jeudi 2 août 2012

The shameful past of the Olympic Games and its present-day repercussions

The August edition of Joods Actueel, a magazine based in Antwerp, has just come out. Several articles deal with the Olympic Games past and present. The refusal by Jacques Rogge to allow a minute of silence at the opening ceremony of the Olympics last Friday in memory of the 11 Israeli athletes who were killed in a terrorist attack in Munich in 1972 led journalists Geert Versyck and Guido Joris to delve into the life of a little known individual: a Belgian count who was also a IOC President.  Count Henri de Baillet-Latour made Adolf Hitler's dream come true by ensuring that the Olympic games were held in Berlin in 1936. We are grateful to Joods Actueel for allowings us to publish the English translation of their article (the French version will follow soon).

When last month you saw at the opening ceremony of the London Olympic games the flame being relayed you probably didn't know that this ritual was staged for the first time at the "Nazi Games" held in Berlin in 1936. It fed Adolf Hitler's appetite for symbolism and pagan rituals and was introduced by a Belgian count. The current president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Dr Jacques Rogge is not the first Belgian president of the IOC. From 1925 to 1942, Henri de Baillet-Latour, a Belgian count, had the privilege of heading the IOC. The first Belgian IOC President who had to steer the IOC through very turbulent times, remains a controversial figure, not least because of his dubious relationship with Nazi Germany.

Count Henri was born on March 1, 1876 into an old Belgian aristocratic family. His father, Ferdinand de Baillet-Latour, was governor of the Antwerp province. After graduating from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven the young count embraced a successful diplomatic career. He achieved immortality in 1923 when he became President of the Belgian Olympic Committee, a post he held until his death in 1942. Baillet-Latour was an accomplished horseman.

Latour achieved some notoriety in the Olympic world as the able organizer of the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp. Despite the short preparation time and the unfavorable political situation in Belgium the Games, coming so soon after the end of the First World War, were hailed as a success. As a result, he was chosen to succeed Pierre de Coubertin as President of the International Olympic Committee.

And then things took a nasty turn...
In 1933 the Nazis seized power and Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. It seems that what was foremost on the minds of President Baillet-Latour and the IOC was to have Hitler acquiesce to the Games being held in Germany, although one would have expected that Nazi ideology would have been a much greater cause for concern. There is little doubt that they were fully aware that the international spirit of the Olympics did not feature high on the scale of values ​​of the German Fuehrer and his fast growing number of supporters.

Long before 1936, Jewish athletes had been excluded from sports clubs and associations. In 1935, the anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour were promulgated. The Holocaust Museum in Washington calls the 1936 Games the "Nazi Olympics" because they are full of propaganda praising the Third Reich. Three years before the Berlin Games, there were alarming developments in Germany: the Dachau concentration camp opened in 1933, there was a boycott of Jewish merchants and Jews were barred from the civil service. From 1933, they were not allowed to teach and were stripped of the right to assembly and of free speech. The sterilization of the disabled was made possible by law. Baillet-Latour must have been aware of these awsome developments but he did nothing. Quite the reverse, he gave as reason to have the Games in because because the decision had been made in 1931.

International opposition grew, especially in the United States where there was intense and sustained criticism. But Avery Brundage, the President of the United States Olympic Committee, a notorious anti-Semite, wrote to counter the opposition: "Measures were taken to ensure that the fundamental principles of sportsmanship and fair play are not violated neither the Olympic values ​​of freedom and equality". But Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's minister for propaganda, had his own ideas about sports. He wrote on 23 April 1933: "German sport has only one task: to strengthen the character of the German people, imbuing it with the fighting spirit and steadfast camaraderie necessary in the struggle for its existence". Considering the broad support in the U.S. for boycotting the Games, it would not have taken a great deal of courage for Baillet-Latour to deprive Hitler of the Olympics. Why did he go ahead nonetheless? Ernest Lee Jahncke, an American member of the IOC, made clear his opposition in a letter to Baillet-Latour. He was expelled from the Olympic Committee and is the only member in the 100-year history of the IOC to have been ejected.

From bad to worse
At the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen on 6 February 1936 and of the Summer Games in Berlin on 1 August the same year, Hitler was flanked by Baillet-Latour. As expected and feared, the Olympics became a giant propaganda stunt for the Nazi regime. A journalist noted: "There are more swastika flags than Olympic flags hanging in Berlin".

