The Nazi Games - over and over again

This year it's yet another remembering. At least every decade, German TV is looking back on the most controversial Olympics ever, the 1936 Games in Berlin and Garmisch-Partenkirchen. This time, at the 80th anniversary, the fever for a new look on this event has spread even further, with the upcoming documentary "Olympic Pride, American Prejudice" putting a new, American perspective on the screen.

Today, Hitler's Games are seen as the most discussed event in the history of all sports (picture: Bundesarchiv). Hundreds of books have been published about it. Starting in 1986 with the German TV documentary "Der schöne Schein" ("The beautiful illusion"), their story has been retold over and over again in a myriad of TV productions. The ironic thing about it: All these films used nearly the same pictures, most of them taken from Leni Riefenstahl's infamous "Olympia - Fest der Völker" and "Olympia - Fest der Schönheit". This was due to the simple fact that almost no other film material has survived. There is only one notable exception to this copy and paste process: German historian Emanuel Hübner collected amateur footage from the Games and the years before in his great documentary "Olympia 1936 - Die Olympischen Spiele in privaten Filmaufnahmen".

Lacking original footage, many film producers recently have turned to actors and filmed fictional scenes to add drama to their works. Sometimes, this works out quite well, especially in "Der Traum von Olympia", which shows the fate of Wolfgang Fürstner. The Wehrmacht officer was head of the 1936 Olympic village that gained Nazi Germany praise all over the world. Because of a distant Jewish relatives, Fürstner was mobbed out of office. He did his duty until the end of the Berlin Games and then shot himself.

The film was shown on Germany's ARD TV channel shortly before this years Rio Olympics, as well as the ZDF documentary "Der verratene Traum". This piece was concentrating on Vienna swimmer Judith Deutsch. The Jewish girl broke dozens of records before the Games, but did not go to Berlin, protesting the Nazi politics. This couragous act was going to ruin her career.

Most films about the 1936 Olympics live up to the task of putting the event into the correct historical perspective, also portraying the terrible companionship between Hitler and the IOC. Still, there is one big and persisting misunderstanding: Most filmmakers (and many historians) still proclaim that the Games were an overwhelming political success for the Nazi's. This may be true for the foreign guests coming to Germany in 1936. But ist was surely not for most of the newspaper reader's abroad. In fact, many journalists gave highly critical reports on the Games and the boycott discussions before, especially in the United States.

This fact is often ignored, especially in Germany. The Nazi mantra that the Berlin Olympics impressed the whole world still seems to work, even 80 years later.

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