Cecilia Colledge
British skater Cecilia Colledge

In February 1936, there was universal expectation that Sonja Henie, aka The Ice Queen of Norway or The White Swan, would win her third gold medal in the women’s individual figure skating competition at the Gamisch-Partenkirchen Winter Olympics in Germany.

After all, Henie was just 23, and had already won the previous 2 Olympic and previous 9 world championship figure skating competitions. But up-and-comers, as always, are always nipping at the heels of champions. According to sports-reference.com, a 15-year-old Brit named Cecilia Colledge burst onto the scene by being the first female figure skater to execute a double Salchow, propelling her to victory at the European Championships only three weeks before in Berlin, Germany.

Additionally, Colledge had such strong appeal that Henie was no longer the only darling on ice. According to this article in The Independent, the powers-that-be in Nazi Germany were fans:

Sonja Henie_1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics_Hitler
Sonja Henie at the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics, meeting der Fuhrer, Adolph Hitler

The British team manager, T.D. Richardson, wrote that the 40,000 spectators who filled the outdoor stadium to capacity, included Adolf Hitler and other top Nazis. “Goering, in particular, could not keep his eyes off Cecilia. He asked me all about her on several occasions.”

After the first part of the competition – compulsory figures – Henie was ahead. But to the Norwegian’s surprise, not by much. Henie was not pleased.

In 1936 in the twin villages of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in southern Germany, Colledge was only a few points behind Henie after the school figures section. The closeness infuriated Henie, who, when the result for that section was posted on a wall in the competitors’ lounge, swiped the piece of paper and tore it into little pieces.

Fortunately, in the free skating part of the competition, Henie may have gotten the star treatment. While the first place competitor should skate last, it might follow that the second place competitor would skate second to last. Instead, Colledge was asked to skate second of the 26 total number of skater. As The Independent states, in the subjective world of figure skating, there is a distinct advantage to skating later in the day.

The early start was seen as a disadvantage, with the audience not yet whipped into a clapping frenzy and the judges known to become freer with their higher marks as the event proceeded. (Years later, a fairer, staggered draw was adopted to counteract this situation.)

Additionally, as sports-refernce.com details, Colledge’s nerves may have gotten the best of her, as she fell early in her free skate program, resulting in a good, but not great average score of 5.7. Henie, who benefited from the energy and excitement of a crowd waiting to see the Ice Queen crowned champion for a third time in a row, skated without error, well enough to maintain her hold on first, and the golden medal.

 

Sonja Henie_1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics
Sonya Henie competing at the 1936 Winter Olympics
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Kristallnacht
The Day after Kristallnacht

Dr. Ludwig Guttmann is the undisputed father of the Paralympic Games.

But in the fascinating fantasy world of “What If” speculation, the Paralaympic Movement may have had a different, perhaps more delayed progression through time had Guttmann met a different fate in the increasingly scary build up to World War II in Germany.

In 1938, Guttmann was the medical director of a Jewish Hospital in Breslau, which at the time was part of Germany. On November 9, German paramilitary and citizens walked unimpeded through cities across Germany smashing the glass windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings and synagogues. Called Kristallnacht, this pogrom led to the death of dozens of Jews, and the arrest of tens of thousands of Jewish men.

On that Night of Broken Glass, 64 Jewish men were admitted into Guttman’s hospital. While many were injured, some were not and were simply looking for refuge from the violent rampage. According to this interview of Guttmann’s daughter, Eva Loeffler, Guttmann admitted all to the hospital regardless of whether they were injured or not, at great personal risk.

My father said they must all be allowed in, whether they were ill or not and they were all admitted to beds on the wards. The next day the Gestapo came round to see my father, wanting to know why such a large number of admissions had happened overnight. My father was adamant that all the men were sick and said many of them were suffering from stress. He took the Gestapo from bed to bed, justifying each man’s medical condition. Apparently he also pulled faces and grimaced at the patients from behind the Gestapo’s back, signaling to them to pull the same expressions and then saying, “Look at this man; he’s having a fit.”

Poppa Guttman Celebration, Stoke Mandeville.
Eva Loeffler the daughter of Paralympic Games founder Sir Ludwig Guttmann appointed as the Mayor of the Paralympic Village by London 2012

Of the 64, only four were carted away by the Gestapo, the remaining 60 allowed to escape incarceration or death for another day.

Guttmann was Jewish, and thus could easily have been arrested, which would likely have led to death in a concentration camp. But he not only saved the lives of dozens, he saved himself. Despite the fact that he was Jewish, Guttmann was one of the foremost authorities in neuro medicine, and was thus still highly valued by the German government. In fact, in order to exercise influence with a potential ally in the Portuguese, the Nazi regime dispatched Guttmann to Portugal so that he could treat a close friend of the Portuguese prime minister, António de Oliveira Salazar. The German authorities then re-issued Guttmann’s passport (as all Jews had their passports confiscated), and then send him to Portugal.

