Tags: Olympics | Torch | Relay | Nazis

Historian Claims Nazis Started Olympic Torch Relay in 1936

Image: Historian Claims Nazis Started Olympic Torch Relay in 1936
A lit torch of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic games during a dress rehearsal for the lighting of the Rio Olympics flame, in Ancient Olympia, southern Greece, on Wednesday, April 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

By    |   Thursday, 14 Jul 2016 11:25 AM

The Olympic torch relay, which started in April and ends on August 5 at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium, has the Nazi party to thank for its beginning, according to a historian.

The popular belief is that the Olympic torch relay began when the ancient Olympics began in Greece, but history professor David Clay Large said that is not true, in an interview with USA Today.

"There was no torch relay like this in ancient times," Large said. "The relay came into being as part of the political propaganda used by the Nazis to promote their cause in conjunction with the Olympics. And it has stuck around ever since."

Large wrote about the Nazis' role in Olympic history in his book, "Nazi Games: The 1936 Berlin Olympics."

The Olympics were awarded to Germany before Adolf Hitler took power, and he had no interest in the games, Large said – until propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels pointed out the benefit of the publicity that it would invite.

Hitler wanted to make sure that it was known that the relay was a German idea. Onlookers in Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, and Czechoslovakia were encouraged to yell "Heil Hitler!" as the Olympic torch passed by during the relay.

The Wehrmacht, Nazi Germany's armed forces, marched the same path in reverse as it moved through Europe years later, according to Large.

Large credited the secretary general of the 1936 Olympics, Carl Diem, a German sports administrator, with the idea for the relay. Diem was also the secretary general of the 1936 Olympics.

Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler's favorite director, filmed the relay in the documentary "Olympia," which appeared to be a valuable public relations tool for the Nazi party.

"The film had the world fooled and it certainly had America fooled," Rabbi Marvie Hier, founder of the Simon Wisenthal Center said, according to USA Today. "People thought what a wonderful country Germany must be, to make such a beautiful piece of film. It was maybe the first widespread use of PR by a dictator, and of course it had a terrible outcome."

Fifty-thousand Germans greeted the flame at the Czechoslovakian border, and in Berlin. Former Olympian Fritz Schilgen was chosen to carry the flame for its last leg because of his resemblance to Hitler's Aryan ideal of the German master race.

African-American Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics. His granddaughter Gina Hemphill-Strachan said, "The torch relay will always be near and dear to my heart," reports USA Today. "1936 was one of those attempts to politicize the Games, but the spirit of the Olympics overcomes. It always overcomes."

World War II ended the Olympics for 12 years. In 1948, when London began the Olympics again, it was decided to continue the torch relay. Some believe that history has changed the Olympic torch relay to a symbol of peace from its origins in the Nazi party.

"To me the torch relay kind of says everything about the Olympics. It had a difficult beginning and turned into something great and wonderful," Hemphill-Strachan said.

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The Olympic torch relay, which started in April and ends at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium August 5, has the Nazi party to thank for its beginning, according to a historian.
Olympics, Torch, Relay, Nazis
509
2016-25-14
Thursday, 14 Jul 2016 11:25 AM
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