1936 Olympics Relays – No Jews Allowed

Culture Watch
tags: theater reviews, Olympics Uber Alles

Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News. Mr. Chadwick can be reached at bchadwick@njcu.edu.

Everybody who knows something about the history of sports remembers the heroic story of how legendary American sprinter Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Game in Berlin, Germany, running to glory amid the seemingly endless chants of “Sieg Heil!” from the German/Nazi crowd in the jam-packed stadium, where the games were presided over by Adolf Hitler. What most Americans do not know is the story of how Marty Glickman, 18, and Sam Stoller, 21, phenomenally fast runners, were kicked off the American 400 meter relay team in the ’36 Olympics because they were Jews.

Both men had qualified for the race (Glickman and Stoller had probably qualified for other races, but were kept out of them by a University of Southern California coach Dean Cromwell to provide more slots for his USC runners, it was charged. On the morning of the relay race, Cromwell gathered the team and announced that he was afraid the Germans were going to win the relay race because they had too many fast runners. Then he told Glickman and Stoller that they could not run, replaced them with Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, another superstar, and kept two USC sprinters. Glickman and Stoller were kept off the team, their supporters argued, just because they were Jewish and the American Olympic Committee did not want to offend the Jew hating Hitler, soon to reign destruction on the earth in World War II.

Samuel Bernstein and Marguerite Krupp’s new play Olympics Uber Alles, that just opened at St. Luke’s Theater, W. 46th Street, in New York, is the story of the discrimination against Glickman and Stoller (who was booted off the team on his birthday, no less). It is a vivid tale. The playwrights provide an incredible amount of history about the Nazis, Hitler, Germany, the Olympics and discrimination against Jews in America as well as Nazi Germany. They explain in careful detail that no one in Germany suggested that the two Jews be removed; it was all the doing of Avery Brundage, head of the U.S. team, and the two track and field coaches. The playwrights also explore the seldom told tale of the proposed boycott of those Olympics because of anti-Semitism in Germany. The writers did a solid job of gathering accurate information and presenting it. They also did stellar work in talking about the abhorrent treatment of Jews in Germany in 1936 and the years that preceded the Olympics.

The story of Glickman and Stoller is in the center of a larger play. The rest of it concerns the efforts of a Jewish professor to get a museum to open up an exhibit on Glickman and his life. He encounters anti-Semitism, University politics and global hatred of the Jews. The story of the two runners is solid, full of drama and features superb acting. The other story, of the professor, a long and boring one, is a waste of time. Why on earth did the playwrights include this wrap around tale? It wrecked the better story?

They wanted to tell the audience that anti-Semitism still exists? We all know that. Turn on the 6 p.m. news any night of the week.

If the playwrights had trimmed the script down from its overly long two and a half hours to 90 minutes, and concentrated on Glickman, a Syracuse University graduate, it would have worked much better. Even as it is, the Glickman part of the story is very dramatic and, minute by minute, builds up your hatred not just of Hitler, but of the Americans who put the Jewish runners on the bench.

It is yet another play that reminds the audience that Hitler did not come to power simply through his own efforts. He did it because the people who could have stopped him always backed down. Hitler shouted and screamed at them and they sheepishly kept quiet. Hitler knew he had that effect and used it on everybody, including the American Olympic leaders. Nobody said anything to them about Jews; they knew what to do. If someone, anyone, had stood up to Hitler in the 1936 Olympics, or anytime during the pre-war period, history would have been different.

One thing the playwrights did not do is emphasize that after he was booted off the relay team in 1936, Marty Glickman, he of that wonderful voice, went on to become one of the very best sports radio and broadcasters in United States history. He was the voice of the New York Knicks (21 years), New York Giants (23 years) and the New York Jets (11 years). It is mentioned, and applauded, but not underscored as emphatically as it might have been.

Director Debra Whitfield made superb use of black and white stills and film footage of the 1936 Olympics and Hitler, often with chilling effect. The sparse set designed by Duane Pagano, works well but the lighting, also by Pagano, is dark and dreadful.

Director Whitfield gets fine performances from Tim Dowd, Joshua Quat, Darrell Purcell Jr, Jim DiMunno, Amy Handra, Leslie Nemer and superb performances by Michael Engberg as Marty Glickman (young man), and Stewart A. Schneck as Glickman as an older man.

PRODUCTION: The play is produced by Franaleo Productions. Sets: Duane Pagano, Costumes: Janice O’Donnell, Sound and Projections: Paul Bourgeois. The play is directed by Debra Whitfield. The drama runs through October 15.

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