After finishing his work in Portugal, Guttmann made a significant trip to London, where he met members of the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning. This particular group at the time was devoted to obtaining visas for Jewish academics in Germany to come to England. In fact, according to Guttman’s daughter, Loeffler, the society had already sent a visa to the relevant Berlin authorities informing them that Guttmann has already been offered a research post at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford. When Guttmann returned to Germany, he was presented with an opportunity that could secure his family’s long-term safety, or accelerate his family’s demise.

It was 1939 and I was six years old. I remember I was abnormally frightened at the time; I used to cry a lot. Even as a small child I picked up the fear and sadness felt by my parents. Although Jews were allowed to take out some furniture, clothes and linen they were not allowed to take any money, gold silver or jewelry. But the official who was supervising us came round the day before and told my mother ‘I shall be an hour late tomorrow’. It was obviously a hint that we might pack what we wanted; but my mother was too frightened to take anything forbidden as she thought it could be a trap.

Dr Ludwig Guttmann 2nd from left
Dr. Ludwig Guttmann (2nd from left) with Prof Otfrid Foerster and hospital staff at the Wenzel-Hancke Hospital, Breslau, Germany, 1920s Wellcome Library, London

Fortunately, it was not a trap.

Five years later, Guttmann was asked to run the National Spinal Injuries Center at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, England, which led to his revolutionary work on treatment of the disabled, and the eventual birth of the Paralympic Movement.

But what if Guttmans’s pleas and gesticulations before the Gestapo in the aftermath of the Night of Broken Glass had ended in his incarceration?

What if those 60 Jewish men were not allowed to live another day, to have a chance to survive the war and have families, grandchildren, and great grandchildren?

What if Guttmann was not alive to emigrate to England, and join Stoke Mandeville Hospital?

Would there be a Paralympic Games as we know it today?

glickman-icon

I grew up listening to Marv Albert broadcast New York Knicks basketball games, and I loved the smart, silky smooth delivery, and the shout of “Yes” that punctuated big baskets. But I learned recently in the HBO documentary, Glickman, that Albert, along with many of today’s seasoned play-by-play announcers in America, grew up listening to Marty Glickman.

If you’ve ever heard an announcer of a basketball game say things like “baseline”, “front court”, “drive the lane”, that was because Glickman said it first, credited with creating the blueprint of the basketball court in the mind’s eye of the radio listener. And if you ever heard the word “swish” by a broadcaster after seeing a ball fall through the hoop without hitting the rim, that is because Glickman said it first.

Marty Glickman is without a doubt a legend in the American sports broadcasting world. He was the voice of the Knicks, the football Giants and Jets, Yonkers Raceway, and a wide variety of sports for the fledgling cable network, Home Box Office (HBO).

But the general public is not as aware that Glickman was a great athlete and Olympian. He was not only an Olympian, he was one thrust into the tricky geo-politics of how to handle Nazi Germany in the 1930s, before World War II raged.

In 1936, at the Berlin Olympics, the US was heavily favored in the track sprints. With Jesse Owens (100 and 200-meter gold), Archie Williams (400-meter gold), Ralph Metcalfe (100-meter gold), Mack Robinson (200-meter silver), the US was able to win points in the geo-political PR battle over ideology by showing the world that a diverse America was a strong America. (Of course, black Americans at that time realized support from their government was far greater overseas than at home.)

What is perhaps less well known is that the US had a chance to make the diversity pitch even stronger. The track team had two Jews, the only Jews on the US Olympic squad: Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman. They flew into Germany in 1936, which at the time was said to actively discriminate against people of Jewish “blood”.

marty-glickman-and-sam-stoller
Glickman and Stoller

In the documentary, Glickman talks about the day he got the horrible news – that he would not run in the 4×100 meter relays.

The morning of the day we were supposed to run the trial heats, we were called into a meeting, the 7 sprinters, along with Dean Cromwell, the assistant head track coach head, and Lawson Robertson, the head track coach. And Robertson announced to the seven of us that he heard very strong rumors, that the Germans were saving their very best sprinters, hiding them to upset the American team in the 4×400 meter relay. And consequently, Sam and I, were to be replaced by Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe. We were shocked.

Glickman certainly had no grudge against Jesse Owens. In fact, he cited the fact that Owens stood up for Glickman and Stoller in that meeting. But he was shouted down, in no position to overrule the powerful coaches of the track team.

