WITNESS TO HISTORY
THE BERLIN OLYMPICS, 1936
SEPARATING FACT FROM FICTION
Despite his unprecedented Olympic performance and the widely published -- but false -- story that Hitler had snubbed Owens after he won his medals, he returned home to face a racial struggle in his own country.
"When I came back, after all the stories about Hitler and his snub, I came back to my native country and I couldn't ride in the front of the bus, I had to go to the back door. I couldn't live where I wanted . . . I wasn't invited up to shake hands with Hitler . . . but I wasn't invited to the White House to shake hands with the President, either.
"Joe Louis and I were the first modern national sports figures who were black, But neither of us could do national advertising because the South wouldn't buy it. That was the social stigma we lived under."
The Hitler snub story is explained this way: After the opening day of the 1936 Olympics, the winners were escorted to the dictator's box to be congratulated.
But International Olympic Committee President Count Henri de Baillet-Latour of Belgium told Hitler he had no business congratulating any of the athletes. After that, Hitler left the stadium each day without congratulating anyone. The Tampa Tribune Tuesday, April 1,1980
Sixty-years of fanciful embellishment, ignorance and mischievous comment has created an image of National Socialist Germany that owes little to reality. A typical example of such distortion is woven around the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
This international event is often mentioned in the context of it being the Olympics at which the American Negro, Jesse Owens, 'humiliated Nazi Germany and destroyed the myth of Aryan superiority.' What are the true facts?
Jesse Owens, a fine athlete was the citizen of a country whose racism would have made Hitler blush. The contrast between the two countries would have been quite remarkable for this humble and likeable ex-cotton picker.
In Hitler's Germany, Jesse Owens could share a bus or tram ride with white people. Treated equally in all respects before the law, he could sit in a cinema next to whites, use public toilets, and dine in restaurants, stay in hotels without any discrimination being shown towards him. There was much that he could do in Hitler's Germany that was forbidden at home in the United States.
In the United States Negro athletes were required to eat apart from their white fellow athletes. If they were allowed to share the same hotel at all, which was unlikely, it would be necessary for them to use the tradesmen's back entrance.
There were no Negroes on any major league baseball team and there were no Negro swimmers. This was of course in the so-called enlightened north. In the southern states there was no possibility of a Negro being allowed to participate in any sport unless he competed solely with other Negroes.
For Jesse Owens, his days in Hitler's Germany must have been happy indeed. There he received a great deal of pre-Olympic media hype and the German people idolised him.
"Once at the stadium, the mere appearance of Jesse Owens neatly moulded head from some pit below the stands would cause sections of the crowd to break out in chants of, 'Yes-sa Ov-enss! Yes-sa Ov-enss!' -- Richard D. Mandell. The Nazi Olympics
"Some mornings at the Olympic village the athletic hero of the hour was awakened by amateur photographers who flocked outside his bedroom window to click at the athlete before he could gather poise for one of his many appearances before the mobs in Berlin." -- Richard D. Mandell. The Nazi Olympics
"Jesse Owens was cheered as loudly as any Aryan." -- Lawrence N. Snyder; Jesse's coach. Saturday Evening Post Nov. 7th, 1936
THE HITLER SNUB MYTH
One of the common tales that is perpetuated in the media is that at the 'Nazi Olympics', Adolf Hitler snubbed Jesse Owens by refusing to shake his hand.
The reality is far different. Hitler on the first day of the Berlin Olympics did indeed shake the hands of several successful competitors from Germany and Finland. It was a mistake made in good faith. That evening the Fuhrer received a message from Count Baillet-Latour, President of the International Olympic Committee. It was respectfully pointed out to the German Leader that as he was merely a guest of honour at the Games, he should congratulate all or none -- in public at least.
Hitler, in common with all other national leaders before and since chose the latter as being the most sensible course. With 156 gold medals being awarded at various locations and times, it was not physically possible to personally congratulate every winner. Jesse Owens was not personally congratulated by the Fuhrer; nor were any of the other successful competitors, white or otherwise . . . at the request of the President of the I.O.C.
It is interesting to note that Jesse Owens' own President Roosevelt, failed to honour this great athlete and did in fact refuse to meet him, despite there being no such protocol restriction imposed upon him.
But afterwards, Jesse Owens said:
"When I passed the Chancellor he arose, waved his hand at me, and I waved back at him. I think the writers showed bad taste in criticising the man of the hour in Germany."
Afterwards, Owens and his coach, Larry Snyder on arrival in London complained that they felt like 'trained seals'. They were subjected to a barrage of 'fraudulent publicity offers', so much so that they refused further engagements. Time proved Larry Snyder and Jesse Owens right. None of the offers came to anything but big name promoters like Eddy Cantor had received a great deal of favourable publicity.
Back home in the United States, Jesse Owens was treated like a freak and an animal.
"Before curious crowds he raced horses (and won). He ran against cars, trucks, dogs, and baseball players with a head start." -- Norman Katkov. Jesse Owens Revisited. The World of Sport, p.289
His was a thirties America that had seen 26 lynchings -- all Negroes; an America where Negroes had to use separate public toilets and public transport; went to all-black schools, and couldn't mix with white people in restaurants, cinemas, hotels, stadiums, etc. Hitler's Germany and the German people must have seemed very welcoming by contrast.
FOR THE RECORD:
Hitler's Germany won a total of 101 medals (41 gold) and 223 points. Their only credible rival was the United States which though three times bigger in population won 40% fewer medals and points. (25 gold medals -- 4 to Jesse Owens -- and just 132 points). The U.S.A's size and its reliance on coloured athletes did little to reduce its humiliation, which in fact justified Hitler's claim to the potential of Aryan superiority.
Hitler's Germany (population 80 millions) won more gold medals than the United States, Great Britain, India, Canada, Argentina, France, and Norway together; a combined population of 1,160 millions: 14 times bigger than Germany's. If this is humiliation, perhaps we could do with a dash of it ourselves.
GOLD SILVER BRONZE POINTS
HITLER'S GERMANY: 33 26 30 (181)
UNITED STATES: 24 20 12 (124)
FASCIST ITALY: 8 9 5 (47)
GREAT BRITAIN: 4 7 23 (29)
OLYMPIC ART POINTS:
THE WINTER OLYMPICS:
Next -- Chapter 8 -- PEACE GETS THE NELSON'S EYE