Tokyo Olympics
Tokyo OlympicsiStock

After 49 years of refusal to commemorate the horrific murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics by Arab terrorists, the IOC finally did so at the Tokyo opening ceremony.

When the athletes, of blessed memory, were murdered in the Olympic Village by the Arab Palestinian terror group, Black September, the IOC president Avery Brundage was quick to insist that the “games must go on.”

Munich massacre victims
Munich massacre

Brundage was arguably the dominant personality in 20th century Olympics but also someone who harboured an antisemitism problem.

Brundage, a 1912 Olympian who rose through the ranks of the American Olympic Committee to eventually become IOC President, was the prevailing personality through Hitler’s 1936 Olympics and the 1972 Munich Olympics.

When Hitler became Germany’s leader, the Nazis had initially not been interested in hosting the Olympics which would include non-Aryan Untermenschen (subhumans), instead preferring a German Games to showcase racial superiority. However after realizing the propaganda potential with the Olympics, Hitler decided on a grand spectacle to showcase his Nazi regime.

After German Jewish athletes were expelled from mainstream Aryan sports, there were American attempts to boycott Hitler’s Olympics. Brundage, who admired Nazi Germany, fiercely blocked such attempts , stating that “only twelve Jews had ever represented Germany,” and therefore the issue was irrelevant. Wildly inaccurate and against the Olympic spirit,

After German Jewish athletes were expelled from mainstream Aryan sports, there were American attempts to boycott Hitler’s Olympics. Brundage, who admired Nazi Germany, fiercely blocked such attempts...
German Jews such as number one ranked tennis star Daniel Prenn, champion boxer Erich Seelig were racially ineligible as was high jump champion Gretel Bergmann who managed to escape from Germany. Another, Martha Jacob fled and won the 1937 South African javelin title. A square in Berlin, Martha-Jacob-Platz is named in her honor. Other Jewish athletes such as track and field star Lilli Henoch who had set four world records, were murdered.

To avoid a serious showdown, Germany agreed to have a token Jew in its Olympics. The Americans also suddenly withdrew two Jewish sprinters from their 4x100 relay team, apparently so as not to embarrass Hitler if they won.

Brundage added insult to injury by suggesting that Jews could decrease antisemitism through financial support of American Olympians.

As promised, Hitler’s Olympics was a great spectacle. For the occasion, anti-Semitic street signs were covered or temporarily removed so as not to offend foreign guests. Hitler’s token Jew, Helene Mayer, won silver for Germany in fencing. In the same event, gold was won by German born Ellen Preis representing Austria and bronze by Hungarian Ilona Elek-Schacherer-also both Jews.

Representing Germany, Mayer had to give the Nazi salute when she received her medal, which outraged German Jews. Ironically she had to break German law which forbade Jews from giving the Nazi greeting.

The Berlin Olympics reinforced Brundage’s admiration of Nazi Germany. During a speech at Madison Square Garden, he praised Nazi Germany as “60 million people believing in themselves and their country... we can learn so much from Germany.”

Two years later in 1938, Germany awarded his construction company the contract to build a new embassy in the United States.

Brundage probably never changed his anti-Jewish animosity. Just as he was dismissive of Jewish athletes' expulsions from German sports, his attitude of disdain towards Jewish athletes continued with “the games must go on,” following the murder of the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.

His dismissal of Jewish sporting achievements was made hollow by swimmer Mark Spitz two days after the massacre, who won seven gold medals for America. This record was finally beaten by American swimmer Michael Phelps at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The IOC still “does not get it,”- in July 2020 it used promotional material taken from Hitler’s 1936 Olympics using the slogan “stronger together,” which was deleted after protests.

Notwithstanding the persistence of Israeli athlete widows Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano to have the massacre commemorated with a minute’s silence, IOC presidents always turned a deaf ear until the current president, Thomas Bach agreed.

The IOC has awarded itself a behavioral medal 49 years later.

Finally the right thing, but certainly not gold.

Ron Jontof –Hutter is the author of the satirical novel ‘the trombone man: tales of a misogynist,’ and ‘the Kristallnacht Cantata: a voice of courage.’