This book is an expose of one of the most bizarre festivals in sport history. It provides portraits of key figures including Adolf Hitler, Jesse Owens, Leni Riefenstahl, Helen Stephens, Kee Chung Sohn, and Avery Brundage. It also conveys the charade that reinforced and mobilized the hysterical patriotism of the German masses.
Paperback, 360 pages
January 1st 1987
by University of Illinois Press
(first published March 12th 1972)
Classic 1971 book by Richard Mandell about the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and the lesser known winter games held in Germany earlier that year. Mandell gives a great history of the modern Olympics and Germany's role in it, and the aborted 1916 games, (cancelled because of the First World War) and the desire for Germany to put on an Olympics, finally awarded by the IOC in 1932. There was a sticky wicket ahead, however, as Hitler came to power the next year. The games went on despite threats of boycottsClassic 1971 book by Richard Mandell about the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and the lesser known winter games held in Germany earlier that year. Mandell gives a great history of the modern Olympics and Germany's role in it, and the aborted 1916 games, (cancelled because of the First World War) and the desire for Germany to put on an Olympics, finally awarded by the IOC in 1932. There was a sticky wicket ahead, however, as Hitler came to power the next year. The games went on despite threats of boycotts and general outrage because of the Nazi regime's anti-Semitism, but Hitler, after initially resisting, allowed the games to be a propaganda triumph, putting on what many considered to be the best organized games up to that time. Great profiles of the Olympic organizers, the political movement in Germany, great athletes at the games such as Jesse Owens and many others, Avery Brundage and of course, the legendary Leni Riefenstahl, who immortalized the Olympics in her famous--and controversial--film "Olympia."...more
Richard D. Mandell’s The Nazi Olympics is an interesting artifact from the early era of sports history not only because it advances the (then) contentious argument that sports, and particularly the Olympics, are heavily intertwined with politics, but also because it attempts to meet standards of academic rigor while at the same time remaining accessible to non-specialists. In this task the author largely succeeds and his work does an excellent job in demonstrating how the Nazi regime utilized spRichard D. Mandell’s The Nazi Olympics is an interesting artifact from the early era of sports history not only because it advances the (then) contentious argument that sports, and particularly the Olympics, are heavily intertwined with politics, but also because it attempts to meet standards of academic rigor while at the same time remaining accessible to non-specialists. In this task the author largely succeeds and his work does an excellent job in demonstrating how the Nazi regime utilized sports and athletes alike to improve its reputation on the international scene and distract attention from its racist and violent policies. Arguing for the conceptualization of “[f]estivity as a modern political force”, this work demonstrates how the Nazis were able to convince the global community that it was aligning itself better with the world’s expectations at the same time that it was moving towards the events that would lead to World War II.
Mandell’s first chapter takes the reader through a brief history of the ancient Olympic Games, followed by a more detailed examination of the development of sport in Germany that is mixed into a discussion of the emergence of the modern Games under Pierre de Coubertin. Evident throughout is the infusion of politics into both Coubertin and the Germans’ vision of sports, particularly the idea of using athletic activity to strengthen the nation and, eventually, display that power on the international scene. The second chapter looks at developments after World War I, when the Olympic movement had become more internationally popular, and focuses on Germany, which won the right to host the 1936 Games shortly before Hitler came to power. The author chronicles Hitler’s career, paying significant attention to the way in which the German leader employed festivity and pageantry to rally support, which was a critical experience that led him to support the hosting of the Olympics as a tool for international propaganda. Chapter three focuses on reactions abroad, particularly the American one, as many people in the United States were concerned with the Nazis’ anti-Semitic ideology and totalitarian style of rule. A substantial effort to boycott the Games was thwarted after United States Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage visited Germany and declared his support for Berlin retaining its role as host city. This occurred after he was convinced by the nation’s political leadership that there would be no prohibitions against German Jews trying out for the national team and that the Nazis were better aligning themselves with the League of Nations’ expectations for the preservation of human rights. Unlike some authors, Mandell places the fault for this misjudgment on the Nazi regime’s ability to dissimulate and present an idealized picture of their nation rather than on any naiveté or blindness on Brundage’s behalf. After dodging the boycott, the German regime engaged detailed plans to organize their Games into a festival of camaraderie and plenty. It hoped that international visitors would leave Germany, just as Brundage had, with a vision of the nation as advanced, tolerant, and peaceful.
