In both 1936 and 1972, Germany
was the center of sports for a period of time. In these
years, Germany hosted the Olympic Games, once in Berlin,
once in Munich. These Olympics are remembered for the
dramatic events that took place during the games. In 1936,
Jesse Owens, an African-American, proved to the world that
the Aryan race was not the superior to all others, as it was
thought to be. In 1972, terror struck in Munich as the feud
between the Palestinians and Israelis displayed itself at
the Olympics. These two events are examples of how different
organizations use public events to convey their views to the
After World War I, Germany was
seen as an outcast of the world community. This all changed
on May 13, 1931 when the International Olympic Committee,
with its leader Count Henri Baillet-Latour, decided that the
1936 Olympic games would be held in Berlin, Germany. This
was a great moment for Germany; it gave them a chance to
show the world how great and powerful they believed they
were. For some people in Germany, like the rising Nazi
party, this was also a chance to show the world that the
Aryan race was superior to all other races. This message is
one that would be drilled into the heads of many Germans,
who would never accept the idea to be untrue.
When Germany was first announced
as the host of the next Olympics, it was in a period of
democracy. Yet this changed two years later when Adolf
Hitler became chancellor of the nation and used his power to
turn the democracy in place into a dictatorship. Hitler's
influence spread throughout German society and changed
everything it touched. Among other things changed in
society, German sport was Nazified. Nazi leaders were put in
charge of all kinds of sport-related activities, events, and
organizations. Such changes were made as the weekly amount
of gym class for German children was raised, and non-Aryans
such as Jew and Gypsies were excluded from sports. This
concentration on sports was an attempt to strengthen the
"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."-- Joseph Goebbels,
Minister of Propaganda, April 23, 1933.
The rest of the world was not
blind to the fact that Hitler and his people were excluding
certain people from the country's athletic fields. Soon
after Hitler took power, people in the United States and
other nations began to question Germany's motives for
holding the Olympics. Avery Brundage, the president of the
American Olympic Committee, commented on the German's
exclusion of different peoples from their sports saying,
"The very foundation of the modern Olympic revival will be
undermined if individual countries are allowed to restrict
participation by reason of class, creed, or race." Because
of these doubts of German motives, in 1934 an investigation
was made of the German sports facilities. The inspectors
announced that no serious infractions of racial decency were
found, so the Olympic games would still be held in Berlin.
Other than the persecution of
Jews, the world was worried that Blacks would be mistreated
in the Olympic games. There was a possibility of boycotting
the 1936 Olympics, and many African-Americans were unhappy
about this. They believed that the games would prove to be a
chance for Blacks to contradict the Germans' view about
Aryan superiority and would bring a sense of pride to the
African race. In 1936, when the Olympic games were taking
place, 18 African-Americans could be found competing with
the Germans in Berlin.
At the site of the 1936
Olympics in Berlin, Nazi flags, posters, banners and
propaganda of all sorts could be seen in any part of the
city. Hitler and his Nazi party were taking full advantage
of the situation. A column in the Douglass Tribune on
Friday, August 28, 1936, written by an American in Berlin
named Esther Myers, describes the atmosphere of the Olympic
"We arrived in Berlin Friday
evening before the games opened on Saturday. We found Berlin
in festive array. The great avenue Unter den Linden, was
bordered on either side by the Nazi flags, posters of German
loud-speakers were spaced all along the broad
Most tourists, like Esther
Myers, were oblivious to the fact that the Germans had
recently removed anti-Jewish posters and other hateful
propaganda from the city streets. Despite the Nazi's
efforts, the whole world would soon know that the Germans
did not believe in racial equality.
The eighteen African-American
athletes competing in the games won the U.S. 14 medals.
Jesse Owens was the center of attention of the
African-American competitors. Jesse received gold medals for
the 100 and 200-meter dashes, the broad jump, and was a
member of the winning 400-meter relay team. The Germans were
reluctant to award an African-American with these medals
because they knew Jesse Owens had showed the world that the
Aryan race could be beaten.
On September 5, 1972, an event
struck that would be written worldwide. It was 4:30 in the
morning on Sept. 5, 1972, when five Arab terrorists wearing
track sweat suits climbed the six-foot six-inch fence
surrounding the Olympic Village. They were seen by several
people, no one thought anything was unusual since athletes
routinely hopped the fence. At just about 5 o'clock, the
Arabs knocked on the door of the Israeli wrestling coach
Moshe Weinberg. When Weinberg opened the door he realized
something not right and shouted a warning to his athletes.
He and weightlifter Joseph Romano attempted to block the
door while other Israelis escaped. The heroes were killed by
the terrorists. The Arabs then succeeded in rounding up nine
Israelis to hold as hostages.
