In the long and sometimes tortured history of the Olympic movement, no Olympiad has been co-opted more completely by the host country than the 1936 games. From the start, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime set out to use the Olympics to reassure the world that Germany was a civilized society that embraced sport as an essential element in developing strong citizens. They downplayed their mistreatment of unruly elements Jews, blacks, gypsies and others by subtly appealing to the innate prejudices of the aristocratic leaders of the international sports community and hiding outright abuses as the games approached. Hitler was so successful in feigning goodwill during the Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen that no nation protested when he boldly moved troops into the demilitarized Rhineland a few weeks later. In Berlin Games: How the Nazis Stole the Olympic Dream, British novelist Guy Walters has written a meticulously researched work of nonfiction. Readers will find familiar accounts of Jesse Owens, whose four gold medals were an affront to Hitler's racist beliefs, and Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, two runners who were replaced by Owens and another black athlete in the relay finals, seemingly to spare Hitler the embarrassment of seeing Jews on the medal podium. But readers will also learn about lesser-known athletes including German wrestler Werner Seelenbinder, a communist who hoped to win his event so he could denounce Nazism on a live radio broadcast.
Berlin Games is a worthy addition to the literature of the Olympics. By shining the spotlight on the Nazis' takeover of the games, Walters gives context to subsequent clashes of sports and politics that led to boycotts, bans (of South African athletes from 1964 through 1991), and the tragic murder of Israeli coaches and competitors by Palestinian terrorists in Munich in 1972. That year, International Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage outraged many by insisting that the Games continue after only a one-day break, for the good of the Olympic movement. In Walters' book, we see Brundage 36 years earlier, when, as president of the American Olympic Committee, he first put sport above humanitarianism as he fought attempts to boycott the Berlin Games. Sue Macy is the author of several nonfiction books for young readers, including Swifter, Higher, Stronger, a history of the Summer Olympics, and Freeze Frame, about the Winter Games.