The eleventh Olympic Games were held in Berlin in 1936 and presented the Nazis with an opportunity to show off their regime to the world.

Berlin had been selected to host the 1936 Olympic Games before the Nazis came to power, but the regime took full advantage of the enormous propaganda opportunity the Games presented.

The Nazi regime hoped to portray Germany as a tolerant and hospitable nation. Violence was suppressed, anti-Jewish signs were temporarily removed and the fiercely antisemitic newspaper Der Stürmer was taken off public display in Berlin. Nazi officials decreed that foreign visitors would not be subjected to anti-homosexuality laws. But some acts of persecution were intensified and Roma families living in Berlin were forcibly moved to a camp at Marzahn on the city's outskirts.

Souvenirs and ephemera

Berlin Olympics Scarf

Souvenirs and ephemera

Berlin Olympics Scarf

A souvenir scarf from the 1936 Berlin Olympics. 

There was worldwide pressure to boycott the Games, but in the end only the Soviet Union refused to take part. Some individual athletes, including three Jewish members of the Austrian women's swimming team – Judith Deutsch, Ruth Langer and Lucy Goldner – also refused to participate. All three were subsequently banned for two years by the Austrian Swimming Association.

Several Jewish athletes won medals at the 1936 Olympics, including the Austrian weight-lifter Robert Fein, who broke the lightweight world record. Jesse Owens, an African-American athlete and winner of four gold medals at the 1936 Games, set a world record in the long jump, Olympic records in the 100-metre and 200-metre races, and helped the American team set an Olympic record in the 4x100-metre relay. The Nazis considered his race to be 'subhuman', but to the rest of the world Owens became a hero of the Games.

Souvenirs and ephemera

Model of Reichssportfeld Berlin 1936 Olympics

Souvenirs and ephemera

Model of Reichssportfeld Berlin 1936 Olympics

Bakelite relief model of the Olympic sportsfield, Berlin Olympics, 1936.

While some visitors realised that the Olympics were being used to disguise the true nature of the Nazi regime, many others left Berlin impressed by the spectacle and dazzled by the sporting successes they had witnessed. American journalist William Shirer recorded in his diary: 'I'm afraid the Nazis have succeeded with their propaganda'.

This article was edited by Jessica Talarico. Several members of IWM's staff contributed to writing an older version of this piece.

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