A Sportscaster's Secret Mission To Save Jewish Family At The 'Nazi' OlympicsPlay
There’s very little in this tale that’s simple. The events that I’m about to describe never became part of the official history books. And the who, what, when, where, why and how depend a bit on who you ask.
But here’s where we can start. Stanley Wertheim was a little more than 2 years old when Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany. He doesn’t remember much from his childhood in Warburg, about 400 kilometers southwest of Berlin.
"I have some memories, but they're vague. And only memories of certain incidents," he says.
In one of those incidents, Stanley wandered out of his family’s backyard.
"And saw everyone saying 'Heil Hitler' and raising their arms, and so I did the same thing," Stanley recalls. "Until, finally, some man caught me by the back of the neck and dragged me back to my house. 'Cause that could have resulted in serious consequences."
Stanley Wertheim is Jewish. Everything he did — or didn’t do — could have resulted in serious consequences.
The Olympics came to Berlin when Stanley was 6. The world was becoming concerned about German militarization and discrimination against Jews. And the regime hoped to send the message that there was nothing to fear.
So, the Games were important for Hitler and the Third Reich, but they weren’t of much consequence to 6-year-old Stanley Wertheim and his family.
"Well, that meant nothing to us except that Ted would be here," Stanley says.
'The First Sporstcaster Of His Kind'
"Ted Husing was probably the most important person in the development of sportscasting as we know it today in American history," says Michael Socolow, professor of communication and journalism at the University of Maine.
Socolow provided me with the Stanley Wertheim interview. It was recorded for his new book.
Ted Husing and Stanley Wertheim were related. And Husing wasn’t Jewish. He had been raised in New York City as a Lutheran.
But what’s really important here is that Ted Husing was famous. He was the first sportscaster of his kind.
"He became very popular, very quickly, because he was so different, he was so innovative," Socolow says. "He could really describe sports in a vivid and dramatic way that made for great programming."
By 1936, Ted Husing was at the top of his professional game. But, Socolow says, his personal life was a mess.
"He was sort of erratic — likely alcoholic. He was going out drinking every night. He loved to see himself in the newspapers, right, in the Walter Winchell and the gossip columns. So he was always at 21 or the Stork Club," Socolow says. "He had been married and divorced and then he had a very quickie marriage. And the legend of that marriage is that Ted Husing was drinking at a bar, and he said, 'The next blond woman who walks into this bar, I'm going to marry.'"
And he did. But by the spring of 1936, she had moved to Reno for a divorce. Meanwhile, Husing was working seven days a week for CBS and partying every night. He hadn’t had a vacation in three years. So, he asked his bosses at CBS for some time off, and they agreed.
Husing decided to go to Europe where he wouldn’t be recognized by fans, and he settled on London and Berlin.
Michael Socolow believes Ted Husing had an important mission in Berlin — one that he would have to keep secret from his bosses at CBS.
'You Can Leave, I Have To Stay Here'
Meanwhile, those bosses were auditioning sportscasters to take Husing’s place at the Olympics. But none of them were nearly as good.
"So they apologetically said, 'Hey, is there any chance you can do some of the Olympics while you're in Berlin?' And he agreed to that," Socolow says.
"Ted Husing was probably the most important person in the development of sportscasting as we know it today in American history."Michael Socolow
But CBS wasn’t alone in making demands on Husing’s time while he was supposed to be on vacation. Husing’s mother, Bertha, was worried about her nephew — Stanley Wertheim’s father, Max. So she asked Max to meet Ted in Berlin.
"And arrange the process, the beginning process, of the immigration -- the paperwork, the sponsorship, explain to Max Wertheim how it worked and set up a plan to get the Wertheims out over the next year," Socolow says.
The actual sponsor on the Wertheims’ visa would be Husing’s father, Henry. And so the Wertheims would always credit Henry and Bertha for saving them.
But it was Ted Husing who met with Max Wertheim in Berlin. Husing suspected his hotel maid and chauffeur of being Gestapo agents. He felt like he was being watched constantly. He told Max they had to be careful.
"Ted Husing, had he been discovered, was risking quite a bit," Socolow says. "He was risking his visa being revoked. He was risking being thrown in jail. He was even risking being fired by CBS if they found out that he was, you know, using a professional obligation for personal reasons."
But it wasn’t the Gestapo or CBS who presented Husing’s greatest challenge. It was Max Wertheim himself.
"Ted found my father rather irritating because my father actually didn't seem to be quite aware of the danger," Stanley says.
Max Wertheim was Jewish, but he had also been a German army officer. He had earned the Iron Cross, First Class, during World War I, and still had a flag planted in his front yard indicating to all who passed that he was a German war hero.
"So that the Hitler youth passed by in the mornings at times and we would hear 'Eyes left!'" Stanley says. "And when they came back in the evening, it would be 'Eyes right!' passing the flag."
