Jesse Owens & the Berlin Olympics

By Ingrid Rimland


Copyright (c) 2000 - Ingrid A. Rimland

March 12, 2000

Good Morning from the Zundelsite:

I love to tell you inspirational stories - and I am sure that this one is bound to warm your heart. A frient sent it to me with this comment:

"A large amount of what has been written about Hitler and Nazi Germany has been particularly subject to the pressure of political correctness: a good example is the story of 1936 Olympics and the Black American athlete Jesse Owens."

Here is an excerpt from a book my friend fished out of the Internet:


The 1936 Olympics

The story most repeated about Hitler and the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, which were unquestionably put on as a political showcase for Nazi Germany, is that Hitler refused to shake the hand of the American Black athlete Jesse Owens after the latter had won a race. This myth is extremely widespread: the Encarta Encyclopedia, issued by Microsoft (1998 edition) states the following in its entry under Jesse Owens:

"Owens, Jesse (1913-80), one of the greatest track-and-field athletes of all time . . . A member of the U.S. track team in the 1936 Olympic Games, held in Berlin, Owens won four gold medals. He won the 100-m dash in 10.3 sec, equaling the Olympic record; set a new Olympic and world record of 20.7 sec in the 200-m dash; and won the running broad jump with a leap of 26 ft 5I in., setting a new Olympic record. He was also a member of the U.S. 400-m relay team that year, which set a new Olympic and world record of 39.8 sec. Despite Owens' outstanding athletic performance, German leader Adolf Hitler refused to acknowledge his Olympic victories because Owens was black. Owens went on to play an active role in youth athletic programs and later established his own public relations firm. His autobiography, The Jesse Owens Story, was published in 1970."

"Owens, Jesse," Microsoft« Encarta« 98 Encyclopedia. (r) 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved."

In reality what happened was that Hitler personally attended the first day of the track and field competition on 2 August 1936, and did personally congratulate the German athlete Hans Woellke, who became the first German to win a gold medal in the Olympics since 1896.

Throughout the rest of the day, Hitler continued to receive Olympic champions, German and non-German, in his VIP box.

The next day, 3 August, the chairman of the International Olympic Committee, Comte Baillet-Latour, approached Hitler early in the morning and told the German leader that he had violated Olympic protocol by having winners paraded to his box.

Hitler apologized and gave an undertaking that he would from then on refrain from publicly congratulating any winners, German or otherwise. During this day, Owens won his gold medals - and in line with the Olympic Committee's ruling, Hitler did not shake his hand, or anybody else's for that matter, at the games again.

It is therefore utterly false to claim that Hitler deliberately chose to ignore Owens. In fact, in the very autobiography that the Encarta Encyclopedia extract above refers to, The Jesse Owens Story, Owens himself recounted how Hitler had stood up and waved to him:

"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 criticizing the man of the hour in Germany."

Another common story about the 1936 Olynpic games is that Owens' victory "disproved the Nazi master race theory" - in fact the Olympic games as a whole were won by the German team with 89 medals, compared to the 56 medals won by the second placed USA team.

In what was to become an act of extreme irony, the American president of the time, Franklin D. Roosevelt, then involved in an election and concerned about the reaction in the USA's southern states, refused to see Owens at the White House: Owens was later to remark that it was Roosevelt, not Hitler, who snubbed him.



Here is an addendum to yesterday's "Jesse Owens" tale at the Olympics. I did not get it in time to add it to the story, but it is worth preserving:

Jesse Owens' name was chiseled into the granite wall of Berlin's Olympic stadium, as soon as he had won the race.

An oak tree sapling was given to Jesse Owens - as was given to all the other Olympic winners. He took it back to the United States with him. I don't know if it ever grew into a tree.

After the games, Hitler invited the whole American Olympic team for a gala dinner in Berlin. Not to their credit, after they left it was found they had stolen 134 pieces of cutlery, dishes, cups and other souvenirs.

When Jesse Owens returned to the United States, not only was he not received or congratulated by Roosevelt, he was ignored by Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon and even Johnson - it took Gerald Ford in the mid-1970s to invite Jesse Owens to the White House for the first time.

Sadly, Jesse Owens turned into an alcoholic late in life. A "service organization" picked him up, cleaned him up, and had him tour the country speaking to "lodges" and other service clubs about you-guessed-it! That's how the story grew that Hitler had "snubbed" him. He was paid $1,000 for a speech.

Ernst Zundel found out about this and wrote to Jesse Owens as he lay dying of cancer in a hospital in Arizona, asking him to set the historical record straight.

And he did!

Two weeks before he died, he gave an interview to the sports writer of the Miami Herald - recalling that, when he got home from the Olympics to America, he had to ride in the back of the bus. In Berlin, he said, he was adored by the mainly German crowd and was allowed to ride at the front of the bus.

That, too, is history - that had to be revised.


This gives me an opportunity to state once more - as I have done so many times when people heckled me no end to come out with a "racial" statement - that my idea of racial honor is the Olympics model.

Each one for his or her own country. With pride. Without apologies. But with respect and dignity for all.

Each one to give his best, his all - and let the best man win!




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