How Hitler Hijacked World Sport: The World Cup, the Olympics, the Heavyweight Championship and the Grand Prix

How Hitler Hijacked World Sport: The World Cup, the Olympics, the Heavyweight Championship and the Grand Prix

by Christopher Hilton


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How Hitler Hijacked World Sport: The World Cup, the Olympics, the Heavyweight Championship and the Grand Prix by Christopher Hilton

How the Nazi leader made use of sports for his own ends, from his utilization of the 1936 Olympics to showcase the Nazi state, to the political importance given to the Joe Louis and Max Schmeling matches

Adolf Hitler understood the importance of sports, and this book outlines how he exercised his malign and dangerous influence to try to coopt them for the Nazi cause. He intended to own the Olympic movement, housing it permanently in Berlin from 1940 in a stadium seating 450,000 people, while his hijack of the 1936 Games remains one of the sports world's most controversial events. Austria was forced to withdraw from the 1938 soccer World Cup just days before it started because the country no longer existed. The boxing matches between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling in 1936 and 1938 came to represent democracy versus fascism. German technology crushed all comers in Grand Prix racing, as well as the Isle of Man TT. Hitler even set up a government ministry to use physical fitness to prepare the population for war.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780752459257
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 06/18/2012
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Christopher Hilton was a freelance author. He wrote more than 60 books on both German history and a variety of sports, including Hitler's Olympics and Inside the Mind of the Grand Prix Driver.

Read an Excerpt

How Hitler Hijacked World Sport

The World Cup, the Olympics, the Heavyweight Championship and the Grand Prix

By Christopher Hilton

The History Press

Copyright © 2012 Christopher Hilton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7524-7845-6



Munich was a place of big, solid stone buildings, churches and museums inhabited by big, solid, beer-fed citizens. The politics among its population of 666,000 stood in direct contrast: volatile and, at its sharp edges, revolutionary.

On 1 April 1920, Adolf Hitler left the army to work full time for the National Socialist German Workers' Party, the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei. The pronunciation of Nationalsozialist gave it the abbreviation the world would come to know so well and fear so much, Nazi. The party was based at a building called the Brown House in Munich and Hitler began to take it over. The local German Army Command was the 'ultimate arbiter of public order' and nothing officially to do with the Nazis, but Hitler had military friends and that allowed him to 'exercise with impunity his methods of incitement, violence and intimidation'. He became party chairman a year later.

He looked like the army corporal he had been in the war and sounded like a raucous rabble-rouser with a wild look in his eyes. You would have predicted a sticky end, possibly very soon, as the volatility consumed him. Instead, across the next thirteen years, he manoeuvred towards power while in the most natural and usual way people who almost certainly had never heard of him were building their careers – mostly far removed from any kind of politics – in Germany, in Europe beyond Germany, in Britain and the United States. When he had power they would feel it.

Oakville can represent that. It was a very small place, lost in gently rolling farmland somewhere along the pencil-thin, pencil-straight roads of northern Alabama. Oakville was also poor and the bigotry of segregation cut wounds through it. Sharecroppers, tenants who worked the land for a percentage of the crop, picked cotton, but, because of the hilly terrain and woodland, corn was grown and molasses made. The black couple in the shanty dwelling – draughty, basic – had nine children and wished for no more but a tenth, a 'gift child', came. He was sickly, suffering from bronchial problems and pneumonia. They christened him James Cleveland Owens.

You would have predicted a back-breaking future picking the cotton, the segregation legally holding him forever from opportunity, as well as poverty and anonymity if he survived the bronchial problems and pneumonia. One day in 1922, while Hitler was beginning his journey to absolute power, Owens' mother said the family were going on a train. J.C. asked, 'but where we gonna go, Momma?' 'To a better life,' she replied. That was Cleveland, Ohio, and when he got there a school teacher asked him his name. He replied in a strong southern drawl, 'J.C. Owens'.The initials sounded just like the name the world would come to know so well and respect so much: Jesse.

On a cloudy afternoon, with rain hanging in the air, the former corporal and the sharecropper's son would find themselves in the same place and what happened there between them – or rather, what did not happen between them – remains one of the most memorably evocative moments of the whole twentieth century.

You can argue that sport is an international activity, essentially about anybody on the planet exploiting their talent (which, as it happens, is one way of defining the Olympic Games). The competitor's background obviously has an impact in terms of opportunity and by its nature it produces some wonderfully improbable encounters but rarely anything approaching the undercurrents which flowed into the stone-clad stadium that August afternoon when the corporal and the sharecropper's son faced each other.