Max Wertheim felt like he was untouchable.
"So even though they were dragging Jews through the streets in Kussel, a few miles away, my father's primary concern was finding the right partners for his afternoon card game," Stanley says. "I think that's why Ted found him so irritating."
Ted and Max met in August of 1936. Had Ted Husing arrived in Berlin just a few months earlier, Max Wertheim might not have been interested in leaving Germany. But things had changed.
"One day, we got a call from the military governor of Westphalia. He wanted us to come to his offices, eight in the morning," Stanley says. "And he wanted me along, which was strange — why would anyone want a 6 year old along? Well, we came in and he said, 'You know, Max, I've been urging you to stay, stay, stay. But now I'm telling you, go, go, go.' And he said, 'I have a certain dispatch here from Berlin which I haven't received. But in about two weeks, I'm gonna have to inform them that I haven't received it.'
"When we left the room, he was crying, so my father said, 'What are you crying about?' He said, 'You can leave. I have to stay here.'"
To hear Stanley Wertheim tell the story, you get the sense that Max wasn’t aware of how lucky he was to have received that warning, or how privileged he was to be able to act on it.
"He had this connection that so many Jews in Germany did not have in 1936 to an American," Socolow says. And it wasn't just an American — it was a huge American celebrity,"
Ted Husing got the Wertheims' immigration process started and broadcast a full week of the games for CBS, working 12-14 hours a day and calling Jesse Owens’ victory in the 100 meters, the most famous race of those Olympics.
Ted Husing's Legacy — In Sportscasting And Beyond
After the Olympics, Ted Husing returned to New York and his life of working long days as America’s No. 1 sportscaster and partying through long nights.
And when the Wertheims arrived about a year later on the SS Manhattan, it was Ted Husing’s limousine that delivered the family to their new life on West 69th Street.
After World War II, Husing gave up sportscasting to become the country’s highest paid disc jockey. But soon, his life would take another turn.
"He started to become more erratic. He started to miss shows," Socolow says. "People thought it might have been the alcoholism, but it turned out to be a benign brain tumor."
Doctors removed the tumor, but left permanent damage that would eventually cost Husing his eyesight and leave him fully disabled.
On June 7, 1958, Ted Husing was honored on the popular television show, "This Is Your Life." A parade of athletes, coaches and broadcasting executives thanked him for his kindness and good work over the years. Even Jesse Owens was there, telling a story about how Husing had helped him face the media after Berlin.
But the Wertheims weren’t part of that television show. There was no mention of the family Husing had helped save from the Holocaust.
"Ted Husing gave many interviews in the late 1950s tied to the publication of his autobiography, and he never once mentioned this story," Socolow says.
"When we left the room, he was crying so my father said, 'What are you crying about?' He said, 'You can leave, I have to stay here.'"Stanley Wertheim
Ted Husing died on Aug. 10, 1962. His actions in Berlin were never publicly acknowledged during his lifetime.
Michael Socolow has spent a lot of time thinking about why those meetings in Berlin stayed the sportscaster’s secret. Again, there are theories, but not a whole lot of answers.
Maybe it’s that Husing was ashamed of his Jewish heritage — he did allude to that shame in his autobiography, though Stanley Wertheim doesn’t believe it.
Or maybe, Socolow thinks, it has more to do with the American mindset about the Holocaust in the 1950s and early ‘60s.
"The stories were just too raw, too painful, too horrific," he says. "They really stretched people's imaginations as to just how terrible humanity could be, and so it wasn't talked about the way we talk about it now."
But after our interview ended, Michael Socolow and I both came up with the same alternative theory — and it has to do with something Stanley Wertheim said.
Maybe Ted Husing never celebrated helping rescue a family from the Holocaust because the family didn’t feel like there was cause for celebration.
"No, in fact it was a tragedy," Stanley says. "Our family had been living in Germany since the 16th Century. So it certainly wasn’t a happy time for our family — my father never recovered. He went into a state of permanent shock. He never learned English very well, he never adapted very well."
I’ve been thinking a lot about how this story ends. Because it can’t end with 80-year-old Stanley Wertheim, who’s still so angry at being forced to leave his childhood home that he refuses to give up his German passport.
And I still can’t say with certainty why Ted Husing never talked publicly about those meetings in Berlin or even whether it was Ted — or his parents – who were most responsible for saving the Wertheims.
So maybe the story ends with this...
Maybe none of those questions really matter.
Maybe all that matters is that lives needed saving, and someone stepped up to save them.
Read more about the 1936 Berlin Olympics in Michael Socolow’s new book, “Six Minutes in Berlin: Broadcasting Spectacle and Rowing Gold at the Nazi Olympics.”
This segment aired on December 24, 2016.