The Jewish athlete who was barred by the Nazis
Margaret Bergmann 1914–2017
Margaret Bergmann should have gone down in history as Germany’s greatest high jumper. At Olympic trials in June 1936, she made a leap of 5 feet 3 inches—beating her rivals and tying a German record. Any other athlete would have been rewarded with a spot on the national team, which would compete in that summer’s Berlin Games. But Bergmann was Jewish and considered unworthy by the Nazi regime. Soon after her win, she was barred from the Games and her jump was scrubbed from the record books. “I wanted to show the world what a Jew could do,” she said. “But I knew very well the Nazis would never let me compete.”
Born in Laupheim in southern Germany, Bergmann “had a comfortable upbringing until the Nazis arose to power,” said The Times (U.K.). She established herself as an elite high jumper, even though Jews were banned from training in stadiums and other public places. Bergmann moved to the U.K. to study English, and won the high jump in the 1934 British championships. But the Nazis were “desperate to give the world the impression that Jewish athletes were not being mistreated.” They forced her to return home and compete in the trials by threatening her family.
In 1937, Bergmann emigrated to the U.S. and settled in New York City, said The Washington Post. “Late in life she received some of the recognition denied to her in 1936.” She was a guest of the German Olympic Committee at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and three years later returned to her hometown for the renaming of a stadium in her honor. “I decided,” she said, “that I could not blame this generation for what their fathers and grandfathers did.”