The Nazi Origins of the Olympic Torch Relay & Five Rings

The Nazi Origins of the Olympic Torch Relay & Five Rings

The Nazi Origins of the Olympic Torch Relay & Five Rings

A few articles on the Nazi background & origins of the Olympic torch relay and the 5 ring logo. One note of interest is that the 1936 Berlin Olympic torches were made by the German industrial giant Krupp, a major arms manufacturer. For 2010, Bombardier, the second largest military contractor in Canada, will be producing the Olympic torches.

Rings, torch have ties to Hitler's Nazi propaganda

Cincinnati Enquirer | August 17 2004

ATHENS, Greece - The most beloved emblems of the modern Olympics have a decidedly dark past.

The torch relay that culminates in the ceremonial lighting of the flame at Olympic stadium was ordered by Adolf Hitler, who tried to turn the 1936 Berlin Games into a celebration of the Third Reich.

And it was Hitler's Nazi propaganda machine that popularized the five interlocking rings as the symbol of the Games.

Today, both are universally recognized icons of the Olympics. But historians say neither had much, if anything, to do with the Games born centuries ago in Ancient Olympia.

"The torch relay is so ingrained in the modern choreography that most people today assume it was a revival of a pagan tradition - unaware that it was actually concocted for Hitler's Games in Berlin," author Tony Perrottet writes in a new book, The Naked Olympics.

A sacred flame did burn 24 hours a day at Olympia. And relay racers passed a torch to light a sacrificial cauldron at some other ancient festivals. But the ancient Greeks opened their Olympics by word of mouth, sending heralds - not torchbearers - running through the streets.

The modern tradition of spiriting the Olympic torch to the main stadium didn't become a fixture of the Games until 1936, when a 12-day run opened the Games in Berlin.

The Olympic rings, another universally recognized symbol of the games since they made their debut in 1920 at Antwerp, Belgium, have their own Nazi connection.

Originally, they were designed in 1913 by Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the IOC and father of the modern Olympic movement, for a 1914 World Olympic Congress in Paris. They were supposed to symbolize the first five Olympics, but the congress disbanded when Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in Sarajevo, triggering World War I.

Leni Riefenstahl, the Olympia filmmaker who also chronicled Hitler's rise to power, had the rings carved into a stone altar at the ancient Greek city of Delphi, spawning the myth that they were a symbol dating more than two millennia.

With Hitler's influence, the rings became part of the Nazi pageantry at Berlin - and they've come to symbolize the Olympics ever since.


Hitler's Contribution to Olympic Pageantry
By Tony Perrottet
Mr. Perrottet is the author of The Naked Olympics(Random House).

Just how theatrical were the ancient opening ceremonies on the morning of day one? It's hard not to let our imaginations run riot, blurring Hollywood movies and the pseudoclassical kitsch of our own lavish Olympics rituals. The torch relay, for example, is so ingrained in the modern choreography that most people today assume it was a revival of a pagan tradition—unaware that it was actually concocted for Hitler's Games in Berlin.

The Nazis knew a good propaganda symbol when they saw one. At noon on July 20, 1936, two weeks before the start of the Berlin Games, a Greek “high priestess” and fourteen girls wearing classical robes gathered in the ancient Stadium of Olympia, and used parabolic mirrors to focus the sun's rays on a wand until it burst into flame. As a torch was kindled, a chant went up— “Oh fire, lit in an ancient and sacred place, begin your race”— followed by a ceremony where one of Pindar's Pythian odes was sung to ancient instruments. The so-called Olympic flame was then carried by 3,075 relay runners from Greece, passed from magnesium torch to torch (each one bearing the logo of the German arms manufacturer Krupp), until it finally lit a colossal brazier in the Berlin stadium before the F├╝hrer's approving gaze.

In fact, this ceremony never occurred at the ancient Olympics. The modern conception is a mishmash of two quite different pagan traditions that Berlin's masterminds—in particular, Dr. Carl Diem, a leading German scholar who became head of the organizing committee—had brilliantly reworked. Olympia, like all ancient Greek and Roman sanctuaries, did have its own eternal flame, which was kept burning for Hestia, goddess of the hearth, in a building called the Prytaneion, or “Magistrate's House.” It was used to light all the sacrificial fires at altars throughout the sanctuary. And some other ancient Greek cities did have a lampadedromia, or torch race, as part of their local festivals. At Athens, for example, young men wearing nothing but a diadem hung over their foreheads would race in relay teams from the port of Piraeus south of the city to the Acropolis, trying to keep a baton made of flaming reeds from the narthex plant alight until they reached the altar of Prometheus. It must have made a hypnotic sight from the Parthenon, watching the flames weaving like fireflies through the dark streets below. But no torch lighting, relay races, or other pyrotechnic shows ever made their appearance at the ancient Olympic Games.

The “revived” 1936 torch race perfectly fit the Nazi design for the Olympics as a showcase for the New Germany. With its aura of ancient mysticism, the rite linked Nazism to the civilized glories of classical Greece, which the Reich's academics were arguing had been an Aryan wonderland. (They were particularly fond of the macho, warlike Spartans—Hitler was even inexplicably convinced that the peasant soup of Schleswig-Holstein was a descendant of Spartan black broth, a famously austere staple fed to the men in communal messes as they underwent their brutal training.) Hitler took considerable personal interest in the ritual, and pumped funds into its promotion: The Nazi propaganda machine covered the torch relay slavishly, broadcast radio reports from every step of the route, and filled the Games with the iconography of ancient Greek athletics. Afterward, the ceremony became permanently embedded in the popular imagination in part due to Leni Riefenstahl's documentary of the Nazi Games, Olympia , which evocatively showed a Greek runner treading the gentle beaches of the Aegean at dusk.

