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Margaret Bergmann Lambert, Jewish athlete excluded from 1936 Berlin Olympics, dies aged 103
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Margaret Bergmann Lambert, Jewish athlete excluded from 1936 Berlin Olympics, dies aged 103

Margaret Bergmann Lambert, a world-class high jumper who was best known for her non-participation in the 1936 Berlin Olympics - she was kept off the German team because she was Jewish - died on Tuesday at her home in Queens. She was 103.

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

But that she was allowed to take part in the meet was, as she later said, a “charade”: a propaganda tool to show the world that Germany was unbiased in its Olympic team selections. It was a cynical response to organised movements, particularly in the United States, that were urging nations not to send teams to Berlin unless the Germans demonstrated that they did not discriminate.

In fact, the Germans had no intention of sending her to the Olympics, and Lambert had been coerced into training. Threats were made against her family if she refused.

Margarethe Minnie Bergmann was born on April 12, 1914, in the small town of Laupheim, in southwest Germany, about 65 miles from the Swiss border. She was an outstanding all-around athlete, excelling 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 antisemitism on the rise in Germany — she recalled signs in shops declaring, “No dogs or Jews allowed” — she 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.

Shortly after winning that June meet, held at Adolf Hitler Stadium in Stuttgart, she received a letter from Nazi officials informing her that she had not qualified. “Looking back on your recent performances,” the letter stated, “you could not possibly have expected to be chosen for the team.” Her accomplishment was removed from the record books.

In 1937, Gretel Bergmann was able to obtain papers that allowed her to emigrate to the United States.

She continued to compete in track and field events, but for only a few more years. She won the United States women’s high-jump and shot-put championships in 1937 and the high jump again in 1938. She was preparing to try out for the 1940 United States Olympic team when war broke out in Europe, after which she focused her attention on trying to get her parents out of Germany, which she was eventually able to do.

Although she had once vowed never to set foot in Germany again — and had been gone so long, she said, that she could barely speak the language — she was persuaded to return in 1999, when the stadium in Laupheim, where she used to train, was renamed in her honour.

Her German national high jump record was restored in 2009. “It’s very nice,” she said at the time, “except I wouldn’t have committed suicide if it didn’t happen.”

 Click here to read the full article in New York Times

Wednesday, July 26, 2017
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