As more than 5,000 athletes from 51 countries march into a stadium packed with 100,000 onlookers, Adolf Hitler makes his only public statement of the Berlin Olympics at its opening ceremony on this day in 1936: “I proclaim the Games of Berlin, celebrating the eleventh Olympiad of the modern era, to be open."
Before his declaration, the dictator entered Olympic Stadium to the German national anthem, “Deutschland Uber Alles,” the Nazi anthem, “Horst Wessel Lied,” as well as salutes of “Sieg Heil.” As the athletes made their traditional alphabetical march into the stadium dressed in each nation’s regalia, some countries, including Austria and France, gave the Nazi salute as they passed by the Führer.
Following Hitler’s remarks, German composer Richard Strauss’ “Olympics Hymn” was performed, leading up to the ceremonial arrival of the Olympic torch. This was the first time the torch had been carried as part of a relay, starting in Olympia Greece and handled by more than 3,000 runners over its 12-day path to Berlin. The torch, incidentally, was made by German steel company Krupp, which also made Nazi weapons.
Berlin won the bid for the Summer Games in 1931, two years before the Nazi Party took power. Nations including the United States, Great Britain, Sweden and Czechoslovakia threatened—but eventually chose not to—boycott the event because of Germany’s increasingly racist actions. In response, the Nazis used propaganda and removed anti-Semitic signage to promote a so-called “tolerant” Germany during the Games.
In the end, 18 African Americans competed for the United States, winning 14 of 56 U.S. medals, including four gold medals for track and field phenom Jesse Owens.