The fourth chapter examines three events in the months leading up to 1936 Summer Olympics that bolstered Germans’ self-confidence: their success in the hosting of (if not performance in) the 1936 Winter Olympics, Hitler’s successful diplomatic gamble of re-militarizing the Rhineland, and boxer Max Schmeling’s defeat of American Joe Louis in a New York bout. Chapter five examines the festivals and symbols, most notably the inaugural Olympic torch relay, that were used to rally the population in support of the Olympics and connect the power, popularity, and strength of the Games to the Nazi regime and its ideology. The Opening Ceremony, on the other hand, was mostly devoid of political content, but the surrounding activities were designed to further draw the international community into a positive impression of Germany as being free, for the most part, of the concerns highlighted by the regime’s detractors. Following a lengthy review of event result events, the author then proceeds to outline how the massive German success at the Games strengthened internal support and was perceived everywhere as a surprising victory for fascism.
Mandell’s next two chapters examine heroes, villains, and victims. The author chooses three gold medalists, Helen Stephens, Kitei Son, and Jesse Owens, as his heroes because they advanced the boundaries of human accomplishment at the same time as they represented politically disadvantaged groups (women, Koreans under Japanese rule, and African-Americans) in a positive and powerful light on the international stage. He also examines the struggles between individuals who worked together yet remained at loggerheads, using the examples of Hitler and Carl Deim and Brundage and Eleanor Holm, to demonstrate the fine line between “villain” and “victim” that these politicized Games forced individuals to cross on multiple occasions. His ninth chapter examines the life of Leni Riefenstahl, who filmed the Games and allowed her finished product (and thus the Olympics) to be transformed into a political tool that was used to rally support for the regime. Comparing evidence that has been used to portray her as a manipulative opportunist who used the Nazis to advance her own career against that which has depicted her as a visionary filmmaker whose contributions to art should not be marred by the circumstances in which she was forced to work, the author places himself in the latter camp. He argues that, despite her mistakes, it was never her intent to support the atrocities committed by the Nazis and that her works should be considered for their ground-breaking cinematic and artistic qualities rather than judged for the environment from which they were created.
Mandell’s final chapter attempts to chronicle the Closing Ceremonies, summarize several of his previous arguments, and describe the long term impact of the Games. In Germany, the success of its athletes, which had been unexpected abroad, was seen as a triumph for fascism and helped stymie criticism from all quarters, providing the nation with a level of self-confidence that it had not experienced since the World War I armistice. This in turn led to “the de-individualizing and consequent politicizing of the German sport”. The Games’ illusion of harmony, meanwhile, gave the regime the international benefit of the doubt regarding some of its more questionable actions in the following years, and survived as a veil over the regime’s true intentions long enough for Hitler to maneuver himself in a position of power. Internationally, the more overt politicization of support led to athletes becoming increasingly view as “national assets” and political tools. Overall, The Nazi Olympics does an excellent job of mixing and balancing traditional history, an engaging narrative, and the author’s personal voice in order to create something valuable for academics and non-academics alike and at no point does any one of these characteristics become overwhelming. Although there are a few instances where the narrative feels disjointed, preventing the chapters from flowing together, and although the arguments are at times not explicated clearly (although they are always discernable), its success in blending structures and methodologies is what helped make it a classic in the nascent field of sports history and a necessary read for scholars and fans alike to this day....more
This was a good read about the 1936 Olympics in Germany. Mandell is a preeminent historian of sport, and this book is well researched. My main issue is not with the writing, but that the 1987 edition that I read needed a fresh editing job instead of the short errata that was placed in the introduction. Still, this was a fascinating book about a pivotal moment in sports history.