Lessons from the Berlin Olympics

Seventy five years ago today, the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games began.  Although the Berlin Games are notable for myths -- Jesse Owens, the black American runner who won four gold metals said that FDR, not Hitler, had snubbed him, contrary to the invented history of leftism -- these games were just as notable for showing the world how evil masquerades as good.  

The timing of the games was critical.  In 1936, virtually all German territorial demands were for territories with Germans who wanted to be part of the Third Reich.  The Saar plebiscite of 1935 returned formally to Germany that slice of highly industrialized territory at the nexus of Belgium, France and Germany.  The Nazi occupation of the Rhineland was nothing more than the military occupation of land which was part of the Weimar Republic.  The voters of Danzig and of Memel voted in pro-Nazi governments.   Hitler, in 1936, had really not engaged in international aggression towards non-German peoples.

Nazi anti-Semitism, of course, was odious and reviled, but the Olympics took place two years before Kristallnacht and the one day boycott of Jewish shops in 1933 would today be considered unworthy of mention had it not been the first seedlings of the horrific crime of the Holocaust.   Hitler halted anti-Semitic campaigns during and before the Olympic Games, specifically to avoid offending journalists and nabobs visiting the Reich for the games.   Helene Mayer, a German Jew, actually won a Silver Metal for Germany in the games.   Twelve other Jews from seven other nations also won a Gold Metals during the summer games.  

What Hitler wanted to do is show the world how he had ended mass unemployment in Germany, restored national pride, and now providing more support to the Olympic Games than anyone had ever done before.   So, for the first time in history, the Nazis provided television broadcast of the events (long before almost anyone had a television set) and some events were broadcast live into theaters.  The tradition of carrying the Olympic torch from Greece to the site of the games began in Berlin.   Forty-nine nations, more than in any prior Olympic games, participated in the events. 

Hitler's henchmen and -women used imagery and symbols to disarm enemies, refining the art of propaganda to heights undreamed of before the invention of mass media.

Sweet words were part of the fraud.  Did the 1936 Olympic Games unite countries "in understanding and respect"?  Did the games "connect the countries in the spirit of peace"?  That sounds like leftist palaver.  It is leftist palaver.  That great leftist leader, Adolf Hitler, said those things at the beginning of the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  The left always mouths nice words.  Those who talk about peace and global understanding must really want those things, right?  No. 

Most of all the Berlin Olympics warn us of the dangers of image over substance and of pictures over words.  Nazi Germany wanted the Olympic Games and saw the games as a perfect opportunity to show to the world how well the New Germany worked and how benign their intentions were and how magnificent the Berlin Olympics were to see. 

William Shirer, a keen observer though scarcely a friend of Nazism, wrote in his Berlin Diaries: "I am afraid that the Nazis have succeeded with their propaganda."  The New York Times reported that the games put Germany "back in the fold of nations" and made them "human again. "   In 1938 Leni Riefenstahl produced Olympia, a masterpiece of art about the Berlin Olympics which won worldwide acclaim and which as late as 1960 had been voted one of the ten greatest films of all time.

The 1936 Olympics reflected the same sort of moral equivalency which has made the League of Nations, the United Nations and myriad other international organizations enablers of thuggish totalitarian member nations, becoming  accessories to crimes, rather than instruments of peace and harmony.   Anyone who watched Olympic Games during the last decades of Soviet power know that even the sporting nature of the games had been compromised "East German Judges" of subjective competitions like diving, East German women "athletes" who needed to be examined to determine their gender, and a host of other tricks and frauds took the good of the Olympics and made it often distasteful instead.  Thirty-six years after the Berlin Olympics, the peace and goodwill of the Olympics was forever shattered by the murder of Israeli athletes for the "crime" of being Jewish - this tragedy, with grim irony, at Olympics in Munich, once the headquarters of the Nazi Party.   

Athletic competition, like the art produced by people like Riefenstahl or the V-2, man's first space ship, is  never good per se.  Good men like Jesse Owens or J.S. Bach or Jonas Salk can make ability and skill into treasures, but the beginning of any such blessing to the world comes first from genuine nobility and goodness.  We see, all too often, great athletes who are monsters in human form.  We see filmmakers pervert their art into celebrations of venom and vice.  We see rock stars (some of whom have true talent) descend into hopeless, damning, depravity.

The lesson of the Berlin Olympics and all its sibling celebrations of human power to create is that every effort of man which is not first grounded in honor, decency, faith and humility is not a blessing to the world but a curse.

Bruce Walker is the author of Poor Lenin's Almanac: Perverse Leftists Proverbs for Modern Life.