|Hitler's pawn: A Thwarted Olympian
[ 2006-08-23 17:50 ]
In the early 1930s, Bergmann was one of Germany's top female track and
field athletes. She seemed poised to compete at the 1936 Olympics, which were
going to be held in Berlin. After the Nazis' rise to power, however, Bergmann
and other Jewish athletes were told they were no longer allowed to compete in
German athletic clubs or competitions. In response, Bergamann moved to London.
She hoped to represent Great Britain at the Olympics. She won the British high
jump championship in 1935.
At this time, an Olympic boycott movement was gaining momentum in the United
State because of the Nazi policy of excluding Jewish athletes. In response, the
Nazis agreed to nominate 21 Jews, including Bergmann, to attend the Olympic
training camp. She returned to Germany and took part in the camp, because her
family had been threatened if she did not return.
Despite achieving terrific result, she was not allowed to compete against
non-Jewish athletes. Still, with the American boycott threat looming, the
Germans invited Bergmann to join the Olympic team, and she accepted. Her
admission to the team secured the American team's participation in the Games.
Bergmann jumped a German-record tying 5'3" in the high jump in June 1936, but
on July 16, she received a letter from the German Olympic Committee that read,
"Looking back on your recent performances, you could not possibly have expected
to be chosen for the team." The letter concluded, "Heil Hitler."
The rejection, of course, came as a terrible disappointment. Her boyfriend
Lambert a Jewish athlete, to recalls that "the thought that I might represent
Nazi Germany had sickened me, and yet I desperately wanted the chance to
compete…but my motivation was different from any other athlete, I wanted to show
what a Jew could do, and I wanted to use my talent as a weapon against Nazi
ideology." Eager to refute the Nazi impression of the Jew as "fat, bowlegged,
and miserable," Bergmann later remarked that "It was all a charade. They never
intended to put me on the team."
Feeling cheated, she emigrated to the United States in 1937, and promptly won
national championships in the high jump and shot put. She repeated as national
champion in the high jump in 1938. Bergmann was honored in 1980 with a
commemorative award from the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. She was
soon joined in the USA by her future husband, Bruno Lambert. The two Jewish
athletes were unsure if they would ever see each other again when Bergmann left;
but Lambert secured papers to America, and the couple settled in New York
(Foreign and Domestic Olympic Stories)