Baillet-Latour did not protest when in the years after the Berlin Games the international Olympic movement increasingly came under Nazi influence and domination: in Berlin, the International Olympic Institute was founded, financed and controlled by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Its official gazette was part of the 'Olympic Rundschau' controlled by Carl Diem, a Nazi. Leni Riefenstahl was awarded an Olympic Gold Medal by the Comité International Olympique in 1938. Werner Klingenberg, yet another top nazi, was appointed Secretary General of the IOC. Theodore Lewald, who was half-Jewish, and who had been successful as an organizer of several Olympic Games, was replaced at the behest of Nazi party member Field Marshal Walter von Reichenau, who - how ironic - was to lead the German Sixth Army which occupied Belgium, the homeland of Baillet-Latour. Field Marshal Walter von Reichenau is responsible for the massacre of thirty thousand Jews at Babi Yar in the Ukraine and ordered the murder of ninety Jewish children during the war in the Soviet Union.


Donwplaying the past
After the war the controversial career of the count was both obfusctated and praised. In the IOC Bulletin No. 51, Dr. Karl Ritter von Halt tells some unconvincing stories about how Baillet-Latour had made a stand against Hitler. Hitler thought differently and sent an extatic letter to thank him: "Only thanks to your generous cooperation were these Games so beautifully conducted". The biggest Jew-hater of all times signed "your devoted Hitler"! The minimization of Baillet-Latour's responsibility is far reaching. Joods Actueel is convinced that it is highly probable that a letter the Count sent on 3 May 1933 to members of the German Olympic Committee was tampered with. The letter begins with "Mes chers Collègues" [My Dear Colleagues]. Plural. At the bottom of the first page of the letter there is clear line which suggests that the second page was pasted. The letter ends with " Je compte sur votre dévouement, mon cher Collègue...". Singular. This is an important point which requires further investigation. One wonders what was written on the original letter that it is best not seen. The official IOC biography of Baillet-Latour written in 2011 describes the role of the organizer of the "Nazi Games" thus: "He was re-elected for a second term at the 1933 Session in Vienna, and remained president until his death in 1942". There is not a single reference to his role as an organizer of the "Nazi Games".

Adolf Hitler pays tribute
"Jews usually start screaming before they have a serious reason to do so," wrote count de Baillet-Latour to Avery Brundage, the President of the United States Olympic Committee, in connection with the possible boycott of the Berlin Olympics. Count Henri de Baillet-Latour died in January 1942. More Nazis than athletes attended his funeral. Not only did German soldiers stand guard at the coffin, but his widow, Countess Elizabeth Clary, went to Berlin to pick up some dubious characters from the German sports committee to attend the funeral. Mrs. Baillet-Latour, Countess Clary, was a long-standing admirer of Adolf Hitler. She congratulated the Führer when he invaded the Sudetenland. She also thanked Hitler "for bringing Nazi ideology to Belgium". Hitler's secretary replied "My dear Countess, I am thankful to you for your contribution to our peace efforts". The Countess kept such contacts until the very last days of the Nazi regime.

Joods Actueel journalist, Guido Joris, visited the Baillet-Latour Museum:

"Latour is a borough of Virton, a city located 300 km from Antwerp. After a long drive, I found the museum from where the Belgian-French border can be seen. Opposite the museum stands a small church; I found the illustrious Count's tomb in the cemetery. A new slab engraved with the five Olympic rings and the name of the chairman of the IOC was put over the original tombstone. The stone, I am told, is a tribute by the IOC to its former president. A few moments later I saw a picture of a proud Jacques Rogge - who in this instance could spare more than a minute - at the inauguration of the new stone. One of the Museum Latour rooms pays tribute to Count Henri. There is a beautiful poster of the 1920 Antwerp Games, but there is a striking lack of posters of the Nazi Games which the Count organised in 1936 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Berlin. It is clear that this aspect of Baillet-Latour's career is kept away from public view and that the museum arrangements are made on behalf of the sponsors, the Inbev-Latour Fund. The fund aims to promote "performance with a high human value." One hundred thousand euros were spent to extend the de Baillet-Latour museum: "As a tribute to this pioneer of the Olympic movement ... that despite pressure from the Nazis managed to take a stand against the ideological plans of Hitler." According to the brochure, Latour-Baillet was "a pioneer of the Olympic movement." It states without any hesitation: "The highlight of his career was undoubtedly the difficult organization of the Games in Berlin in 1936, at the time that Nazism was in full growth." I listened patiently to the comments of the guide until we reached "our count" room. A picture of him with Hitler's hangs on the wall. As I moved closer to read the caption, the guide said reprovingly: "He is here in the company of a lord of darkness, as you see." Under the picture a plaque reads: "President de Baillet-Latour had warned Hitler before the official opening that the IOC would strictly enforce the Olympic protocol." This sentence is followed by a copyright symbol © IOC. It should thus be clear that the IOC has a great influence on the way history is displayed in the museum.u

