Race in sports has always been a major topic of discussion, with sports having a long, convoluted history of racism. Leading up to the 1936 Olympics, Hitler only allowed Aryan’s to compete in the sports, which perpetuated the idea of Aryan superiority and encouraged the glorification of the Aryan body (something we saw in the clip in class last week), which he saw as a work of art. By only allowing Nordics to participate in sports, no other ethnic groups could be associated with the glory and fanfare that came with sports. In some ways, the 1936 Olympics served as a huge marketing tool for Hitler; one in which he could showcase his Aryan athletes and their genetic superiority on the world stage. It was less about athletics, and more about parading around Aryan bodies, works of art that were “healthier and stronger,” with their “external appearance and in frame of mind nearer to [that of] the ancient world” (Moeller, 66). In a sense, it also became extremely political, and the games made it allowed to exhibit strong nationalist attitudes when cheering for their team.
However, since other countries besides Germany, like the United States, participated in the Olympics, there was still racial diversity present despite the internal restrictions placed on athletes in Germany. Perhaps the greatest star of the games that year was Jesse Owens, an African American track athlete who took home four gold medals for his performance in the 100m, 200m, long jump, and 4x100m relay. He was a living contradiction to the supposed “myth of Aryan superiority” (Moeller, 87), and his accomplishments gave those who were oppressed in the Regime, like Peter Gay, a glimmer of hope.
I find it so interesting, and also somewhat sad, that people like Peter were so inspired by Owens’ success. Not that his achievements weren’t awe inspiring and deserving of the praise they got, but it feels like there was something more behind the support he got from people like Peter and his father than just overall feelings of awe. In fact, Document 25 was my favorite to read this week because this small anecdote really drives home the sentiments held by people of Jewish descent during that time period in Germany. Peter was pushed to feel resentment, to the point where he had lost his sense of national pride for Germany. It reminds me of Document 32, in which Inge Deutschkron describes her sensitivity to the hair-behind-the-ear comment given to her by a photographer. Sure, we hear all about the large atrocities like mass incarcerations and concentration camps (which should absolutely be discussed so to never be forgotten), but we don’t get to read much about the smaller scale effects the regime had on those that it marginalized. The little humiliations, the exclusions from school field trips (Document 31), things that although they didn’t result in widespread destruction or death, feel really significant for the person experiencing them. People really suffered greatly psychologically on a small scale, and it’s documents like these that really expose that.