Adolf Hitler, Jesse Owens and the Olympics Myth of 1936

Fact & Fiction
tags: Hitler, Jesse Owens

Rick Shenkman, the foundjng editor of HNN, is the author of Political Animals:  How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics (Basic Books, January 2016). 


Everyone knows that at the 1936 Olympics Hitler snubbed Jesse Owens. As the story goes, after Owens won one gold medal, Hitler, incensed, stormed out of Olympic Stadium so he wouldn't have to congratulate Owens on his victory.

Such a performance would have been perfectly in character, but it didn't happen. William J. Baker, Owens's biographer, says the newspapers made up the whole story. Owens himself originally insisted it wasn't true, but eventually he began saying it was, apparently out of sheer boredom with the issue.

The facts are simple. Hitler did not congratulate Owens, but that day he didn't congratulate anybody else either, not even the German winners. As a matter of fact, Hitler didn't congratulate anyone after the first day of the competition. That first day he had shaken hands with all the German victors, but that had gotten him in trouble with the members of the Olympic Committee. They told him that to maintain Olympic neutrality, he would have to congratulate everyone or no one. Hitler chose to honor no one.

Hitler did snub a black American athlete, but it was Cornelius Johnson, not Jesse Owens. It happened the first day of the meet. Just before Johnson was to be decorated, Hitler left the stadium. A Nazi spokesman explained that Hitler's exit had been pre-scheduled, but no one believes that.

Several other misconceptions about the 1936 Olympics are prevalent. Not only was Owens not rebuffed by Hitler, Owens wasn't shunned by the German audience at the Berlin stadium either. Baker reports that Owens so captured the imagination of the crowd it gave him several ear-shattering ovations. Owens had been prepared for a hostile reception; a coach had warned him in advance not to be upset by anything that might happen in the stands."Ignore the insults," Owens was told,"and you'll be all right." Later Owens recalled that he had gotten the greatest ovations of his career at Berlin.

Another popular belief is that the games marked a humiliating moment for the Nazis because a few blacks walked away with a fistful of medals while Hitler had predicted the Teutonic lads would be the big winners, proof of the superman abilities of the white race. In reality, the competition was anything but a German humiliation. It is forgotten that Germany managed to pick up more medals than any other ciuntry.. Hitler was pleased with the outcome.


This article was excerpted from Rick Shenkman's Legends, Lies and Cherished Myths of American History. © Rick Shenkman

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steven r offenback - 6/23/2008

Rick Shenkman needs to be sure he does proper fact checking before making such statements as -
"It is forgotten that Germany managed to pick up more medals than all the other countries combined. Hitler was pleased with the outcome."

Germany did certainly have a successful olympics but they didn't come close to picking up more medals than all the other countries combined. The fact is Germany picked up a total of 89 out of a possible 388. (U.S. got 56)

When all facts are not checked then how are we to believe the rest.

JB Campbell - 11/20/2007

Owens was asked if he met any nasty Nazis in Germany? He said, no, only nice Germans. And they didn't make me ride in the back of the bus, either.

I met him when I was a kid. He was a disk jockey on a radio station in Chicago. He shook hands and offered me a bunch of 45 records. I took them home and discovered Eddie Cochran and Summertime Blues, thanks to Jesse Owens.

Rex RexCurry.net Curry - 8/25/2004

I enjoyed your article and it reminded me of another piece of little-known history: While the National Socialist German Workers' Party presided over the 1936 Olympics in which Jesse Owens set multiple records, Owens’ family and friends faced government schools in the U.S. that mandated racism and segregation by law, and that required a daily straight-arm salute to the U.S. flag with a pledge written by a self-proclaimed National Socialist in the U.S. (Francis Bellamy) to glorify government. http://members.ij.net/rex/pledge1.html

An eye-popping photo of a segregated class robotically chanting the Pledge is at

A jaw-dropping graphic comparing the U.S. Pledge to the salute of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party is at http://members.ij.net/rex/pledgewonschik.html

with information about a new U.S. Supreme Court case that exposes the Pledge’s terrifying history.

The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance was the origin of the salute of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. http://members.ij.net/rex/pledgesalute.html

It is a myth that it was an old Roman salute.

One of the big myths about government schools is that children gain good "socialization." The socialist pledge of allegiance is more proof that the socialization of government schools is so bad that government schools should end. This webpage helps students in government schools to stop repeating the pledge of allegiance to the flag, and to end all government school policy for it. http://members.ij.net/rex/stopthepledge.html

The children in the pictures on the webpages above saluted the U.S. flag with the original socialist salute and pledge that was written by the socialist Francis Bellamy to promote socialism through the most socialistic institution: government schools (socialized schools). The National Socialist German Workers’ Party was aware of the U.S.’s salute when it adopted its salute.

When the U.S. Constitution was written, people in the U.S. received private educations. Bellamy lived during the time when schools were becoming socialized heavily by government in the U.S. It was a view later shared by the National Socialist German Workers' Party.

The government schools were racist and they mandated segregation by law. Every day, the segregated children were forced to attend racist government schools where they were forced to collectively perform a degrading salute and a pledge to a flag written by a socialist to glorify government. Any child who did not perform the socialist pledge was expelled. If parents rejected government schools in favor of the many better alternatives, some government school administrators would still harass the families. It was behavior that was later shared by the National Socialist German Workers' Party

Bellamy, belonged to a group known for "Nationalism," whose members wanted the federal government to nationalize most of the domestic economy. He saw government schools as a means to that end. It was a view later shared by the National Socialist German Workers' Party. The current hand-over-the heart pledge was adopted after the National Socialist German Workers' Party tried to impose socialism upon the world.

The United States of America is one of the only nations since Germany (under the National Socialist German Workers' Party) that has designated an official pledge to its flag.

To this day, children are still ostracized and persecuted in government schools that still hold a daily ritual where children stand for a robotic recitation of a pledge and salute written by a socialist to glorify government.

And no one disputes the invidious influence of a century of socialism's racism and segregation mandated by law in government schools, where it was taught as an official policy. Even after the socialist segregation ended the socialist schools continued racist and vicious behavior with forced busing, removing children from their neighborhoods and families, forcing them to government facilities across town, and destroying their local neighborhoods and the support that was provided.

Today, the government owns and operates most schools and there is constant political debate about how the government should handle myriad non-educational issues within the schools. Imagine if the government owned and operated most churches and there was constant political debate about how the government should handle myriad non-religious issues within government churches (dress codes, cell phones, drug testing, sex ed, discrimination, forced busing to integrate churches, etc). Would the media and the citizenry advocate that the issues be solved by privatizing the churches, removing government from the churches, and championing the separation of church and state? Apparently not. If the popular reasoning regarding schools is followed, the media and citizenry would merely advocate that socialized churches adopt various policies that are the most "popular" or considered to be the most "reasonable." Other people, instead of creating the First Amendment, would instead advocate a voucher program where every child would receive government funding for his church. The same disaster would result.

Many people have been mistreated and segregated by government schools. They have constantly struggled to correct government schools. Imagine if everyone who had been mistreated or segregated by government schools had instead advocated the separation of school and state, and had withdrawn from government schools, and had switched to private schools or had formed their own private schools and used the many better alternatives. They would have done better than they have done by staying in government schools. They would have academically surpassed the people they left behind in government schools. They would have enjoyed true freedom, including true religious freedom, even in their schools. Their actions would have been much more historical, revolutionary and inspiring than the constant struggle to correct government schools. It would have been a story as historical, revolutionary and inspiring as was the separation of church and state, and the end of government churches.

It's not too late for the separation of school and state. The separation of school and state is as important as the separation of church and state.