The 1936 Olympic summer games are a well-documented event. However, the 1936 Winter Olympics was not commonly discussed, yet it was just as controversial and steeped in propaganda as the summer games. From February 6 to February 16, 1936, Germany hosted the Winter Olympics at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the Bavarian Alps. It was held six months before the Berlin Summer Olympics
The 1936 Winter Games were organized on behalf of the German League of the Reich for Physical Exercise (DRL) by Karl Ritter von Halt, who had been named president of the committee for the organization of the Fourth Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen by Reichssportführer Hans von Tschammer und Osten.
Yielding to international Olympic leaders’ insistence on “fair play,” German officials allowed Rudi Ball, who was half-Jewish, to compete on the nation’s ice hockey team. Hitler also ordered anti-Jewish signs temporarily removed from public view. Still, Nazi deceptions for propaganda purposes were not wholly successful. Western journalists observed and reported troop manoeuvres at Garmisch. As a result, the Nazi regime would minimize the military’s presence at the Summer Olympics.
28 nations sent athletes to compete in Germany. Australia, Bulgaria, Greece, Liechtenstein, Spain, and Turkey all made their Winter Olympic debut in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Yugoslavia all returned to the Games after having missed the 1932 Winter Olympics.
Rudi Ball initially did not qualify for selection in the German ice hockey team, due to his Jewish background. His 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. The German selectors also realized that without Ball and Jaenecke the team would not stand a chance of winning. Another factor was that the Nazi party could not overlook the fact that Ball was without a doubt one of the leading athletes in his sport. With much controversy, Ball was included in the German team to play at the 1936 Olympic games. One report of the time proposed that Ball was playing against his will. The deal for Ball’s family to leave Germany was also agreed upon. After Ball was injured, the Germans took 5th place in the Olympic tournament. Ball played four matches and scored two goals.
Ball followed his brother, Heinz, to South Africa in 1948. He died in Johannesburg in 1975.
Two other athletes who competed at the Winter Olympics ended up in concentration camps during World War 2. Polish skier Bronisław Czech, and
Norwegian ski jumper Birger Ruud.
Bronisław “Bronek” Czech was a Polish sportsman and artist. In 1934. He wrote a book about “Skiing and Ski Jumping Style”. In addition, he ran a sporting goods store in Zakopane. He also had musical and artistic talents, played violin and accordion, painted on paper and glass, carved wood and wrote poems. When war broke out in 1939, he joined the Polish resistance movement as a courier to Hungary. He was arrested by the German Gestapo in 1940 and was one of the first victims to be transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp. During his imprisonment, he continued to paint landscapes of the Tatras from memory. He died in 1944 in the camp’s hospital ward.
Birger Ruud, with his brothers Sigmund and Asbjørn, dominated international jumping in the 1930s. At the Winter Olympics of 1936 at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany, 90,000 people watched Birger Ruud fly. Ninety thousand faces turned up towards him as the Norwegian added a second gold medal to the one he’d secured at Lake Placid four years earlier.
At the 1936 Olympic Winter Games, Ruud attempted an unusual double, competing in both Alpine and ski jumping events. The inaugural Alpine contest was the combined ski jumping and slalom. Ruud led the downhill race by 4.4 seconds, but when he missed a gate in the slalom, he was assigned a six-second penalty and ended up in fourth place. A week later, Ruud won the gold medal in the ski jump.
He was also part of a group of Norwegians holding their own clandestine events and competitions until in 1943 a Quisling sympathiser reported the skiers to the Gestapo and the three Ruud brothers were sent to the Grini concentration camp. Released after a year Ruud returned immediately to resistance activities, becoming close to one of its key leaders Ahlert Horn.
Amid preparations for the Games, the Garmisch-Partenkirchen town council passed an order to expel all Jews in its jurisdiction but decided to wait until after the Olympics to implement the decree. Anti-semitic signs and publications were removed from the region for the duration of the Games, as a concession to the International Olympic Committee.
It was the last year in which the Summer and Winter Games both took place in the same country (the cancelled 1940 Olympics would have been held in Japan, with Tokyo hosting the Summer Games and Sapporo hosting the Winter Games).