At 9 o'clock the terrorists
announced that they were Palestinian, and that they wanted
200 Arab prisoners released and that they be given safe
passage out of Germany. After countless hours of intense
negotiations, the PLO group agreed to a plan where they
would be taken by helicopter to the NATO air base at
Firstenfeldbruck, where they would be given an airplane to
fly them and the hostages to Cairo. The Israelis were then
taken by bus to the helicopters and flown to the airfield.
In the course of the transfer, the Germans discovered that
there were 3 more terrorists instead of the five they
originally had expected and realized that they had not
assigned enough sharpshooters to carry out the plan to kill
the terrorists at the airport.
After the helicopters landed at
the air base about 10:30 p.m., the German marksmen attempted
to kill the terrorists and soon a bloody firefight started.
At 11, Almost an hour later, however, new fighting broke out
and one of the helicopters holding the Israelis was blown up
by a terrorist grenade. The remaining hostages in the second
helicopter were shot and killed by one of the remaining
The Impact on the World
Since the Olympics is a symbol
of unity between all nations, this was a shock to everyone.
The Olympic events were postponed for a few days, just for
the sake of everyone else's protection. While the whole
world felt upset, the Israeli nation in itself, was hit the
hardest. The Palestinians could have struck at anytime in
Israel, but since this is a worldwide event, they knew that
this would be publicized and everyone would see the terror
that they could bring. While this was a tragic event,
everyone learned a valuable lesson. No one is ever safe, no
matter if it's a big event like the Olympics, or just in
Both the Berlin and Munich
Olympics opened the eyes of the world to things they might
have not seen before. In Berlin, Nazi hatred and persecution
was visible, and was a sign of things to come. In Munich the
age-old battle between Palestine and Israel exhibited itself
in the Olympics. Both the Nazis and the PLO group, Black
September, used the Olympics as a way to show the massive
audience what they wanted to express. It is obvious by the
way the world reacted to both of these events that a
reaction was made, and the groups' message felt. When such
awful things as terrorism and racism show up in an event
like the Olympics, which represents peace, unity, and pride
in one's culture, one can see that something is seriously
wrong with the world we live in. It is up to us and the
further generations to use these events as a lesson, and to
prevent things like this from ever happening again.
Bachrach, Susan. The Nazi
Olympics. Boston: Little Brown and Company, 2000
From this there were a complete description of the
events involved with the Berlin Olympics. Good pictures.
Decent information about Black September.
Jewish Virtual Library. "The
Nazi Olympics." 2003.
(21 Nov. 2003).
This website focused more on persecution of Jews
during Olympics than on Blacks.
Johnson, Oscar William. The
Olympics: A History of the Games. Birmingham: Oxmoor
House, Inc., 1992.
Good photos of the races, including ones from Jesse
Owens. Interesting facts on what Jesse Owen's life was like
after the Olympics.
Myers Esther. "Traveling in
Europe." The Douglass Tribune. 28 Aug.1936.
Primary Source information: Description of the
Olympic Games, souvenirs from the games, pictures, letters
Nagdimov, Rafayel. Munich
September 5, 1972. 2003
(24 Nov. 2003)
Comprehensive site about the Munich massacre
including information, pictures of the event, political
cartoons, and biographies.
New York Times:
Wednesday, September 6, 1972 Front Page (A-1)- Primary
Gave key, more precise information since it was the
day after the terrorists struck. All current facts.
Mike Morrison The Worst
Tragedy in Modern Olympic History
This gave a broad outline of what happened in
Munich, who the terrorists were, where it was, and how the
Israelis were involved.
Holocaust Learning Center
This gave information from when Hitler was elected
chancellor, to the preparations of the games, and events
after the Olympics: When Germany invaded Poland.
Shows the hero of the Olympics in Berlin. How many
medals he won and how many records he set.
The Twentith Centrury: The
Great Depression and WWII (1930-1945)
Macmillian Publishing Company NY
More information about the
propaganda used by Hitler.
The Twentieth Century: Civil
Rights Movement and the Vietnam Era (1950-1974)
Macmillian Publishing Company NY
Many accounts of people reflecting
on the terrible event in Munich.
The Reader's Composition ti
American History: Jesse Owens
C. Robert Barnett Houghton
Miffline Co. 1991
Overview of Jesse Owen's life.
When the Terror Began: Thrity
Years Later, the hostage drama that left 11 Israeli
Olympians dead seems even more chilling and offers grime
reminders to todays security experts.
Sports Illustrated: Alexander
Wolff 2002 Time Inc.
Connection to today's necessity to