Aug 20

(Letter) Jesse Owens, Hitler and Olympics (narratives and history as it really happened)

Written by guest on Wednesday, August 20th, 2008 at 3:58 pm
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This belongs to the “random musing” category. What’s your take?

In some quarters, the Beijing Olympics were compared to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. During the debates of that IMHO ill-conceived moniker “Genocide Olympics”, Jesse Owens’ name was often used. A dominant narrative was that in 1936 the more progressive United States, sent in some black athletes such as Jesse Owens to the Nazi Germany. The fantastic performance of Jesse Owens gave a black eye to Hitler.

Was it the history as it really happened? Hardly. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_Owens

Owens recounted:

“When I passed the Chancellor [Hitler] he arose, waved his hand at me, and I waved back at him. I think the writers showed bad taste in criticizing the man of the hour in Germany.”

He also stated: “Hitler didn’t snub me — it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.” Jesse Owens was never invited to the White House nor bestowed any honors by Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) or Harry S. Truman during their terms. In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower acknowledged Owens’ accomplishments, naming him an “Ambassador of Sports.”

Owens was cheered enthusiastically by 110,000 people in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium and later ordinary Germans sought his autograph when they saw him in the streets. Owens was allowed to travel with and stay in the same hotels as whites, an irony at the time given that blacks in the United States were denied equal rights. After a New York ticker-tape parade in his honor, Owens had to ride the freight elevator to attend his own reception at the Waldorf-Astoria.

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6 Responses to “(Letter) Jesse Owens, Hitler and Olympics (narratives and history as it really happened)”

  1. Charles Liu Says:

    I question Mia Farrow and Joey Cheek’s approach in linking 2008 Olympics with Darfur. There is a huge distinction between “China can do something” and “China is responsible” – this has been ignored in a misguidded effort to blackmail China and denigrate a billon people.

    Is that any way to ask the Chinese to help? By hurting them?

    Espeically given the fact we Americans have repeatedly failed Darfur over the years. I would suggest looking at the root cause of Darfur – the negative consquences of American power in Africa, starting with us training John Garang at Fort Benning 20 years ago.

  2. Wukailong Says:

    Hmm, I’ve heard different versions of this story. It’s doubtful whether Hitler was even present when he won his first gold, and even so, he [Hitler] had been criticized by the IOC for only congratulating winners he liked, so he chose to congratulate no one.

    Another thing I do have to say I find funny, is that Goebbels invented the whole thing with the torch relay. Funny, because both the Western side and China talked about how it represented the beautiful Olympic spirit and all that.

  3. Allen Says:

    This is an interesting post. I wouldn’t be surprised if everything cited is true. The winners write the history – so American and its allies must have reformed history many times to cast them as absolutely in the right and the Nazi Germans as absolutely in the wrong. What actually happened (as a historical matter) becomes secondary…

  4. Charles Liu Says:

    Hitler was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 1939.

  5. FOARP Says:


    1) Way too late for the Olympics

    2) You’ve written exactly this in a comment before, and it wasn’t that great then either.

    3) My take? Well from the way you’ve written it, I guess Adolf Hitler must have been a nice guy . . . . strange that my grandfather and the rest of his generation thought differently, I guess that must have been because the ‘dominant narrative’ that the ‘western media’ sold him brainwashed him into seeing bombers raining down high explosive on British cities. A dictatorship is a dictatorship is a dictatorship is a fascist state – what’s your point?

    @Charles Liu – Anyone can be nominated for a Nobel prize, it is the Swedish Academy of Sciences that makes the decision and they never release the names of the runners-up, hence Li Ao’s claim to be a ‘Nobel prize nominee’ is total nonsense.

  6. Wukailong Says:

    @Charles Liu: Thanks for bringing the Hitler nomination up. I didn’t know about it, but it turned out to be an interesting part of modern history.

    There is a discussion on the nomination in the comments of this blog:


    In short: the text of the nomination was sarcastic and bombastic, only written to ridicule those who proposed that Chamberlain would get the prize. Excerpts:

    “For his ardent love of peace, previously best documented in his famous book Mein Kampf – which next to the Bible probably is the most supreme and widely distributed book – and his outstanding deed wherein he, using only peaceful means, without bloodshed, incorporated Austria into Germany, Adolf Hitler was prompted at the aforementioned critical moment to refrain from violence during the liberation of its home-longing countrymen in the Sudetenland and his legitimate aspiration to make his motherland big and powerful. It is highly likely, that Hitler, provided that he is undisturbed by the still existing warmongers may pursue his great peaceful purposes, in the foreseeable future will pacify Europe and perhaps the entire world.”

    “Due to Chamberlain’s similarly undeniable virtues of peace, it could possibly appear warranted, that a small part of the peace prize be awarded to him, but the most upright thing would be that no other name be placed on the side of Adolf Hitler so as to obscure it. Adolf Hitler is, incomparably, the divinely gifted freedom fighter in our time, and millions of people look up to him as the Prince of Peace on Earth.”

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