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Witness to History - Michael Walsh

Witness to History - Michael Walsh

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SEPARATING FACT FROM FICTION

The Jesse Owens Story:

Despite his unprecedented Olympic
performance and the widely published -
but false - story that Hitler had
snubbed Owens after he won his
medals, he returned home to face a
racial struggle in his own country.

"When I came back, after all the
stories about Hitler and his snub, I
came back to my native country and I
couldn't ride in the front of the bus,"
Owens said. "I had to go to the back
door. I couldn’t live where I wanted ...
I wasn’t invited up to shake hands
with Hitler ... but I wasn't invited to
the White House to shake hands with
the President, either.

Sixty-years of fanciful embellishment,
ignorance and mischievous comment has
created an image of National Socialist
Germany that owes little to reality. A typical
example of such distortion is woven around
the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

This international event is often mentioned
in the context of it being the Olympics at
which the American Negro, Jesse Owens,
'humiliated Nazi Germany and destroyed the
myth of Aryan superiority.' What are the
true facts?

Jesse Owens, a fine athlete was the citizen of
a country whose racism would have made
Hitler blush. The contrast between the two
countries would have been quite remarkable
for this humble and likeable ex-cotton
picker.

In Hitler's Germany, Jesse Owens could
share a bus or tram ride with white people.
Treated equally in all respects before the
law, he could sit in a cinema next to whites,
use public toilets, and dine in restaurants,
stay in hotels without any discrimination
being shown towards him. There was much
that he could do in Hitler's Germany that
was forbidden at home in the United States.

"Joe Louis and I were the first modern
national sports figures who were
black," Owens said. "But neither of us
could do national adver-tising because
the South wouldn't buy it. That was
the social stigma we lived under."

The Hitler snub story is explained this
way: After the opening day of the 1936
Olympics, the winners were escorted
to the dictator’s box to be
congratulated.

But International Olympic Committee
President Count Henri de Baillet-
Latour of Belgium told Hitler he had
no business congratulating any of the
athletes. After that, Hitler left the
stadium each day without
congratulating anyone.

THE TAMPA TRIBUNE
Tuesday, April 1,1980

In the United States Negro athletes were
required to eat apart from their white fellow
athletes. If they were allowed to share the
same hotel at all, which was unlikely, it
would be necessary for them to use the
tradesmen's back entrance.

There were no Negroes on any major league
baseball team and there were no Negro
swimmers. This was of course in the so-called
enlightened north. In the southern states
there was no possibility of a Negro being
allowed to participate in any sport unless he
competed solely with other Negroes.

For Jesse Owens, his days in Hitler's
Germany must have been happy indeed.
There he received a great deal of pre-
Olympic media hype and the German people
idolised him.

"Once at the stadium, the mere appearance
of Jesse Owens neatly moulded head from
some pit below the stands would cause
sections of the crowd to break out in chants of, 'Yes-sa Ov-enss! Yes-sa Ov-enss!' -
Richard D. Mandell. The Nazi Olympics

"Some mornings at the Olympic village the athletic hero of the hour was awakened by
amateur photographers who flocked outside his bedroom window to click at the
athlete before he could gather poise for one of his many appearances before the mobs
in Berlin." - Richard D. Mandell. The Nazi Olympics

"Jesse Owens was cheered as loudly as any Aryan." - Lawrence N. Snyder; Jesse's
coach. Saturday Evening Post. Nov7th, 1936

THE HITLER SNUB MYTH

One of the common tales that is perpetuated in the media is that at the 'Nazi
Olympics', Adolf Hitler snubbed Jesse Owens by refusing to shake his hand.

The reality is far different. Hitler on the first day of the Berlin Olympics did indeed
shake the hands of several successful competitors from Germany and Finland. It was
a mistake made in good faith. That evening the Fuhrer received a message from
Count Baillet-Latour, President of the International Olympic Committee. It was
respectfully pointed out to the German Leader that as he was merely a guest of
honour at the Games, he should congratulate all - or none, in public at least.

Hitler, in common with all other national leaders before and since chose the latter as
being the most sensible course. With 156 gold medals being awarded at various
locations and times, it was not physically possible to personally congratulate every
winner. Jesse Owens was not personally congratulated by the Fuhrer; nor were any of
the other successful competitors, white or otherwise ... at the request of the President

of the I.O.C.

It is interesting to note that Jesse Owens own President Roosevelt, failed to honour
this great athlete and did in fact refuse to meet him, despite there being no such
protocol restriction imposed upon him.

But afterwards, Jesse Owens said: "When I passed the Chancellor he arose, waved
his hand at me, and I waved back at him. I think the writers showed bad taste in
criticising the man of the hour in Germany."

Afterwards, Owens and his coach, Larry Snyder on arrival in London complained
that they felt like 'trained seals'. They were subjected to a barrage of 'fraudulent
publicity offers', so much so that they refused further engagements. Time proved
Larry Snyder and Jesse Owens right. None of the offers came to anything but big
name promoters like Eddy Cantor had received a great deal of favourable publicity.

Back home in the United States, Jesse Owens was treated like a freak and an animal.
"Before curious crowds he raced horses (and won). He ran against cars, trucks, dogs,
and baseball players with a head start." - Norman Katkov. Jesse Owens Revisited. The
World of Sport,
p.289

His was a thirties America that had seen 26 lynchings - all Negroes; an America
where Negroes had to use separate public toilets and public transport; went to all-
black schools, and couldn't mix with white people in restaurants, cinemas, hotels,
stadiums, etc. Hitler's Germany and the German people must have seemed very
welcoming by contrast.

FOR THE RECORD:

Hitler's Germany won a total of 101 medals (41 gold) and 223 points. Their only
credible rival was the United States which though three times bigger in population
won 40% fewer medals and points. (25 gold medals - 4 to Jesse Owens - and just 132
points). The U.S.A's size and its reliance on coloured athletes did little to reduce its
humiliation, which in fact justified Hitler's claim to the potential of Aryan
superiority.

Hitler's Germany (population 80 millions) won more gold medals than the United
States, Great Britain, India, Canada, Argentina, France, and Norway together; a
combined population of 1,160 millions: 14 times bigger than Germany's. If this is
humiliation, perhaps we could do with a dash of it ourselves.

(SUMMER OLYMPICS) GOLD, SILVER, BRONZE, POINTS:

HITLER'S GERMANY: 33, 26, 30 (181)

UNITED STATES: 24, 20, 12 (124)

FASCIST ITALY: 8, 9, 5 (47)

GREAT BRITAIN: 4, 7, 23 (29)

OLYMPIC ART POINTS: GERMANY (27), ITALY (11), BRITAIN
(0), U.S.A (2)

THE WINTER OLYMPICS:

GERMANY (15)

BRITAIN (6)

U.S.A (6)

To Chapter 8

Table of Contents

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Michael Walsh

Witness to History

CHAPTER 8

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