Archive for August 1st, 2010

I am always intrigued by symbolism and this date, August 1, marks a day and the start of an event in history that was filled with symbolism,  It was on this day, seventy four years ago,  that the 1936 Olympics held their opening ceremonies in Berlin in the Nazi Germany of Adolph Hitler

 Hitler used the event as a world showcase for his vision of Aryan dominance  and coordinated a spectacular ceremony that brought the Berliners to a feverish pitch as theyconstantly thrust their arms forward in the Nazi salute as their yells of “Heil” reverberated throughout the immense stadium.  The Nazis knew how to use symbolism and spectacle, that’s for sure.  Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, was a spectacular documentary of the games put together by the same woman who brought the world perhaps the greatest piece of propaganda ever produced, The Triumph of the Will.  Both films used stark, powerful imagery and pageantry to convey a sense of power that overwhelms the screen.  One can’t watch them withour feeling a bit of awe, mixed with an uneasiness akin to fear.

Now on that day, as the teams of each nation made their way into the stadium they would pass the dais where Hitler and the Olympic officials sat.  Each team would dip their flag in deference to their host and the assembled team members would collectively turn their faces to the right, in the direction of the dais.  Many of the countries saluted in the Olympic manner which is very much like the Nazi salute except that instead of extending the arm forward, one extended their arm to the right.  Of course, the partisan Germans that made up the majority of the 100,000 or so of the crowd that day took this salute to be the Nazi gesture and voiced their pleasure at seeing it.  And to be sure, there were many who chose to honor the Fuhrer with the Nazi salute.  The Bulgarians even goose-stepped their way past the dais.

Symbolic of their opposition to the fascist regime and of what would take place in the next few years, the British assembly did not salute at all, simply turning their heads to the right as they passed.  To the credit of the United States our athletes did not salute as well , instead taking off their straw hats and placing them over their hearts.  And as we passed, our flag was held high, the only flag to do so that day.  It dipped for no one, which brought on a thunderous chorus of  derisive whistles.

Of course, this is the Olympics of Jesse Owens, the black American whose achievements on the track rattled the foundations of Hitler’s idea of Aryan supremacy.  Ironic, that he should strike such a symbolic blow against ridiculous ideas of racial supremacy even as he was being denied many basic rights in his own homeland.

Here’s a bit of the opening ceremonies with narration by Jesse Owens and the sounds and music of the actual ceremony:

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: