2017-08-02 / World News

Jewish athlete barred from 1936 Olympics dies

Margaret Bergmann Lambert, a high jumper who was barred from the 1936 Berlin Olympics because she was Jewish, died in New York at 103.

Her niece, Doris Bergman, confirmed that Lambert died, The New York Times reported.

In June 1936, just a month before the Olympics, Lambert, then a German citizen known as Gretel Bergmann, won a meet against some of the best German high jumpers with a leap of 5-feet, 3- inches—a height tying a German record and good enough to win the gold medal.

Margarethe Minnie Bergmann was born April 12, 1914, in the small town of Laupheim, in southwest Germany, about 65 miles from the Swiss border. She excelled in the shot put, the discus and other events as well as the high jump.

“I was ‘The Great Jewish Hope,’” she often said.

With anti-Semitism on the rise in Germany—she recalled signs in shops declaring “No dogs or Jews allowed”— Bergmann left home at 19 and moved to England, where she won the British high-jump championship in 1935. But when the Nazis pressured her father to bring her home, she returned to Germany to seek a position on the Olympic team.

The Nazis did this to deflect allegations that they were allowing their party’s race theories and policies to compromise Olympic principles, making Germany unsuitable to host the games.

But shortly after her record-setting performance at the meet in Stuttgart, at Adolf Hitler Stadium, she received a letter from Nazi officials informing her that she had not qualified.

“Looking back on your recent performances,” the letter said, “you could not possibly have expected to be chosen for the team.” Her accomplishment was removed from the record books.

Hurt and angry, she turned down the officials’ offer of a standing-room ticket “free of charge” for the Olympics track and field events. Travel expenses and hotel accommodations were not included in the offer.

“I never replied,” she said.

In 1937, Gretel Bergmann was able to obtain papers that allowed her to immigrate to the United States. She landed in New York City, where she worked as a masseuse and housemaid, and later as a physical therapist, according to the Times. In 1938, she married a fellow German refugee, Bruno Lambert, who was a sprinter. He died in 2013. (JTA)

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