Thursday, February 13, 2014

Scenes from the other Nazi Games, the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmish-Partenkirchen

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin maintain significant historical importance, what with Jesse Owens and Leni Riefenstahl and the sheer horrendous spectacle of it all, but did you know that the 1936 Winter Olympics, this being back when both Games were held in the same year, were also in Germany, down in the Bavarian town of Garmish-Partenkirchen?

Some interesting facts:

-- Both 1936 Olympics followed 1932 Olympics in the U.S. (Los Angeles for summer, Lake Placid for winter).

-- Berlin beat out Barcelona to hold the 1936 Summer Games. It would have been interesting, to say the least, had Barcelona won, given that the Spanish Civil War started in 1936. (The IOC vote was held years before, in 1931. That was also two years before the Nazis came to power. Hitler made the Berlin Games a Nazi spectacle, but that was not, and could not have been, the IOC's intention.)

-- Norway won the most medals in Garmish-Partenkirchen, 15, including the most gold (7) and the most silver (5), while being tied for the most bronze (3). Germany had the second most golds with 3, but Sweden was second in total medals with 7, followed by Germany and Finland with 6. The U.S. was tied for fifth with Austria (4), followed by Great Britain (3). Canada, France, and Hungary each won 1, a silver for Canada and a bronze for the other two.

(As I write this, Norway is currently leading the medal total in Sochi with 12, but Germany has the most golds with 6.)

-- Canada's silver was in men's ice hockey. Canada won every gold in that event from the first Winter Games in 1920 through 1952 except for 1936, when it lost to Great Britain (made up of Canadian players, it must be noted) in the round-robin final round and finished second. Things changed in 1956 when the Soviets got involved, sending essentially professional players while Canada and the rest of the West sent amateurs. The Soviet Union dominated the competition through 1988, with the Soviet-dominated "Unified Team" also winning in 1992. Of course the Olympics are now a pro competition, with each country sending its very best (mostly from the NHL), but at least it's fair now.

But enough with the interesting facts. I was prompted to write this post by a fascinating post at New York's Daily Intelligencer blog featuring stunning images of the 1936 Winter Olympics, the mostly forgotten Nazi Games of that year. It's all quite eerie, and creepy, and terrifying. The poster above is one of them, but there are also photos of the town decked out in Nazi banners, athletes surrounded by Nazi symbols, the ominous-looking opening ceremony, and, yes, Hitler himself showing up to take in an international athletic competition that was essentially presented as a celebration of Nazism.

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