The Great Jewish Fencer Who Served as the Nazis’ Token Jew at the 1936 Olympics

The 1936 Olympics Games, held in Berlin, are best remembered for the American athlete Jesse Owens’ impressive performance, which undermined Hitler’s claims of Aryan physical supremacy. But earlier, the International Olympic Committee had also informed the Third Reich that it couldn’t host the games if it didn’t allow Jews to play, and the Americans likewise threatened a boycott. So the Nazis consented to allow two Jewish female athletes to participate in try-outs. A new off-Broadway play tells their stories. Bruce Chadwick writes in his review:

Helene Mayer, born in 1910 outside of Frankfurt, was one of the greatest fencers ever to live, named one of the top 100 women athletes of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated. She was defeating boys at age ten and at just thirteen won the first of her six German national championships. . . . Hitler, who had promised Germany a “Jew-free” Olympics, was, under enormous pressure, forced to relent and Helen was invited to try out for the fencing squad. She made the team, the only Jew in the entire German delegation.

Henry Naylor’s impressive play stars two women, Lindsay Ryan as [Helene] Mayer and Renita Lewis as the Jewish high jumper Gretel Bergmann, who was also invited to try out but did not make the German team. Both give devastating portrayals of the two women athletes who found themselves standing in the vortex of history that summer in 1936.

Helene, [born to a Jewish father and Lutheran mother], fled the Nazis in 1935 and worked at Mills College in California. . . . She knew that she was in for a political whirlwind if she accepted the Nazi invitation to try out for the team, but did so anyway. She had insisted throughout her life that fencing, like all sports, was above politics and that she had to go to the Berlin Olympics for that reason.

Read more at History News Network

More about: 1936 Olympics, Anti-Semitism, Nazi Germany, Theater

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus