School Library Connection

U.S. Participation in the 1936 Berlin Olympics

ABC-CLIO Database: Pop Culture Universe
Time Period: The 1930s
Topic: The 1930s
Skill: Analyze
Process: Compare and Contrast
Inquiry Question: What were the arguments for and against U.S. participation in the 1936 Olympics?

Objectives: By collecting information from the provided sources, students will explain the arguments presented by both sides: those who felt the United States should compete in the games, and those who felt the nation should boycott.

What students will discover in the sources: This activity includes a blend of primary and secondary source materials, reference articles, and scholarly commentary on the 1936 Olympic Games hosted in Berlin. A reference article focusing on the debates over a potential U.S. boycott introduces the controversy surrounding the 1936 Games and Adolf Hitler's recent rise to power in Germany. A second reference article offers an opportunity for comparison between the Nazi Party's racist and xenophobic policies in Germany and the discrimination simultaneously faced by African Americans in the American South under Jim Crow. A photograph taken on the streets of New York City in 1935 shows posters advertising a meeting to organize a boycott of the Games. A scholar's commentary further emphasizes the arguments in favor of such a boycott, describing the ways in which the Nazi regime sought to sterilize its image and treatment of minorities in Germany leading up to the 1936 Games. This argument is expressed in condensed form with a quote from the American Committee on Fair Play in Sports, the leading pro-boycott organization active in the U.S. in 1935. A final quote from Jesse Owens conveys the Olympian's discipline and focus during a historic moment in global politics and sports. These sources combine to offer students several different lenses on the debate over the most controversial Olympic Games in modern history.

From the Pop Culture Universe Database

"Jesse Owens at 1936 Olympics,"

Image of Jesse Owens at the start of his record breaking 200 meter race at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

"Jesse Owens Receives Gold Medal at 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin,"

Image of U.S. olympian Jesse Owens saluting during the medal presentation for the long jump on August 11, 1936, after defeating Nazi Germany's Lutz Long during the Summer Olympics in Berlin.

From the World History: The Modern Era Database

"Nazi Decrees of 1933,"

Text of the three laws, all enacted by the German Reichstag in the spring and summer of 1933, ensuring Adolf Hitler's dictatorial power in Germany. They also illustrate the political and cultural atmosphere in Germany during the 1936 Olympics.

"Nuremberg Laws (1935),"

Established in 1935, just one year before the 1936 Olympics, these laws endorsed by the Nazi Party at their annual rallies in Nuremberg placed severe restrictions on German Jews.

"Opening Ceremony of the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics,"

Image of opening ceremony of the Berlin Olympics on August 8, 1936.

Professional Resources

"Curriculum Connections for Games of Deception," School Library Connection,

Curriculum Connections include curated resources, lesson plans, and author insights to help you introduce and share quality literature with your students and teachers. This one highlights the YA nonfiction book Games of Deception by Andrew Maraniss, about the 1936 Olympics.

"Teaching History: The Interwar Years,"

Activities, teaching tips, pacing guides, and key questions on the major events of the years between World War I and World War II; including a guide on the rise of fascism in Europe, which offers teaching resources on Nazi Germany.

Reference Books

Cohen, Stan. The Games of '36: A Pictorial History of the 1936 Olympics in Germany. Missoula, MT: Pictorial Histories Publishing, 1996.

This reference title chronicles the Olympics in Berlin through reproductions of contemporary photographs, documents, and newspaper stories, and also includes biographies of many of the noteworthy athletes and organizers of the games.

Findling, John E, and Kimberly D. Pelle. Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004.

Contains chronologically arranged entries that examine political controversies, scandals, tragedies, economic issues, and peripheral incidents related to specific games from the 1896 Olympics in Athens to the 2008 Games.

Manning, Martin J, and Herbert Romerstein. Historical Dictionary of American Propaganda. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004.

From the French and Indian War in 1754, with Benjamin Franklin's Join or Die cartoon, to the War in Iraq, the Historical Dictionary of American Propaganda provides more than 350 entries, focusing primarily on propaganda created by the U.S. government throughout its existence.

