Exhibit features Nazi terrorism during 1936 Berlin Olympic Games


    By Erin Johnson

    In light of the Sept. 11 attacks and the upcoming 2002 Olympics Games, the University of Utah”s new art exhibit featuring the 1936 Berlin games is as poignant as ever.

    The exhibit began Sept. 12 in the J. Willard Marriott Library and will run through March 22. It features athlete testimonials, videos, posters and photographs that are on loan from the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

    “We were struck by terrorists, and Nazi Germany was itself a terrorist regime,” said Ronald Smelser, a history professor at the U of U, who first contacted the Holocaust Museum about the exhibit.

    Smelser said the 1936 games were merely a facade through which the Nazi regime espoused its propaganda and racist ideals. Although the United States considered boycotting the games, it eventually agreed to participate, along with 48 other countries.

    In order to get other countries to participate, the Hitler regime publicized an agenda of courtesy to all athletes and even accepted Jewish athletes into the competitions. Such competitors, however, were eliminated from the German team before the games actually began.

    German-born Jewish athlete Margaret Lambert was among those prohibited from participating in the games due to her religion.

    “I was a token Jew to make the Americans participate,” she said, “but after the American athletes were on their way to Germany, I was told I wasn”t good enough.”

    At the time of the games, Lambert was among the four best high jumpers in the world and had broken the previous year”s gold medal record. Yet she was told that she had not made the cut for the German Olympic team, while her fellow athletes were told she had been injured.

    “How could they let me compete in front of thousands of people after what Hitler had been preaching,” she said. “I”m still disappointed because to be in the Olympics is something very special.”

    Smelser hopes that students that attend the exhibit will be able to glean valuable lessons from stories such as Lambert”s.

    “The Nazis perverted the Olympics and manipulated the Games to serve their racial, cultural and political purposes,” he said. “Everything the Nazis stood for was a denial of the true spirit which had animated the revival of the modern games.”

    With the 2002 Olympic Games rapidly approaching, Smelser also hopes that participants in the Olympics will remember the true meaning of “harmony among nations and individual achievement” that was thwarted by the Nazi regime.

    Sara J. Bloomfield, director of the Holocaust Museum, said she also hopes that the lessons learned from the 1936 Olympics will not be wasted on the Salt Lake Games.

    “The 1936 Olympics could have been a platform to speak out against Nazism; instead, it was a missed opportunity,” she said. “As today”s athletes prepare to compete in Salt Lake City, this exhibition reminds us of the importance of combating injustice anywhere.”

    In terms of combating justice through participation in the Games, Smelser said she hopes that the exhibit will give students and residents “food for thought” about the 2008 games in Beijing.

    “There are definitely some parallels here, they might think a little harder about that,” he said.

    The exhibition opened with a visit from President Gordon B. Hinckley, and it will continue to feature panel discussions and special events until its close. The exhibit is open Mon., Tues. and Fri., 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Thurs., 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.; and Sat. and Sun., 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.

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