Hitler's wreath at the Baillet-Latour funeral
When Henri de Baillet-Latour died in 1942 , Hitler had a wreath laid on the coffin, complete with a ribbon and embellished with a swastika. Joods Actueel discovered that the original pictures of this wreath got a "sports destination" by being kept in the archives of the Sportimonium on the Bloso domain in Hofstade. It is here at the Sportimonium that the current IOC President Jacques Rogge inaugurated the renovated conference hall on 19 September 2007. The hall is now named the Henri de Baillet-Latour Hall: the renovation work cost 64 000 euro. These embarrasing funeral photos are not exhibited in the Latour museum. When a few days later we called Freddy Brisy, the helpful administrator of the museum, he said he was not aware that such photographs existed. But he acknowledged the existence of the photographs of Baillet-Latour himself making the Nazi salute during the Olympic Games. When asked why Count Latour-Baillet is buried at Latour where neither he nor his parents were born or lived, he replied: "We also find this very peculiar" and he added "What is even more surprising is that there is not a single document to be found at the townhall about Count Henri. His corpse was carried from Brussels to Gomery, a small village a few kilometers away, where it was placed into the family crypt of Baron Adrien de Gerlache(the famous Belgian polar explorer, ed.). Shortly aterwards he was buried at Latour". The friendly museum administrator could not provide an explanation to this. Joods Actueel learned that the private archives of Henri de Baillet-Latour are split between the IOC in Lausanne and a grand-daughter who lives in Paris. Another part of the archives is located in Brasschaat where it is managed by historian Francis Dierckxsens, a Premonstratensian canon regular from the Averbode abbey. He told us: "You must understand that anti-Semitism was widespread in the thirties and in a sense, if I may say so, it was even "in good taste". The attitude of Baillet-Latour seems to stem from an aristocratic concept which puts great store by continuity and he wanted to keep up the Olympic tradition. He needed to compromise and in some instances he went too far."

The funeral of Baillet-Latour was an unprecedented Nazi show
The wreath with a swastika Hitler had sent was of course the most obvious. But over a hundred similar wreaths were displayed and the Olympic flag on the coffin was no longer visible.

Next to two high-ranking Nazi German sports officials that Mrs de Baillet-Latour had invited - Ritter Carl von Halt and Carl Diem - numerous German military and political leaders and representatives marched in the long funeral procession. German diplomat von Bargen was present and deposited a wreath on the coffin on behalf of none other than the infamous Nazi von Ribbentrop. Zanzer Alexander, director of the Joodse Centrale, wrote in an article The Myth of Foreign Affairs broken (Centrale magazine # 18) how von Bergen was actively involved in the deportation of Antwerp and Brussels Jews. Diplomats of his kind were not shy of mentioning on their travel expenses that costs were incurred "for the extermination of Jews".

Goebbels and von Falkhausen also had wreaths delivered. Carl von Halt made an inappropriately  loud speech in German on behalf Hitler and ... the International Olympic Committee. This explains why the countess drove all the way from Berlin to Brussels and not, as a historian whose opinion we sought, would have us believe that the trip to Berlin was made for "practical" reasons.

Even after the war the IOC saw nothing wrong with the fact that a Nazi leader became chairman of the German Olympic Committee in 1951 and remained in office until 1961. Baillet-Latour was the President who wanted to keep the Olympic Games in Berlin even though it meant cooperating with an anti-Semitic and racist regime. But there is more. After the 1936 Games he became an honorary member of Freude und Arbeit, a Nazi sports organization that was active in 62 countries and had been created by Goebbels as a propaganda machine.

This story sheds a different light on the plans Hitler had for the Games to be held in perptuity in Germany from 1936 onwards.

3 commentaires :

Gilles-Michel DEHARBE a dit…

« Avec ces Jeux, on a mis entre nos mains un instrument de propagande inestimable », peut-on lire dans la presse officielle nazie en 1935. « Nous allons nous mesurer aux nations de la terre et leur montrer quelles forces l'idée de la communauté nationale est à elle seule capable de mettre en œuvre », écrit Joseph Goebbels.

Ces deux phrases résument parfaitement et cyniquement les desseins olympiques nazis : montrer au monde la puissance du Reich tout en dupant l'opinion internationale quant aux funestes projets du régime national-socialiste.

Pourtant, les convictions nazies au sujet du rôle du sport se situent aux antipodes de la conception coubertinienne des jeux Olympiques. En effet, alors que le rénovateur des Jeux soutenait une vision élitiste de la confrontation olympique, les nazis considèrent que le sport doit constituer une « éducation physique politique » pour le peuple. Dans Mein Kampf, Hitler insiste sur l'importance du
« dressage du corps », lequel doit servir à l'épanouissement d'une race aryenne appelée à dominer le monde ; il prône l'instauration dans le système scolaire de 2 heures quotidiennes de pratique sportive, qui serviront à la formation de futures recrues que
« l'armée n'aura plus qu'à transformer en soldats ». Arrivé au pouvoir, Hitler fait ainsi construire en Allemagne de multiples gymnases et piscines destinés à cette « formation ».

