Triumph of the ‘Other’

Photograph: Heinrich Hoffmann; Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Photograph: Heinrich Hoffmann; Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

This story was originally published in June 2014.

The 1936 Summer Olympics were held in Berlin, Germany, an era where Adolf Hitler was in charge. Only two countries (Spain and Germany) had made bids to host the games. Hitler was delighted to have successfully won the bid, since it gave him and his administration a chance to establish their ideological beliefs of racial supremacy. Several measures were taken to weed out what the German’s considered ‘inferior’ races from participating in the games. However, what the Nazi party could not control was the participation of African-American track and field athlete James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens because of his nationality. Though the Nazi party would rather not have Owens participate, since he was a representative from USA, they had no choice but to let him. He won four gold medals in several track and field related events; a veritable slap on the face of Nazi ideology that only the ‘Aryan’ race is superior.

This photo was shot during the final award ceremony. While the other athletes were giving the Nazi salute, Owens offered a simple salute. It is also speculated that Hitler refused to present Owens with his medal or shake his hand. In fact, Hitler was not even in the stadium during the ceremony because of differences between him and the Olympic organisers. On the first day of the games, he had congratulated only German athletes, which went against the Olympic organisers’ neutrality rules. This upset Hitler and he did not greet a single athlete after the first day.

Tags: 1936 Summer Olympics, Nazi salute, Heinrich Hoffmann, James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens