"Arms And Olympics" - Westbrook Pegler and the 1936 Winter Games

While a new German book sheds new light on the infamous 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen these days, many people don't know today how critical parts of the foreign press reacted to the feast in the snow. Many writers who came to the Bavarian alps in February 1936 regarded the show exactly as what it was: a prelude for the Nazi's propaganda stunt that was to come in the summer in Berlin. One of the harshest critics was Westbrook Pegler (1894 - 1969). His columns "Fair Enough" that were printed among others in The Washington Post were surch hard stuff that German Olympic official Carl Diem called him "one of the most dangerous men in Garmisch". In the end, Pegler did not even get a visa to visit the Summer Games (picture: br.de).

The Post had made its mark before. During the American boycott debate from 1933 to 1935, it had strongly opposed the Olympics in Nazi Germany. And Pegler was far from alone in his criticism, his views on the propaganda spectacle being shared among others by famous Berlin radio correspondent William L. Shirer. The anticipation of politicized and even racist Games led to the fact, as Pegler wrote, that there were more political journalists in Garmisch-Partenkirchen than even the Nazis must have had expected. "Heavy duty thinkers", as Pegler called them in one of his columns. The showings of Adolf Hitler at Garmisch to Pegler resembled that of a "Roman Emperor".

Pegler (picture: oztypewriter.blogspot.com) summed up his impression impression of the militaristic, unsportsmanlike atmosphere at the Games in a column with the headline "Arms And Olympics" that was published in the Post on February 18th: "Soldiers are everywhere in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. All the soldiers wear the Swastika. This gives a strange suggestion of war in the little mountain resort where sportsmen are drawn together in a great demonstration of international friendship. The scene is strongly reminiscent of the zone behind the front when divisions were being rushed to the sector of the next offensive. At home we've never found it necessary to mobilize an army for a sport event."

With these few sentences, Pegler had ripped into pieces the picture of peace and happiness the Nazis had planned to show to the world at the Games. And he went even further: After German officials had publicly protested against his writings and called him a liar, Pegler answered four days later with a column called "A Correction", which was in fact an "apology" even harder to swallow for Hitler's devotees:

"Those weren't troops at all but merely peace-loving German workmen in their native dress, and those weren't army lorries but delivery wagons carrying beer and wieners and kraut. They don't really march at all. They just walk in step in columns of four, because they like to walk that way. And it is an old custom of theirs to form cordons of military appearance along the curbs and just stand there by the hour for pleasure. When thousands of men seem to march but don't in clothing and tin-hats which seem to be military uniforms but aren't and carry harmless utensils which appear to be bayonets any stranger is likely to make the same mistake." (picture: gaponline.de)

This was too much for the Nazis- Pegler - who was observed by the Gestapo during the Winter Games - had to stay home the next summer. From his desk, he continued to write against the Games of 1936 and reiterated his opinion that the Germans were not really clever in their propaganda efforts, that most foreigners understood what was really going on. On July 5th, a few weeks before the Summer Games, he wrote in The Washington Post: "The [the Nazis] spied on their guests and resorted to incredibly stupid attempts to bulldoze or seduce foreign correespondents into Nazi propaganda. They were so dumb, however, that the upshot of it all was that they made chumps of themselves before the civilized races. Nobody was deceived. They are such thick, bungling dopes, those Nazi politicians, that they are always showing themselves up in stratagems which they intended to be subtle. They will do it again this summer."

That no visitor to Germany in 1936 was tricked by the Nazi peace show may have been an exaggeration. But at least, Westbrook Pegler made sure his readers were not.

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