In 1923 the Nazis staged a Beer Hall Putsch in Munich, starting at a political meeting at the biggest keller. Hitler climbed on to a chair and shouted, 'the national revolution has begun'. It hadn't. He fled, although by now the Sturmabteilung (SA), the storm troopers who formed the Nazi paramilitary force, numbered some 15,000 and the party itself 20,000.

At between six and seven o'clock on the morning of the putsch Adolf Hühnlein, an early party member and an unprepossessing man even though he had won the Iron Cross during the war, was dispatched with others to seize a police station. He failed and was arrested. He had no sense of humour, no mechanical knowledge and at the moment of his arrest seemed destined to be a figurine, not even an historical footnote.

Hitler would, in time, give him charge of all motor sport in Germany, so that he marched the European calendar of Grands Prix in his uniform and swastikas like an emperor. He embodied what Hitler had ordained: that racing would become an instrument of German power and a global demonstration of the superiority of our technology. The failed police station-seizer would have a stage – that stage – for his marching and, if appearances are anything to go by, he would adore it. You could tell by his body language. Hitler would also put Hühnlein in charge of all Germany's motorised transport, training it for war.

Hitler received a five-year prison sentence in April 1924 for the attempted putsch, but was eligible for parole in six months. He spent his hours writing a turgid and wild tome, My Struggle, the title of which the world would come to know so well in the original, Mein Kampf. Hitler was paroled in December. He had spent time in Vienna as a rejected artist and there he learned to hate the Jews.

Manfred von Brauchitsch, handsome but haughty, came from a strong military family and at 18 his father put him into an infantry regiment on Germany's north coast. He had a small inheritance and with it he bought a motorbike. He crashed, breaking his arm, his leg, four ribs and fracturing his skull. He left the army and recuperated in a cousin's forty-room castle. The cousin owned a powerful Mercedes and taught von Brauchitsch to drive. In time, he would win – and lose – some extraordinary Grands Prix, try to flee to Switzerland when the Second World War began and, after it, flee to communist East Germany. Before any of that, Hitler would make his uncle, Walther, commander-in-chief of the German army.

Max Schmeling, born just north of Berlin, grew up in Hamburg where his father worked for a shipping company. He had a strong, open, almost pug-like face and a thicket of hair cut across his forehead. At 16 he went to the cinema and the show included newsreel coverage of the World Heavyweight Championship between reigning champion Jack Dempsey and Frenchman Georges Carpentier at an outdoor arena in New Jersey. It produced boxing's first million-dollar gate and reached a large audience as one of the first radio broadcasts dedicated to a specific event. Dempsey stormed Carpentier and destroyed him in four rounds.

It also reached Schmeling. He bought second-hand gloves and, when he moved to the Rhineland, joined the local amateur club. He made such progress that by the time Hitler served his jail sentence he was contesting the German light-heavyweight title and fought for the first time as a professional that August, 1924.

In time, Hitler would use Schmeling as a model of Aryan supremacy against an American black sharecropper's son in far, far away Yankee Stadium in the Bronx – just a couple of weeks before the cloudy afternoon when Hitler and that other sharecropper's son found themselves staring at each other in Berlin. It was the same Schmeling who risked his life to save two Jewish children long after Hitler did get absolute power.

In 1925 the Nazis were holding mass meetings and the Schutzstaffel was formed to protect Hitler. The world would come to know it so well by its abbreviation: the SS. Heinrich Himmler, one of the most odious men in European history, commanded it.

Hans Stuck's father owned an estate at Freiburg, in the rolling hills and flatlands of south-eastern Germany not far from France and Switzerland (the Stucks were originally Swiss). Stuck served in the artillery in the First World War and when his commanding officer was killed he was sent to give the bad news to the family. The commanding officer's sister was called Ellen and, although five years older, they married. Stuck, tall and good looking, would always attract ladies – and marry twice again – but now he and Ellen 'set up home on a farm south of Munich' and in the early mornings Stuck delivered milk from it to Munich.

He used to park his car at a garage and he became friendly with the man who parked next to him, Julius Schreck. Very soon Stuck would begin a career in motor racing and in time he and Schreck would shoot together on the farm. One day in 1925 Schreck arrived for a shoot and asked if his boss, who was in the car, might join them. Stuck said, 'Of course', and there was Hitler.

