A Catholic Boycott of the 1936 Summer Olympics

Authored By Christopher K. Elford

Telegram written by Christian Leaders asking Father James Martin Gillis to join them in calling for a boycott of the 1936 Summer Olympic Games

Telegram written by Christian Leaders asking Father James Martin Gillis to join them in calling for a boycott of the 1936 Summer Olympic Games

Introduction

The telegram pictured was written by five prominent Christian leaders to Father James Martin Gillis in October, 1935.  In it Gillis is asked to join his name to the statement written by the authors.  The telegram belongs to the Paulist Fathers archives and serves to show the Christian perspective on what is traditionally thought as an exclusively Jewish subject.

Historical Perspective

The 1936 Olympics held in Nazi Germany are one of the most controversial in the competition’s history.  The treatment of Jewish people living in Germany prior to the Olympics led many Americans to call for a national boycott of the games.  When German Jews were expelled from the German Olympic delegation an international controversy began.  The exclusion of German Jewish athletes was considered deplorable, and many athletic organizations within the United States considered boycotting the game (pbs, 2006). [1]  While there were calls to boycott the games throughout the world, the United States was the source of the most debate (USHMM, 2014). [2]  Some of the controversy was exacerbated by the anti-Semitism still rampant in the United States.  Marty Glickman, an American Jewish participant in the Olympics had to deal with the anti-Semitic feelings of American athletes and coaches during the Olympics (Jaher, 2001). [3]   The discussion of whether or not there should be a boycott of the games was mostly a debate held by athletes, but the discussion did eventually branch out to the general public.  15,000 people gathered in Madison Square Garden to demand a boycott of the games in August of 1935, four months before the telegram was sent (United Press, 1935). [4]  Ultimately the United States decided to participate in the 1936 Olympic Games.

Content

In the telegram Christian leaders Henry A Atkinson, S Parks Cadman, Samuel McCrea Cavert, Henry Smith Leiper, Fred B. Smith, and Michael Williams ask Father James Martin Gillis, Paulist Father and then editor of the Catholic World to join them in publicly denouncing Nazi Germany.  The Catholic World was a Catholic Newspaper which regularly published editorials on social justice issues.   It is made clear in the telegram that the authors consider the boycott of the Olympic Games a moral issue.  In a firm break with the anti-Semitic doctrine of the times the authors explain the boycott of the Olympics in Germany is not just a “Jewish Question” but is in fact an “American Question” involving the ideas of fair play and equality.  Because the Nazi regime denied the rights of people living within Germany, it was the belief of the authors that a clear message had to be sent expressing the disgust of the international community.

Vincentian Perspective

This telegram is a perfect example of Vincentian social justice.  While the boycott of the 1936 Olympic Games did not reach fruition, the attitudes of the authors of the telegram extol the virtues of Vincentian teaching.  By siding with the oppressed Jewish minority in Germany the authors of this telegram lived the virtues of Love and Respect towards their fellow man (Our Mission). [5] These attributes are showcased in St. John’s Mission Statement.  While it would have been easier to ignore the plight of the Jewish people in Germany, the men showcased in this telegram tried to take an active part in helping those less fortunate than themselves.

References

Cople Jaher, Frederic. “Antisemitism in American Athletics.” Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 20, no. 1 (Autumn 2001): 61-73.

United Press. “15,000 Demand Olympics Ban As Nazi Rebuke: Mass Meting in N.Y. Asks U.S. Withdraw at Once From Berlin Games. 15,000 Urge Olympics Ban To Snub Nazis.” The Washington Post (1923-1954), August 9, 1935.

“Our Mission.” stjohns.edu. Accessed February 5, 2015.  http://www.stjohns.edu/about/our-mission

“The Movement to Boycott the Berlin Olympics of 1936.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Accessed April 29, 2015.       http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007087.

“The 1936 Olympics.” pbs.org,  last modified April 25, 2006, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/goebbels/peopleevents/e_olympics.html


“The 1936 Olympics,” pbs.org, Last modified April 25, 2006,

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/goebbels/peopleevents/e_olympics.html.

“The Movement to Boycott the Berlin Olympics of 1936,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, accessed April 29, 2015, http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007087.

Fredric Cople Jaher, “Antisemitism in American Athletics,” Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, Vol20, No. 1, Autumn 2001, 61-73.

United Press, “15,000 Demand Olympics Ban As Nazi Rebuke: Mass Meting in N.Y. Asks U.S. Withdraw at Once From Berlin Games. 15,000 Urge Olympics Ban To Snub Nazis,” The Washington Post (1923-1954), August 9, 1935.

“Our Mission,” stjohns.edu, accessed February 5, 2015, http://www.stjohns.edu/about/our-mission

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