The Y and the 1936 Olympics

By Erica

During my first two weeks working on the Y Archive Project, I found a file that contained materials regarding the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. As Nazi Germany history is one of my personal academic interests, I found this file to be particularly fascinating. It contains letters, memoranda and invitations regarding the problematic nature of the Olympic Games and requests to prevent sending Canadian athletes to Berlin. The Jewish community expressed its high concern over these Games and the Nazi regime, and thought it unwise to send Canadian athletes to participate in an Olympic Games that would be so controversial. The YMHA Business Manager, S. Ross Vineberg wrote the following in a letter to the President of The Amateur Athletic Union of Canada, based in Halifax:

“We believe it would be moral stultification for the great sports body of Canada to shut its eyes to the obvious fact that while providing the utmost in comfort and luxury for the body of the Olympic Games, the German Government is daily murdering its spirit. We believe that Canadian sportsmen will decline to have Canadian athletes, with their ideals of freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, equality before the law of all citizens without regard to race, creed or colour, – become the catspaw of the German government and a tool for aggrandizing an ideology which strikes at the heart of British ideals of justice and fair play.”

(This three-page letter can viewed as an accompaniment to this blog post.)

There were also discussions to hold an alternative Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1937, and to possibly move the Olympic Games to Philadelphia. There was a symposium held in Montreal in 1936 entitled “Should Canadians Support the Nazi Olympic Games?” Harvey Golden, the Executive Director of YMHA participated in the symposium, along with heads of other organizations. The invitation to this symposium can be seen as another accompaniment to this blog post.

This file sheds light on how the Olympic Games situation was perceived and handled in Canada. People knew what was going on and wanted to take steps to curb the occurrence of these Olympic Games. People were worried as to what was going on, and they used an aggressive tone in their letters to communicate that they felt that the Nazi Regime was a threat and should be taken seriously. And perhaps even more telling about this file is that we know what the Y’s reaction was to the 1936 Olympic Games. The Y wanted to remain an apolitical association, to not get involved in politics. The fact that people from the Y were getting involved and wrote about it shows than an apolitical association could be concerned about such issues, and that these Olympic Games were a pressing issue of the larger society of the day.

To read these documents today is certainly interesting and captivating. This file will serve as a great source for researchers and archivists alike, and so far remains one of the most pertinent files in this collection regarding social and political issues outside the Y in which its members wrote about ardently and passionately.

2 Comments to “The Y and the 1936 Olympics”

  1. Lorraine Bertelsen says:

    My late great uncle, Julius Pollack, was captain of the Fencing Team to go to Berlin, but refused to go.
    Instead he came to Australia and set up the Bruck silk textile industry. My GGM and her second husband, my maternal GM and my Mother followed in 1937 and 1938.

    My Mother (born Odessa) spent her childhood in Montreal with many of her maternal cousins from Vilna.

    I cannot read the letter from YMHA. Can you please tell me how I can get a readable copy. Thanks.

    By the way, my late Mother, Isabelle LANDO (MAIDEN NAME) attending Bing High School and I have her autograph book for the years 1935-1937. Some of the names are her cousins, but there are many others, with comments and poems, etc., who must have been her school mates.

    Regards from Downunder
    Lorraine Bertelsen

  2. Anonymous says:

    I love reading your blog because you can constantly get us new and cool stuff, I think that I ought to at least say thanks for your hard work.

    - Rob

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