Stuck's racing career stalled and Schreck said he should meet Hitler. Stuck thought that mildly absurd when Hitler was working day and night to take over Germany, but Schreck arranged it, explaining that Hitler had not forgotten the day's shooting, and Stuck travelled to the Brown House. Stuck explained that the German companies had withdrawn and he didn't want to drive for a foreign company like Alfa Romeo or Bugatti. Hitler was evidently sympathetic but pointed out that the party couldn't finance a racing driver. He added, though, that 'You're an excellent driver, Herr Stuck. If you can avoid driving for a foreign firm I promise you that when I come to power the Reich will place a racing car at your disposal.'

Stuck naturally assumed this was in the nature of a joke, 'the sort of thing only a fantasist says with a straight face. I mean – a Reich racing car!' He would learn, as would the world, that Hitler didn't really make jokes. However fantastic his words were, he always meant them literally.

In 1926 Hitler fought off internal dissent and by summer 'felt strong enough to hold a mass rally in Weimar, in Thuringia, one of the few states in which he was still allowed to speak'. Meanwhile, a club-footed, lecherous little man called Joseph Goebbels began to move up through the party hierarchy.

Lafayette is 'tucked away in the foothills of central East Alabama', very close to Georgia. Bigotry overhung it. Sharecroppers bent their back here, just as they did in Oakville 160 miles away. Munroe Barrow married Lillie Reese, a daughter of former slaves, and they had eight children. They lived in a shack some 6 miles from Lafayette's wide streets, large trees and fine old houses. The seventh child was christened Joseph Louis Barrow, but the Joseph would be shortened and the Barrow dropped. He would be known as Joe.

In 1926, one report says the family was 'shaken' by an 'altercation' with the Ku Klux Klan. The word came down that Ford at Detroit did not mind hiring black people and, although Munroe had mental problems which put him into an institution, the family moved north. Joe and his brother worked for Ford. In time the idealised image of Aryan supremacy would be tested to destruction against the seventh child on, simultaneously, the largest stage in the world (the global audience devouring the World Heavyweight Championship) and the smallest (a boxing ring).

Rudolf Caracciola had a boyish face and an almost button nose. Despite his Italian name he had been born in Remagen on the Rhine to a family who ran a hotel. He didn't intend to make it his life and worked in a car factory at Aachen. That part of Germany was occupied by Belgium after the First World War and he got into a fight with some Belgians. He moved quickly to Dresden and worked as a sales representative, but he was crazy about motor racing and was soon racing a Mercedes. He would enter the German Grand Prix privately and win a very wet race. This was a genuine sensation. In time, he would advocate the Nazi cause in the spoken and printed word, lavishing praise on Hitler, both before and during the Second World War. He didn't after it.

That September, 1926, a distinguished-looking English teenager arrived at Rugby School (founded 1567). He had well-bred manners and well-bred features, dominated by a very prominent nose, almost a beak. Rugby, in the English Midlands, was an august establishment where, in 1823, William Webb Ellis first picked up a football and ran with it, creating the game of rugby. Thomas Arnold, a fabled headmaster, believed in a complete education to form adults. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who would found the modern Olympic Games, visited the school several times and was deeply influenced by what he saw.

The teenager was called Richard Seaman and there was money in the family. They intended him to go into law and later, perhaps, stand for parliament. But he was only interested in racing cars and in time that would take him to the Mercedes team, although Hitler's permission had to be sought. He would fall in love and marry a beautiful young Bavarian, and his mother disapproved so much that she never spoke to him again because she knew war was coming. He would die at the wheel of the Mercedes and Hitler sent a large wreath to his funeral in London. What Seaman did and did not do remains controversial many decades later, as if escaping from Hitler remains almost impossible even for the purist sportsman and even from beyond the grave.

That September too, Matthias Sindelar, an 'awkward, edgy character', made his debut for the Austrian soccer team. They beat Czechoslovakia 2-1 in Prague. Sindelar came from poor Czechoslovakian immigrant stock who had settled in a working-class district of Vienna. His father, a blacksmith, was killed in the First World War. Sindelar played soccer in the streets but, then and later, he looked so delicate he was known as the 'Man of Paper', even though he was a centre forward. He'd been playing for a team called Hertha Vienna but now joined FK Austria Vienna. In time he became one of the greatest of all players in one of his country's greatest teams. Then Hitler's Reich ingested Austria whole and Sindelar faced an immediate problem: he hated the Nazis and everything they represented.

