Between 1939 and 1945, six million Jews across German-occupied Europe were systematically murdered as part of the Nazi genocidal policy to destroy all Jews in Europe. Jews died in mass shootings and by mass gassings at Auschwitz-Birkenau and five other killing centres in occupied Poland, and from starvation, disease, and brutal treatment in hundreds of Nazi ghettos and concentration camps across Nazi-occupied Europe.
Hundreds of thousands of Roma (Gypsies) and mentally and physically disabled persons were also killed, victims of the Nazis murderous policies. Countless others, including Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, political dissidents, Jehovah's Witnesses, and homosexuals, were executed or died from maltreatment during imprisonment in Nazi prisons and concentration camps.
Nazi Persecution of Jewish Athletes
Soon after Hitler took power, the Nazis began to exclude Jews from German sport and recreational facilities. They were forced to use lesser and marginal training facilities, and their opportunities to compete were limited. On April 25, 1933 the Nazis’ Sports Office ordered public sport and gymnastic organizations to implement an “Aryans only” policy.
German sports clubs responded by introducing Aryan-only clauses in their membership rules. Many Jewish athletes found themselves suddenly excluded and prevented from competing against non-Jews.
The city of Cologne prohibits Jews from using city playgrounds and sports facilities.
4 April 1933
The German Boxing Federation excludes Jewish boxers from participating in competitive bouts and orders the cancellation of all contracts involving Jewish promoters.
25 April 1933
The Reich Sports Office directs implementation of an "Aryans only" policy in all German sports and gymnastic organisations. The order does not apply to Jewish war veterans or their descendants.
24 May 1933
The German Gymnastic Society decrees that "Aryan" ancestry is mandatory for membership in their organisation.
2 June 1933
The Prussian Ministry of Science orders all Jewish youths expelled from village, city, county, and district groups of physical education associations and organisations
9 July 1933
The All-German Chess Convention excludes all Jews from its membership.
22 August 1933
Jews are excluded from public swimming pools in Wannsee (Berlin), Fulda, Beuthen, Speyer, and elsewhere.
"Non-Aryans" are prohibited from being professional or amateur jockeys.
7 March 1934
The Reich Youth Leadership prohibits German Jewish youth groups from wearing uniforms.
19 June 1935
The Baden Minister of Interior prohibits group hikes and similar activities for all non-National Socialist youth groups.
Nazi Sports Propaganda
“German sport has only one task: to strengthen the character of the German people, imbuing it with the fighting spirit and steadfast camaraderie necessary in the struggle for its existence."
Minister of Propaganda, April 23, 1933
The Nazis understood the power of sports and used it as part of their propaganda. German sports imagery in the 1930s promoted the myth of "Aryan" racial superiority and physical power. Artists idealised athletes' well-developed muscle tone and heroic strength and accentuated so-called Aryan facial features - blue eyes and blond hair. Such imagery also reflected the importance the Nazi regime placed on physical fitness.
The Nazis also looked to mobilise boys into the Nazi community through sport and hiking, and later trained them for military combat.
“Every German athlete should voluntarily participate in strengthening the military might of the German people.”
Hans von Tschammer und Osten
Reich Sports Office Director, April 30, 1933
In 1936, Nazi Germany were the hosts of the Summer Olympics. Hitler saw the Games as an opportunity to promote his government and its ideals of racial supremacy and antisemitism.
Soon after Hitler took power in 1933, observers in the United States and other western democracies questioned the morality of supporting Olympic Games hosted by the Nazi regime and there were many calls for boycotting the Olympics. Support for a boycott grew after the announcement in autumn 1935 of the Nuremberg Laws, which stripped German Jews of their citizenship and prohibited them from marrying or having relations with "Aryans."
There were short-lived boycott efforts in Great Britain, France, Sweden, Czechoslovakia & the Netherlands. In the end, Forty-nine teams from around the world competed in the Berlin Games, more than in any previous Olympics. Individual Jewish athletes from a number of European countries did however choose to boycott the Berlin Olympics.
Germany promoted the Olympics with colourful posters and magazine spreads. Athletic imagery drew a link between Nazi Germany and ancient Greece. These portrayals symbolized the Nazi racial myth that superior German civilization was the rightful heir of an "Aryan" culture of classical antiquity.
In anticipation of both the Winter Olympics and the Summer Games, Hitler directed that signs stating "Jews not wanted" and similar slogans should be removed from primary traffic arteries. In some places, however, anti-Jewish signs remained visible. German Jewish athletes were barred or prevented from taking part in the Olympics and Jewish athletes from other countries were side-lined in order not to offend the Nazi regime.
In a move to "clean up" Berlin before the Olympics, the German Ministry of Interior authorised the chief of the Berlin Police to arrest all Gypsies prior to the Games. On July 16, 1936, some 800 Gypsies were arrested and interned under police guard in a special Gypsy camp in the Berlin suburb of Marzahn.
The Reich Press Chamber under Joseph Goebbels's Ministry of Propaganda exerted strict censorship over the German press, radio, film, and publishing. The Chamber issued numerous directives regarding coverage of the Olympic Games, limiting the scope and content of reporting by German journalists.
"Press coverage should not mention that there are two non-Aryans among the women: Helene Mayer (fencing) and Gretel Bergmann (high jump and all-around track and field competition)." July 16, 1936
"The racial point of view should not be used in any way in reporting sports results; above all Negroes should not be insensitively reported. ...Negroes are American citizens and must be treated with respect as Americans." August 3, 1936
On August 1, 1936, Hitler opened the XIth Olympiad. During the Olympic festivities, a major concentration camp, Sachsenhausen, was under construction 18 miles north of Berlin. Beginning in the autumn of 1936, political opponents of the regime including liberals, socialists, and communists, as well as several hundred Jehovah's Witnesses were imprisoned there.
Thirteen Jews or persons of Jewish descent won medals in the Nazi Olympics, including six Hungarians.
According to Olympic historian Bill Mallon, 49 Olympians are known to have been killed in the Nazis’ concentration, labour and transit camps during the Holocaust.
The content of this page has been developed based on information from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Visit their exhibition The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936 here >>