Nommé chancelier du Reich le 30 janvier 1933, Hitler se déclare dans un premier temps opposé à la tenue des jeux Olympiques à Berlin en 1936. Dans les rangs nazis, on rejette massivement les Jeux : ainsi, le docteur Wetzel, directeur de l'Institut d'éducation physique de Berlin, déclare que le régime doit refuser les Jeux « organisés et portés par un esprit issu d'un monde que le national-socialisme a dépassé » ; les corporations universitaires allemandes se disent contre les Jeux ; Bruno Malitz, porte-parole du parti nazi, clame haut et fort l'hostilité des militants envers les Jeux .

Mais tout change dès le 16 mars 1933. Theodor Lewald, président du comité d'organisation, et Carl Diem, secrétaire général de ce comité, obtiennent une entrevue avec Hitler. Ce jour-là, les deux dirigeants les plus respectés du mouvement sportif allemand parviennent à convaincre le nouveau chancelier de l'intérêt des Jeux pour le Reich, Lewald indiquant même que l'organisation des Jeux pourrait permettre à l'Allemagne d'affirmer son prestige. Dès lors, le führer, convaincu, balaie toutes les réticences de ses troupes ; Joseph Goebbels, ministre de la Propagande, comprend lui aussi tout l'intérêt de saisir l'opportunité olympique, et une gigantesque mascarade se met en marche. Ainsi, plutôt que de satisfaire les militants nazis qui exigent la participation exclusive d'athlètes blancs aux Jeux, Hitler pense qu'il convient de rassurer l'opinion internationale, alors que l'idée d'un boycottage des Jeux de Berlin fait son chemin aux États-Unis. Aussi, bien que le Reichssportführer Hans von Tschammer und Osten déclare que
« le sport allemand est fait pour les Aryens », que « la direction de la jeunesse allemande appartient tout entière aux Aryens et non aux Juifs », Hitler mandate Lewald pour qu'il confirme aux Américains, au nom du Comité olympique allemand, « qu'il n'y aurait jamais la moindre discrimination ».

Gilles-Michel DEHARBE a dit…

Hitler souhaite que la réussite olympique nazie soit matérialisée, conservée et transmise, afin de marquer l'histoire. Le cinéma constitue alors un instrument de propagande majeur pour le régime ; le führer décide donc qu'un long film documentaire, sorte d'ode en images célébrant l'olympiade, soit réalisé. Il confie cette tâche à Leni Riefenstahl. Cette dernière, proche du pouvoir nazi, a déjà tourné pour le régime, à l'occasion du grand congrès de Nuremberg, un film de propagande : Le Triomphe de la volonté (Der Triumph des Willens, 1934). Leni Riefenstahl, qui n'est pourtant pas appréciée par Joseph Goebbels, obtient d'immenses moyens, débloqués sur ordre du führer lui-même. Elle réunit une équipe de trois cents personnes, dont une quarantaine de cameramen, expérimente toutes les techniques de prises de vues, s'appuie sur la technologie la plus moderne de l'époque, qui lui permet de filmer de près comme de très loin, use de toutes les possibilités du ralenti, emploie des caméras en mouvement, fait creuser des tranchées le long des pistes pour y installer des rails de travelling... Découpage du mouvement, ralentis, travellings, gros plans, vues lointaines : Leni Riefenstahl invente toutes les bases du film de sport.

Le tournage débute plusieurs jours avant l'ouverture des Jeux, car la cinéaste souhaite filmer les athlètes à l'entraînement ; moins de 10 p. 100 des images seront conservées durant le montage, qui dure quinze mois. Cette débauche de moyens donne un résultat esthétique saisissant. Plutôt que de coller à la réalité des compétitions, Leni Riefenstahl cherche à construire le geste sportif parfait en trouvant l'angle le plus flatteur : durant 3 heures 30, corps musculeux et muscles saillants se mêlent à des vues du ciel ; courses, sauts et lancers deviennent un spectacle à la géométrie parfaite ; mouvements de foules compactes ou remises de médailles magnifient la dramaturgie du stade. Olympia, qui sortira en France sous le titre Les Dieux du stade.

Excellent cours d'Histoire ... de remettre les faits à leur juste place. Amitiés.

Rudi a dit…

Il y a même plus à son sujet. Les livres d'histoire semblent oubliés par la presse quoi que tout y est bien documenté.