jews Not Welcome" signs were removed from all public places and popular destinations, and the Der Stürmer, the anti-Semitic newspaper, was removed from newsstands.
The ruse worked, and the Games were largely viewed as a success for Hitler's Germany. The New York Times' Frederick T. Birchall had a particularly rosy impression of the host country at the close of the Games: "Foreigners who know Germany only from what they have seen during this pleasant fortnight can carry home only one impression. It is that this is a nation happy and prosperous almost beyond belief; that Hitler is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, political leaders in the world today, and that Germans themselves are a much maligned, hospitable, wholly peaceful people who deserve the best the world can give them."
Three years later, Hitler invaded Poland and World War II began. The 1940 and 1944 Olympic Games were both canceled. Tens of millions of people died during World War II, including 6 million Jews. Looking back at the 1936 Olympics, the photos present a surreal scene where the beauty of athletic prowess mixes unnaturally with the sinister and foreboding insignia of Hitler's regime. Below, a look back at this strange and scary moment in history.
The British team marches toward the Olympic Stadium during opening ceremonies. | (AP Photo)
Jesse Owens (far right) competes in one of his track and field events. Much to Hitler's dismay, the 1936 Olympics were Owens' Games — he won four gold medals, and in the space of 45 minutes, broke five world records and tied a sixth. Owens became a hero, even in Germany's Aryan nation. | (Central Press/Getty Images)
Medal winners in the women's 100-meter dash. German bronze-medal winner Kathe Krauss gives the Nazi salute in front. American Helen Stephens (center) won the gold. | (AP Photo)
A diving competition. | (Allsport Hulton/Archive/Getty Images)
Members of the U.S. rowing team, wearing Native American headdresses, watch their fellow athletes compete. The U.S. rowing team, from the University of Washington, were considered underdogs, but ended up beating out Germany and Italy to win the gold. | (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Adolf Hitler and Dr. Theodor Lewald, president of the German Olympic committee, applaud from the stands on Aug. 14, 1936. | (AP Photo)
Jesse Owens hits the ground and sets a new world broad jump record. | (AP Photo)
One of the heats for the men's 100-meter freestyle on Aug. 8, 1936. | (AP Photo)
The German crowd gives the Nazi salute after the men's 1,500-meter final. | (Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)