To Rafael Medoff, the winter games that opened in Beijing on Friday are strongly reminiscent of their 1936 precursors, which took place in Nazi Berlin. He writes:
Countries that host the Olympic Games derive an array of financial benefits, from tourism dollars to corporate sponsorships. Regimes that are perpetrating human-rights violations enjoy an even more important benefit: an opportunity to gain international legitimacy and whitewash their abuses. For Adolf Hitler in 1936, The games were a chance to make the Nazi regime seem reasonable and distract from his oppression of German Jews. For the Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the Olympics represent an opportunity to turn the world’s attention away from what the United States government and human-rights groups have said is his genocidal persecution of China’s largely Muslim Uighur minority.
Then and now, the international community has largely gone along with the deadly charade. . . . China invited the skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang, an ethnic Uighur who will be competing in the games, to take part in the torch-lighting ceremony. . . . Hitler did something very similar. During the months preceding the Berlin games, critics pointed out that Jewish athletes were being systematically excluded from the German team. The Nazi leader sought to deflect the critics by signing up a token fencer who had a Jewish father, Helene Mayer.
Mayer later explained that she gave the Nazi salute from the Olympics podium because her family members were still in Germany, some of them in concentration camps. One can imagine that Yilamujiang may well be laboring under similar pressures. . . .
Even President Franklin D. Roosevelt was taken by the spectacle. He told Rabbi Stephen S. Wise how impressed he was to learn from two tourists who attended the games “that the synagogues are crowded and apparently there is nothing very wrong in the situation [of Germany’s Jews] at present.”