The German Jews at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

olympics berlin

The 1936 Berlin were probably the biggest propaganda tool ever to be created by the Nazi regime, but I won’t go into the details of the actual games. I will focus on 3 people of Jewish descent. Two who survived the war and one who did a few days after the games.

In 1935 teh Nazis had introduced the Nuremberg Laws.One of the consequences of these laws was that the Jewish people no longer were allowed to participate in social activities together with ‘Aryan’ people.

Concerned that international opinion would be adversely swayed by the new laws, the Interior Ministry did not actively enforce them until after the 1936 Summer Olympics, held in Berlin that August. Also some of the best athletes were Jewish.

Rudi Ball

Rudi Ball

Because he was Jewish, Ball was initially not consideed for selection in the German ice hockey team. Because  of that Ball’s  good friend and teammate, Gustav Jaenecke, refused to play unless Ball was included. Ball also believed a deal could be struck to save his family in Germany if he returned to play in the games.Realizing the team would not be competitive without their stars and attempting to win as many as possible to propagate their political machine, the Nazis and Ball struck a deal. By playing, Rudi’s family would be able to emigrate from Germany.His parents were allowed to leave and emigrated to South Africa.Although not verified it is believed that Ball had met directly with Hitler.

What I find intriguing and truly amazes me, Ball and also his brothers had already been in safety. In 1933 they played Ice hockey in Switzerland.

After the games Ball resumed playing for his old team in Berlin and, (this is something that truly amazes me) continued in the team in several capacities until 1944.

Ball died in September 1975 and was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2004.

Helene Mayer


Helene Mayer is a bit of an enigma I suppose. Many see her as a traitor and although I can understand why,I don’t necessarily subscribe to that point of view.

She was, by definition of German law at the time of the Olympics, part-Jewish, which had cost her most of her citizenship rights.Although she did not really consider herself to be Jewish, her Father was Jewish and had died from a heart attack in 1931. Her mother was christian and Helene was more or less raised as a Christian, but that did not matter to the Nazis.

Mayer won a gold medal in fencing at the age of 17 at the 1928 Summer Olympics in 1932 at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, having learned, two hours prior to the match, that her boyfriend had died in a military training exercise in Germany.She remained in the USA to study.

In April 1933, she was kicked out of the Offenbach Fencing Club, even though as a private organization it was then under no legal obligation to expunge its Jews. Later on in 1933 the Germans withdrew her scholarship. She managed to get a job teaching German at Mills College in Oakland, California, and later taught at San Francisco City College.She lost her German citizenship in 1935 because of  the Nuremberg Laws, which considered her non-German.Rejected by her home country and unable to fence for the US, Mayer’s Olympic career should have been over.However out of fear for an American boycott to the Olympic games, the Nazis decided to include Helene mayer in the team, Partially because she looked Aryan.Goebbels required of the press that “no comments were to  be made about Helene Mayer’s Jewish ancestry.

Controversially she gave a Nazi salute on the podium, and later said it might have protected her family. After the games she returned to the US.Her brothers stayed in Germany where, they were forced into hiding before eventually being they were captured and were forced into slave labor in a factory. It was only because of the war’s end they survived not because of Helene’s salute or participation in the games. Having that said though I can understand why she did it. It is very easy for us to judge but we were never put in that situation..

Wolfgang Fürstner


Wolfgang Fürstner  was a German Wehrmacht captain initially appointed as commander,  of Berlin’s Olympic village during the 1936 Summer Olympics.

He had been tasked with building and organizing the Olympic village. Howver shortly before the games commenced he was replaced and demoted to vice commander.

His  Grandfather was Jewish but had converted to Christianity but as with Helen Mayer this didn’t matter to the Nazis, nor did  the fact that he was an officer in the Wehrmacht.

Fürstner, found out  that  he was going to be  classified as a Jew and was to be dismissed from the Wehrmacht.On on 19 August 1936, 3 days after the end of the games he shot himself. The Nazis tried to cover up his suicide by claiming he had died in a car accident. But the truth of his suicide soon leaked to the international press. The Sydney Morning Herald an Australian newspaper, reported Fürstner had been found dead with a gun by his side.


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Rudi Ball, 1936, and a Deal with the Devil

In 1936 Games, a Mills College teacher with Jewish roots won silver for Nazi Germany

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