Ironically, considering its repellent origins, the torch race has come to symbolize international brotherhood today, and remains a centerpiece of our own pomp-filled Olympic opening ceremonies. (The most popular part of any Games, they are perennially sold out in advance.) Even more strangely, the mock-pagan ritual is still carried out in Greece. Every four years, local teenage girls gather at the temple of Hera at Olympia dressed in faux-pagan regalia—they even use parabolic mirrors to focus the sun's rays—while runners transmit the flame across the globe, sometimes by airplane, boat, scuba, or camel-back, to each new Olympic stadium. Every summer, the German archaeologists now working at Olympia are peeved to distraction by the hundreds of tourists asking them every day to point out the site of this “ancient” torch-lighting ceremony.


The Olympic torch's shadowy past

By Chris Bowlby, BBC News
The Olympic torch is being welcomed this weekend in the UK as a symbol of the sporting spirit, uniting people around the world in peaceful competition.

But the idea of lighting the torch at the ancient Olympian site in Greece and then running it through different countries has much darker origins.

It was invented in its modern form by the organisers of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

And it was planned with immense care by the Nazi leadership to project the image of the Third Reich as a modern, economically dynamic state with growing international influence.

The organiser of the 1936 Olympics, Carl Diem, wanted an event linking the modern Olympics to the ancient.

The idea chimed perfectly with the Nazi belief that classical Greece was an Aryan forerunner of the modern German Reich.

And the event blended perfectly the perversion of history with publicity for contemporary German power.

The first torch was lit in Greece with the help of mirrors made by the German company Zeiss.

Steel-clad magnesium torches to carry the flame were specially produced by the Ruhr-based industrial giant Krupp.

Media coverage was masterminded by Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels, using the latest techniques and technology.

Dramatic regular radio coverage of the torch's progress kept up the excitement, and Leni Riefenstahl filmed it to create powerful images.

Beijing relay

The route the torch takes has always been a matter of careful political planning too.

This year's route has already proved highly controversial.

Beijing wanted to take the torch through Taiwan's capital, Taipei, but this had to be changed by Olympic authorities due to political tensions between the Chinese and Taiwanese leaders.

And there is now great tension over plans to run the torch through Tibet after recent disturbances there.

In 1936 the torch made its way from Greece to Berlin through countries in south-eastern and central Europe where the Nazis were especially keen to enhance their influence.

Given what happened a few years later that route seems especially poignant now.

"Sporting chivalrous contest," Hitler declared just before the torch was lit, "helps knit the bonds of peace between nations. Therefore may the Olympic flame never expire."

Yet the flame's arrival in Vienna prompted major pro-Nazi demonstrations, helping pave the way for the Anschluss, or annexation of Austria, in 1938.

In Hungary gypsy musicians who serenaded the flame faced within a few years deportation to Nazi death camps.

Other countries on the relay route like Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia would soon be invaded by Germans equipped not with Krupp torches but with Krupp munitions.

And Carl Diem, the relay's inventor, ended the war as fanatical military commander at the Olympic stadium in Berlin, refusing to accept that the Third Reich was over.


Reinhard Appel, a teenage member of the Hitler Youth based at the stadium, described to me a speech made by Diem in 1945 as the Red Army closed in.

"He kept referring to Sparta - the history of how the Spartans had not feared dying for their country. He demanded that we be heroes."

Hundreds of the youngsters were killed in a futile attempt to defend the stadium.

Diem however survived, and reinvented himself after the war as an academic specialising in the philosophy of sport.

Germans are still debating his reputation today.

In 1936 itself there was no doubt that the spectacle of his torch relay was judged a great international success.

As a suitably Aryan-looking German athlete carried the torch into the stadium in Berlin the BBC radio commentator was deeply impressed: "He's a fair young man in white shorts, he's beautifully made, a very fine sight as an athlete."

Another relay runner was Siegfried Eifrig, who had carried the torch as it arrived in the centre of Berlin.

Flanked by huge swastika flags, he then lit a fire on an altar - typical of the pseudo-religious symbolism Nazism relished.

Eifrig is still alive, aged 98, and still has his Krupp torch engraved with the route of the 1936 relay. But he told me this week that he was saddened by the controversy this year's relay has attracted, as it ought to be kept a "purely sporting" affair.

And he is critical of the way the politicians always seek to exploit it, seeing the plan to take the torch across the summit of Mount Everest as a "pointless gesture" that makes a nonsense of the relay as an athletic challenge.

Having survived the war as a soldier and then a British prisoner of war, he now sees the 1936 relay in a more sober light than when he was one of its stars.

No matter how great the emphasis on the torch as a bright sporting symbol, he knows better than most that, amid the political wrangling and media hype, less welcome historical ghosts are running alongside.


Olympic flame propaganda

The Germans only added the relay part of the flame, the rest of what these articles state  are clearly aimed to tarnish the greatest sporting events humankind has ever produced and to also attack the eternally bright spirit of Hellenism.

Quoting from conspiracy theorist website infowars was especially funny.