Friday, February 19, 2016

Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics by Jeremy Schaap

Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics

Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Mariner Books ()
ISBN-13: 978-0618919109
Kindle: 1002 KB
Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (March 3, 2015)

Available on Amazon

Owens at the Nazi Olympics

Today the movie Race opens in theaters. It's a biopic about Jesse Owens and his amazing performance at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he won 4 Gold medals. The movie has had little buzz and the early reviews seem to indicate that it is sadly over-long and rather boring. That's disappointing.

But if you are interested in Jesse Owens, this is a good book to have a look at. It details Owen's path to the 1936 Olympics, including the attempted boycott movement in the USA. The NAACP voted to boycott, but black athletes wanted a chance to prove themselves.

What's interesting is that Schaap is one of the earlier writers to call into doubt the so-called Hitler snub of Owens. It's common knowledge that Hitler was so upset at a black man winning over his own beloved Aryan athletes that he left the podium rather than congratulate him. Except that's not actually what happened. On the first day of the Games (before Owens competed), Hitler only shook hands with German athletes. The Olympic committee demanded that he either shake hands with athletes from all countries or with none. So on the succeeding days he would leave before medal presentations.

This part is not in the book: Owens himself said, after the Games, that Hitler did not snub him and did in fact shake his hand, although not at the medal presentation. In 2009 the Daily Mail published an article where a German journalist who was at the games verified that it was true. In 2014 a British WWII hero verified the story, claiming that he had attended the Games and had witnessed Hitler shaking Owen's hand.

Owens was a star at the Germany Olympics, even before the games began. Reporters and spectators mobbed him and cheered him. Hitler's talented propagandist, Leni Riefenstahl, also show shim as the star in her documentary of the Games, Olympia, where she documents his long-jump. According to Albert Speer, Hitler's reaction to Owen's victories was to say that "People whose antecedents came from the jungle were primitive, their physiques were stronger than those of civilized whites and hence should be excluded from future games."

Owens actually felt snubbed by President Roosevelt, who never congratulated him, either in person or even by letter.

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