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"Nazi Games"

Bill Littlefield is on vacation this week. This review was written by Karen Given.

Fans of the Olympic movement will likely be surprised some of the information David Clay Large relates in "Nazi Games: The Olympics of 1936." Our intern, Maggie Haskins, says she'll never be able to watch the Olympic torch relay in the same way again after learning that the "tradition" was dreamed up as part of a Nazi propaganda scheme. And, the story of Jesse Owens is nowhere near as simple or straightforward as elementary school textbooks would suggest.

The anti-Semitism that ran rampant through Nazi Germany in the 1930s is not surprising, of course, but the efforts made by Third Reich officials at all levels, including Hitler himself, to hide those sentiments during the Olympics is notable The mountain towns of Garmish-Partenkirchen underwent an enormous, albeit superficial, transformation before hosting the Winter Games. Speed limit signs encouraging Jews to die on the roads were removed prior to the Games, and the SS was warned not to disturb "Jewish looking" foreigners. The changes were, of course, temporary.

Jesse Owens and his four gold medals proved to be he most lasting image of the 1936 Olympics. But, the appeal of this book is the attention paid to the subplots of these games, from the failed attempt to force an American boycott to the technology and camera innovations Leni Riefenstahl used to create her film, Olympia. It's the small details, especially in telling the story of Jesse Owens, that make this book seem complete and honest.

Sure, from time to time the book gets bogged down in those details and begins to read like a textbook. Sometimes the impact of the event gets lost in the endless information on everything from the minor competitions to the social parties which accompanied the games. But, "Nazi Games" promises to be a comprehensive history of the 1936 Olympics, and it delivers on that promise.

This program aired on April 20, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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