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The 1936 anti-Nazi People’s Olympics: a lesser-known games in Barcelona

Three men of different skin colors hold a white flag in the official poster designed by German Jewish refugee

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05 July 2017 11:05 PM

by

Alan Ruiz Terol

At a time when Barcelona is marking the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Summer Olympics, a lesser-known Olympic Games are also being remembered: the 1936 People’s Olympics, which aimed to be an alternative to the official games organized by Nazi Germany in Berlin.

The official poster of the event portrays three men of different skin colors (pink, black and yellow) holding a white flag together. It was designed by a German Jew who fled the country escaping persecution by the Nazis dues to his political ideas.

Over 6,000 athletes from across the world —including the United States, France and the Soviet Union— were expected to take part in the event. However, the Barcelona People’s Olympics never became a reality.

On July 17, 1936, just two days before the People’s Olympics were to start, a military uprising against the Spanish Republican government began, marking the beginning of the Spanish Civil War and eventually leading to Francisco Franco’s 40-year-long dictatorship. When the war started, some athletes decided to stay and join the Republican forces to defend the Spanish democracy.

  • "It is with no doubt the most advanced poster ever in hostory of the Olympic Games, and also the most timely"

    Plàcid Garcia-Planas, Democratic Memorial's director

Catalan Foreign Minister, Raül Romeva, explained the importance of bringing the People’s Olympics to the forefront, especially at a time when the Civil War’s 80th anniversary memorial year is coming to an end. “It is probably one of the least known events for a big part —or even the majority— of Barcelona, Catalonia and the world,” he said. “Everybody remembers the 1992 Olympic Games, but probably nobody remembers the 1936 games.”

Romeva spoke at an event organized by Memorial Democràtic (Democratic Memorial), a public institution focused on recovering Catalan history. “The 1992 Olympics were wonderful, Cobi (the game’s mascot) was really nice, but we have a treasure that is bigger, much bigger: the 1936 Olympics which never were, but could have been,” said the institution's director, Plàcid Garcia-Planas.

Garcia-Planas highlighted the inclusive spirit of the Barcelona games in contrast with those organized in Berlin, which ended up becoming a major propaganda tool for Adolf Hitler’s regime. He offers the official poster of the event as an example:“This poster is many decades ahead of what would eventually become the Olympic spirit. It is with no doubt the most advanced poster ever in the history of the Olympic Games, and also the most timely,” said Garcia-Planas.

In 1931, the Olympic International Committee chose Berlin over Barcelona as the host city of the 1936 Summer Olympics. At that time, a republican government had just taken power in Spain following a regime change. Meanwhile, in Germany, the Weimar Republic was still in place and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party was still far from power.

Once the Nazis took power, other countries started to express their concerns about the 1936 Olympics. The International Olympic Committee, though, told them not to “mix sports with politics.”

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  • Official poster designed by a German Jewish refugee

  • Official poster designed by a German Jewish refugee

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