THE current enthusiasm for things Olympian prompted Keith Jowett to dig out a remarkable memento of an earlier Olympic Games – a book about the infamous Nazi games of 1936 in Germany.
What is even more remarkable is the way Keith acquired the book, named Olympia 1936 on the cover but with the fuller title inside Die Olympischen Spiele 1936 in Berlin und Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
The story goes back maybe 20 years when Keith worked “on the bins” for Calderdale Council. One day his team came upon a large number of black bags at a house – Keith can’t remember where – which was obviously being cleared. The men tore open the bags to empty the contents into their wagon when he spotted the Olympia book and decided to keep it rather than let it, literally, go to waste.
The book, entirely in German, is the first of two volumes, the first concentrating on the winter games held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria, and the second on the summer games in Berlin. The year 1936 was the last in which the summer and winter games were both held in the same country.
The games became famous in many ways, including their organisation, which included the construction of the vast 100,000 capacity Olympic stadium, and notorious for the fact that anti-Jewish slogans were removed for the duration of the games to avoid upsetting the international community.
The games were also famous for the feats of the American athlete Jesse Owens, who won three running gold medals and another in the long jump.
Owens was supposedly snub-bed by the German leader, Adolf Hitler, who, it was said, refused to present him with his medals. In fact after the first day Hitler opted not to present medals to any althetes and, according to Owens himself, sent him a photograph of himself.
On the other hand Owens was snubbed at home. American president Franklin D Roosevelt failed to send Owens even a congratulatory telegram and neither he nor his successor, Harry S. Truman, honoured him or even met him.
The highly unusual Die Olympischen Spiele 1936 was published by Cigaretten-Bilderdienst Altona Bahrenfeld and, as this name implies, the books were, as well as being a written record of the summer and winter games, cigarette card albums in which most of the black-and-white and also some colour photos were acquired by buying packs of cigarettes and sticking the photos on numbered spots on the pages.
Unlike British cigarette cards, which fitted into a cigarette pack, these photographs were much bigger, typically postcard size but some much larger.
The book’s frontispiece, though, was not a cigarette card but a striking page-sized photo of Hitler and his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, signing autographs for eager Germans in the grandstand at Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
Keith Jowett, who lives at Edwards Close, Southowram, speculates that the book might have been brought to Britain by someone escaping the Nazi regime in the 1930s or after war broke out in 1939.
He was so intrigued by the book that he took it along to a session of BBC TV’s Antiques Roadshow in Manchester. The expert who examined it would not put a value on the book but said that if it had with it the missing second volume it might be worth something.
A quick online search showed that a single volume of Die Olympischen Spiele 1936 can be bought for as little as £10 but the two together can fetch $3,000 – or just over £1,900.