I said, “Coach, you know, we’re the only two Jews on the track team, Sam and I.” “We’ll worry about that later,” said Dean Cromwell. Sam was completely stunned. He didn’t say a word in the whole meeting. I’m a brash 18-year-old kid, and I said, “Coach, no matter who runs this race we’re going to win by 15 yards!” At which point Jesse spoke up and said, “I’ve won my 3 gold medals. I’m tired. I’ve had it. Let Marty and Sam run. They deserve it.” And Cromwell pointed his finger at him and said, “You’ll do as you’re told.” And in those days, black athletes did as they were told.

Glickman watched the finals in frustration and anger. “I look out on the track and I see Metcalfe passing runners down the backstretch. He ran the second leg. That should be me out there!” Adding a bit of levity to the moment was Lou Zamperini, the famed Olympian whose incredible story was told in the book and film, Unbroken. He said, “With Glickman in there, they wouldn’t have won by 15 yards. Maybe 14 yards.” As it turned out, the Germans had no secret sprinters waiting in the wings, finishing third well over a second behind.

jesse-owens-and-4x100-relay-gold-team-in-berlin
Jesse Owens, Ralph Metcalfe, Foy Draper and Frank Wykoff

Glickman has always believed that anti-semitism was at the heart of leaving Glickman and Stoller off the team. As he stated in this clip, it was easier for the Americans to navigate the tricky diplomacy ins and outs with the emerging Nazi power in Europe by keeping Jewish athletes out of the competition.

Here were the great black athletes who couldn’t be kept off the winning podium. They were marvelous. But here were two rather obscure Jewish American athletes who could be kept from the winning podium so as not to further embarrass Adolph Hitler.

Glickman would go on to say that his victimization on the track was nothing compared to what happened to Jews during the war. But being kept off the track in 1936 was a painful memory he took to his grave, when he passed away in January, 2001. According to this obituary in The New York Times, the US Olympic Committee (USOC) eventually did admit, indirectly, that Glickman and Stoller were likely kept off the track to appease Hitler.

While not finding written proof that the U.S.O.C. kept Glickman and Stoller out of the relay because of anti-Semitism, William J. Hybl, then president of the Olympic group, said in 1998: ”I was a prosecutor. I’m used to looking at evidence. The evidence was there.” That year, the U.S.O.C. presented Glickman a plaque in lieu of the gold medal he most likely would have won even if Owens and Metcalfe had not raced. Stoller died in 1983.

Helene Mayer's Salute at 1936 Berlin Games
Helene Mayer’s Heil Hitler Salute at the 1936 Games
This is not a Hollywood script.

An Olympic fencer, gold medalist at the 1928 Amsterdam Games and six-time national champion in Germany, Helene Mayer was a golden girl and likely eager to participate in her country’s Olympics in 1936.

While studying international law in the US in the early 1930s, she got surprising news. Her membership in a major fencing organization, The Offenback Fencing Club, was rescinded. The reason? Her Jewish heritage.

Mayer was surprised to learn that her father was Jewish. And apparently, she denied that fact. As explained in the fun-fact-filled book, The Book of Olympic Lists by David Wallechinsky and Jamie Loucky:

She was the perfect embodiment of the Nazis’ conception of Aryan womanhood, except for one detail – her father, a doctor who had died before the Los Angeles Olympics (in 1932), was Jewish. Mayer did not think of herself as Jewish, particularly after her father’s death.

Naturally, the German authorities were not going to invite Mayer to the Berlin Games three years later. The Hitler regime intended to allow not a single Jewish athlete to compete. But the German authorities were also desirous of pulling off a public relations coup by hosting the Olympics, showing the world that Germany was a nation of superior standing, representing world peace and inclusion. Under pressure, they decided to ask two Jewish athletes to compete on the German national team – a high jumper, as well as a fencer – Helene Mayer.

While she received pressure from Jewish groups in the US to not go to the Olympics, Meyer was overjoyed to return to Germany for the Berlin Olympics. She was open for her love for her home country.

Helene Mayer portrait

And while she did not win the women’s individual foil championship for Germany, she placed second, good enough for silver and a spot on the medal stand. Quite amazingly, when the Hungarian national anthem was being played for gold medalist Ilona Elek, Mayer, one of only two Jewish athletes added to the team, reluctantly by the German authorities, held out her right arm in a Heil Hitler salute. As is described in this article, the image is striking: “Her face is determined. Her posture is perfect. Her arm points strong and fierce. She leaves no doubt as to what she is doing.”

What was Ilona Elek, whose father was Jewish, thinking when she saw Meyer to her left show her definitive support for the Arayan Race. What was Meyer feeling, as she stood in