Nonfiction for Students (6-12)

Bachrach, Susan D. The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936. Boston: Little Brown and Company, 2000.

This book recounts the story of the Olympics held in Berlin in 1936, and how the Nazis attempted to turn the games into a propaganda tool for their cause.

Bergmann, Gretel. By Leaps and Bounds. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2005.

This memoir which includes photographs, recounts Bergmann's experiences as a Jewish athlete banned from the 1936 Olympics, her escape from Germany, and her eventual return many years later.

Brown, Daniel J. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. New York: Penguin Books, 2013.

Set during the Great Depression, this is the improbable, intimate account of how nine working-class boys from the American West, the University of Washington's eight-oar crew team, achieved success at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Smith-Llera, Danielle. Black Power Salute: How a Photograph Captured a Political Protest. North Mankato, Minnesota: Compass Point Books, 2017.

This narrative follows the protest against racism by African American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and the iconic photograph that captured the historic event.

Literature & Film for Students

James, Stephan and Jason Sudeikis. Race. Universal City, California: Universal Home Video, 2016. DVD.

This film tells the story of Jesse Owens' quest to become the greatest track and field athlete in history, which launches him onto the world stage of the 1936 Olympics, where he faces off against Adolf Hitler's vision of Aryan supremacy.

Jolie, Angelina, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, et al. Unbroken. Universal City, CA: Universal Studios Home Entertainment, 2015. DVD.

This film tells the story of 1936 Olympian and war hero Louis Zamperini, who survived in a raft for 47 days after a near-fatal plane crash in WWII, only to be caught by the Japanese Navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.

Maraniss, Andrew. Games of Deception. New York: Philomel Books, 2019.

This nonfiction account takes the reader from the birth of basketball to its debut as an Olympic sport in 1936, pitting the stories of the American basketball players as they navigate the excitement of the games against the complexities of the political propaganda and entrenched racism both at home and in Nazi Germany.

Schaap, Jeremy. Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics. Boston: Mariner Books, 2008.

This is the story of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympic Games, including a look at the controversy of American participation in the games. It also tells the story of the German rival, who Owens befriended and who helped Owens win the gold medal at his own expense; and also of the two Jewish sprinters who were, at the last moment, denied the chance to compete for the United States.

Literature & Film for Educators

Deford, Frank. Bliss, Remembered. New York: Overlook Press, 2010.

At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, American swimmer Sydney Stringfellow begins an intense love affair with a German, but the affair abruptly ends when political forces tear them apart.

Large, David C. Nazi Games: The Olympics of 1936. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007.

This account provides an overview of how the 1936 Olympics was a crucial part of the Nazi regime's mobilization of power. The narrative includes accounts of the international effort to boycott the games and recounts the athletic feats of the games.

Müller, Ray. The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Reifenstahl. U.K.: BBC, 2003. DVD.

This is a profile of Leni Reifenstahl, the controversial German film director, whose work won her the admiration of Hitler and for whom she worked to make propaganda films.

Oliver, Hilmes. Berlin 1936: Sixteen Days in August. Other Press, 2018.

Berlin 1936 takes readers on a journey through the 16 days of the 1936 Olympics, describing the events in the German capital through the eyes of a select cast of characters—Nazi leaders and foreign diplomats, sportsmen and journalists, writers and socialites, nightclub owners and jazz musicians.

Walters, Guy. Berlin Games: How the Nazis Stole the Olympic Dream. New York: Perennial, 2007.

Berlin Games is a history of the 1936 Olympic Games, a story of the athletes and their accomplishments and an account of how the Nazi government attempted to use the Olympics as a model of Aryan superiority and fascist efficiency.

Websites & Mobile Apps

1936 Olympics, The International Olympic Committee,

The Olympic Committee's website page on the 1936 Olympics includes highlights of the games, live footage, listings of all medal winners, essays on the various games, and a gallery of photographs.

The Nazy Olympics Berlin 1936, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum,

A page dedicated to resources on the 1936 Olympics, including videos, background information on boycotts and the games, and a list of biographies about various Olympians and their experiences.

Entry ID: 2253337