August 1, 1936 - Hitler's Olympics

How the world could have changed had Avery Brundage, age 49, responded to Hitler the same way as Judith Deutsch, age 18.

Hitler’s Germany was awarded the 1936 Olympics in 1931 prior to him eventually gaining power in 1933. The world was very aware of Hitler and his anti-Semitic views and his desire to create a pure German race. Starting in 1933 and continuing all the way up to the games there was a constant discussion about the need to move the games. Many felt that Hitler could not be given this platform to spew his hate. Meeting after meeting, visit after visit the battle lines were drawn.

Avery Brundage, the head of the American Olympic Committee, played a pivotal role in how these games would play out. By day, Brundage ran a large construction company based in Chicago and his preoccupation with sports was a more than a hobby but not the source of his wealth. Brundage was a washed up athlete that very much wanted to remain in the arena. Like most competitors, he wanted to win and to him the ultimate prize was to serve on the International Olympic Committee.

Brundage was the chief advocate for Germany. He fought to keep the games in Germany and he openly admired the way the Germans trained and the military like discipline for which the German athletes were famous. His blind, naïve devotion to the games would not allow him to see what was really happening around him. This unwavering devotion eventually led him to not only serve on the IOC, but even lead the IOC all the way through the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich (There is a whole other story about Brundage and the 72 games). Even after retiring, Brundage continued to display his affection for Germany. He eventually moved from Chicago and lived out the rest of his days in Germany.

On the flip side is young Judith Deutsch. At the time of the 1936 games, Judith was an 18 yr. old, elite Austrian Swimmer. She was Austria’s Michael Phelps. She was also a Jew. Regardless of what the bureaucrats and politicians decided, she knew what her conscience would and would not allow her to do. Judith, along with two other Austrian swimmers boycotted the 1936 games. She simply could not be a part of the games.

Judith’s bravery was quickly awarded with a two year suspension from all national and international competitions. Later that year, her family was forced to flee Austria and settle in Haifa, Israel, the only city in Israel with an Olympic pool. Austria stripped Judith of all of her records and medals. She eventually won one more medal just days before Germany invaded Poland.

Judith trained for years and years in order to compete in the 1936 games, but she decided it was important to listen to her conscience, and she paid a heavy price. Brundage also poured everything he had into the 1936 games. He had maneuvered and strategized for years to be in that position at that time. He wasn’t willing to sacrifice his years of work to make the tough stand.

Judith didn’t have the clout that Brundage did. Her stand did not go unnoticed and it caused a stir, but not enough of a stir to have the games moved. Brundage did have the clout and chose to use it to further his own cause.

Judith was asked later in life if she regretted her choice. Her response was perfect. She sighed and simply said she had no choice. She knew that she could not have lived with herself had she done anything differently. No one ever asked Brundage because it was obvious he had no regrets.

Think for a second how differently the script may have read if Brundage had had the courage of the 18 yr. old girl…. Maybe a few hundred thousand fewer folks might have died in the camps or on the battle field. Maybe this “line in the sand” could have empowered the massive German population that did not see the world as Hitler did…

We will never know because one of the few people that had the clout to make a difference chose to act. What decision will you make today or tomorrow or next year that could change the course of history? It may be at work or at home with your children or maybe even at dinner one night when a friend makes a remark that you just brush off as off-color and not PC but you let it slide anyway. Who knows ….

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