During a match to 'celebrate' that – Austria v. Germany in Vienna – he taunted the Nazis, who in turn suspected him of Jewish connections. He refused to play for Germany and one January morning was found dead next to his former prostitute girlfriend. Carbon monoxide poisoning, said the officials. Few believed it then and few believe it now. By that time, more than the Austria ingestion, Czechoslovakia had been dismembered and part of it ingested by the Reich too.

A 13-year-old with a mop of hair curling down his forehead joined a sports club in his home town, Leipzig. He'd grow to 6ft, ideal for a long jumper. He was called Carl-Ludwig 'Luz' Long, and in time he would work as a lawyer in Hamburg. Eventually, he would also challenge the sharecropper's son from Oakville on the most public stage and, in doing so, become a trusted friend. With Hitler watching, it took rare courage. Long, with his warming smile and hair like breaking waves, had courage all right.

Across 1927 and 1928 the Nazis did not poll well but the party kept on growing. In the spring of 1928 soccer's international body, FIFA, met at the Amsterdam Olympic Games and the president, Jules Rimet, announced that a new, professional competition was to be established. Up to then the Olympics represented the pinnacle. The new competition was to be open to all FIFA members. It would be first contested in Uruguay in 1930 and then in Italy in 1934. There, it grew so quickly that thirty-two teams went through a qualifying stage and sixteen contested the finals. Germany got through and, of the other fifteen, Hitler would absorb, occupy or declare war on ten. But neither Rimet nor anyone else could have imagined anything as fantastical as that while the Amsterdam Olympics was proceeding quite normally and FIFA had its momentous meeting.

At Amsterdam, Helene Mayer – a blonde 18-year-old from Offenbach, a town on the river Main near Frankfurt – won the women's foil. Mayer was 'fresh, blooming, full of life, a wholesome portrait of German girlhood'. Her mother happened to be Christian; her father Jewish. In time she'd find herself in California and in a tug-of-war between Hitler, who wanted her as his token Jewish Olympian, and her own sensibilities. At a certain critical moment she held the destiny of the Berlin Olympic Games in her slender, sensitive hands.

Here was another wonderfully improbable encounter whose undercurrents flowed from the strong-willed corporal in his capital city to the strong-willed woman in the Californian sun and back again. Truth would be a casualty of the tug-of-war – and very quickly.

Rudi Ball, a Berlin Jew, stood at 5ft 4in and weighed 140lb, which was no kind of a physique for an ice hockey player. His father bought him expensive Canadian skates when he was 15 and he proved fast and elegant; so fast and elegant that his career began at 17 in 1928. In time, he would help Germany to an Olympic bronze medal at Lake Placid but, as a Jew, be discarded for the Winter Games in the German heartland of Bavaria. Another leading player refused to take part if Ball was excluded, so Ball became the only Jewish man to compete in any German Olympic team in 1936.

Nor was that all. He remained in Berlin, playing to capacity audiences during the war, and afterwards immigrated to South Africa. The question remains, perhaps never to be answered: why did Hitler and the Nazis not kill him as they killed 6 million other Jews? There may have been valid reasons, as we shall see, although with the Nazis terms like 'valid reasons' can acquire their own dimensions.

A classically blonde, tall, elegant man – someone said that when he wore his red-and-white-striped blazer he looked more like a host at a garden party – he moved to Berlin. Gottfried von Cramm had been brought up on the family estate in another German heartland, Lower Saxony. Their summer residence, a castle that they'd had since the sixteenth century, had a tennis court. Von Cramm took to the sport and, when the family visited friends nearby, their estate offered two clay courts. Old, famous players were guests there too.

His parents wanted him to go into diplomacy but he had already decided to devote himself to tennis. He needed to get into the exclusive Rot-Weiss Club in Berlin, and did. As a player he was noted for his grace, difficult service and impeccable ground strokes, but it was not so much his shot-making skills as his elegant presence that captured the public fancy.


Excerpted from How Hitler Hijacked World Sport by Christopher Hilton. Copyright © 2012 Christopher Hilton. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 7

1 The Players 11

2 The Inheritance 24

3 Secrets of Power 49

4 Just One Jew 69

5 Olympic Heights 89

6 Tormented Tennis 105

7 Bombed 119

8 Last Lap in Belgrade 148

9 Endgame 160

10 If… 173

Bibliography 190

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