How Hitler Invented the Olympic Torch

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tags: Hitler, Olympics



Thumbnail Image -  Olympic fire in Berlin, 1936

You’ll never guess, though, who invented all this glitz and glamour: Nazi propagandists. (Sort of dampens the heartbreaking surprise of Muhammed Ali descending from a giant cherry picker onto the opening ceremony’s stage in Atlanta in 1996. Ali accepted the torch from swimmer Janet Evans, his hands shaking from Parkinson’s, and lit a flame that traveled to a giant cauldron above the stadium. The camera panned to roaring fans and a teary-eyed President Bill Clinton as Bob Costas intoned: “Look at him—still a great, great presence, still exuding nobility and stature.”)

Even the Olympic torch might seem like a link to the earliest democracy, but it’s not: The modern torch relay, which now begins with a hokey ceremony in Olympia, the birthplace of the original games around 776 B.C., and travels the globe to the hosting cities, was the brainchild of Carl Diem in the early 1930s. Diem, a German long-distance runner and sports historian, became the chief organizer of the Berlin Games.

“Diem was aware of the use of the lit torch in the ancient games, though nothing exactly like the torch run relay existed,” said Susan Bachrach, a historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the author of The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936.

Creepily, even the newly minted ritual’s equipment hinted at the mass destruction that was about to unfold. The bulky Berlin torch holders were made by the Krupp company, an arms manufacturer that produced weapons for Germans in World War II, and Krupp’s artillery production would become an essential element in decisive Nazi battles.




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