So This Happened: Hitler’s Winter Olympics in Photos

1936, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany --- Adolf Hitler Standing on Balcony at the Winter Olympics --- Image by ? Lucien Aigner/CORBIS
Photo: Lucien Aigner/? Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

Last week, chess champion Gary Kasparov became perhaps the highest-profile person to compare the current Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, under Vladimir Putin, to Berlin's 1936 Summer Games, in Adolf Hitler's Germany. "Anyone who thinks that is an exaggeration is forgetting a very important factor. Hitler in 1936 was seen as a thoroughly respectable and legitimate politician," Kasparov said. An example of Godwin's Law? Probably, but there are some comparable points, such as a powerful individual leader presiding over an international event on which he spent unprecedented amounts of money while conditions inside his country became more oppressive. But it reminded us that the winter games of that year were also held in Germany, in the Bavarian town of Garmish-Partenkirchen, and they look pretty shocking today.

While the Summer Games of 1936 were really known as the "Nazi Olympics," complete with the famous Leni Riefenstahl cinematography and the threat of a boycott by the United States over Hitler's racist policies, the winter games were pretty darn Nazi-oriented as well, as a bunch of old photos from Getty and elsewhere show.

These shots of Hitler and his staff enjoying the show, Olympians from all over performing in front of swastika banners, and the Canadian team giving a Nazi salute, feel awfully chilling when now that we know what those symbols would come to stand for. At the time, however, it must have felt pretty natural. Despite Germany's increasingly intolerant policies, it removed anti-Semitic signage around the Games in order to soften its look, and Germany actually included a hockey player of Jewish descent, Rudi Ball, as a token example of how it wasn't totally anti-Semitic. But these games were still quite clearly a precursor to the infamous "Nazi Olympics" of the following summer.

The Opening Ceremonies look fairly normal here, though that kind of assembly would come to look more ominous:

Sport, 1936 Winter Olympic games, Garmisch- Partenkirchen, Germany, A picture of the opening ceremony for the games  (Photo by Bob Thomas/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
Photo: Bob Thomas/Popperfoto

But it's chilling to see the American flag falling in line behind the Nazi flag here:

View of the flag parade during the snowy opening ceremonies of the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria, Germany, February 6, 1936. Visible are the Nazi flag of Germany and the American flag. (Photo by FPG/Getty Images)
Photo: FPG/2004 Getty Images

The Canadian Olympic team's Nazi salute as it passed by the reviewing stand resulted in this regrettable shot:

17 Dec 1936, Germany --- Original caption: 12/17/1936-Garmisch Partenkirschen, Germany- Members of the Canadian Winter Olympics team return a Nazi salute, as they pass the reviewing stand in the parade opening the 1936 Winter Olympic Games. --- Image by ? Bettmann/CORBIS

Like any games, these involved speechifying by Olympic officials; in this case, Karl Ritter von Halt, president of the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympic Organizing Committee:

Athletes from 28 nations listen to the speech of Karl Ritter von Halt (C), president of the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympic organizing committee 06 February 1936 during the opening ceremony of the IVth Winter Olympic Games. (N&B)  (Photo credit should read CORR/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo: CORR/2011 AFP

Even as German troops moved back into the demilitarized Rhineland between Germany and France during the Winter Games, the Nazi flag flew jovially above the French tricolor in this poster:

Winter Olympics 1936   Germany   Olympics symbol of interlinking Olympic Rings on flag, plus Third Reich Swastika and flags from UK, USA, Switzerland etc flying above the Zugspitze  ( 2,964 metres above sea level)- the highest mountain in Germany. Located at the Austrian border in  town of Grainau in district of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria.  (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)
Photo: Culture Club/2013 Culture Club

Adolf Hitler traveled by convertible, to greet the cheering crowds:

Adolf Hitler in the Bavarian countrytown of Garmisch -Partenkirchen, on the occasion of the Winter Olympic Games in 1936
Photo: Unidentified Author/Fratelli Alinari Museum of the History of Photography-Favrod Collection, Florence

Most people arrived by train, to a Garmisch station adorned with huge Nazi banners:

GERMANY - JANUARY 01:  Travellers in front of the railway station of Garmisch-Partenkirchen during the Olympic Games in 1936. Photography. Germany.  (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images) [Reisende vor dem Bahnhof von Garmisch waehrend der Olypmischen Spiele 1936. Photographie. Deutschland.]
Photo: Imagno/Imagno/Austrian Archives

Alpine skiing made its debut in the 1936 Winter Games. Here's German skier Chistl Cranz performing in front of a crowd that included uniformed Nazis in the women's alpine combined:

German skier Chistl Cranz (1914 - 2004) competes before a crowd which includes uniformed Nazis in the women's alpine combined skiing event during the IV Winter Olympic Games, February 8, 1936, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Cranz won gold in the event. (Photo by FPG/Getty Images)
Photo: FPG/2004 Getty Images

Ski jumping was also a big hit. Here's Masaji Iguro, of Japan, flying in front of a Nazi banner during a training session:

GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, GERMANY - JANUARY 23:  (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) Masaji Iguro of Japan in action during the training session of the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Winter Olympic on January 23, 1936 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.  (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
Photo: The Asahi Shimbun/1936 The Asahi Shimbun

Here, the Norwegian champion Birger Ruud executes a record jump of 71 meters in a training run as swastika banners fly:

01/25/1936. Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The Norwegian champion Birger RUUD taking away a record jump of 71 m. The athletes from all around the world were training for the next Winter Olympics.
Le 25 janvier 1936, ? Garmisch-Partenkirschen, le champion norv?gien Birger RUUD amorce un saut record de 71 m?tres. Les athl?tes de tous pays s'entra?nent en vue des prochains Jeux olympiques d'Hiver.
Photo: Keystone-France/KEYSTONE-FRANCE

The German figure-skating duo of Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier gives a Nazi salute as they receive the gold medal:

Remise des prix pour le patinage artistique en couple Maxi Herber et Ernst Baier (or) Ilse Pausin et Erik Pausin (argent) et Violet Cliff et Leslie Cliff (Bronze) aux Jeux Olympiques d'hiver de Garmisch-Partenkirchen en 1936
Photo: Apic/?APIC

Nazi uniforms were prominent at these Games, unlike the subtler, purple-clad security guards at Sochi:

GERMANY - JUNE 02:  Adolf Hitler leaving the Olympic House during the Olympic Games at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Photography. Germany. 1936.  (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images) [Adolf Hitler beim Verlassen des Olympia-Hauses waehrend der Olympischen Spiele in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Photographie. Deutschland. 1936.]
Photo: Imagno/Imagno/Austrian Archives

Here, Hitler peers out of the window of his residence to greet the assembled crowd:

02/17/1936. Garmish-Partenkirchen Winter Olympics, Germany. The German chancellor and dictator Adolf HITLER bending over the window of his residence to greet the crowd.
Le 17 f?vrier 1936, durant les Jeux olympiques d'hiver ? Garmish-Partenkirchen (Allemagne), le chancelier et dictateur allemand Adolf HITLER se penche ? la fen?tre de sa r?sidence pour saluer la foule.
Photo: Keystone-France/KEYSTONE-FRANCE

This poster leaves something to the imagination, but what do you think that skier is doing with his arm?

Poster for the 1936 Winter Olympic Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, 1936. A print from Olympia 1936, Die Olympischen Spiele 1936, Volume I, Cigaretten-Bilderdienst, Hamburg, 1936. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
Photo: Print Collector/The Print Collector / Heritage Images