Alpine Resort Town's Uncomfortable Past

No Need to Examine the Past

Alois Schwarzmüller is now standing in front of the east wing of the ski stadium. Years ago, there was a proposal to establish a museum and research institute there, but the project was abandoned as being too costly. Schwarzmüller is a respected man in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where he represented the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the town council for 18 years. He has also spent many years researching the Nazi past in his hometown. "People here don't feel the need to look into that part of the town's history," he says.

The Werdenfelser Land area where Garmisch-Partenkirchen is located was popular among the Nazi leaders. After the failed 1923 coup in Munich, Hermann Göring fled to Partenkirchen, where he was treated for a gunshot wound. He was named an honorary citizen of the town in 1933. Hitler is said to have wanted to acquire an alpine estate in the region, but the man whose farm he had selected was unwilling to sell, and Hitler had to make do with his mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden.

For the Nazis, the Winter Olympics in Bavaria were the dress rehearsal for the summer games later that year in Berlin. The villages of Garmisch and Partenkirchen were forcibly united. The Alpine panorama, which includes Germany's highest mountain, the Zugspitze, offered an imposing backdrop for the games. However, the organizers were concerned about rampant anti-Semitism in the region.

Widespread Anti-Semitism

Shortly after the Nazis came to power in January 1933, local efforts were undertaken to make it difficult for Jews to move to the area, and notices and signs were posted that read: "Jews are not wanted here." In 1934, "doing business in the Jewish language" was banned, and Jews were prohibited from renting or buying property in the town.

Nine months before the games were scheduled to begin, discrimination against the Jewish population had become so widespread that the head of the organizing committee, Karl Ritter von Halt, became alarmed and voiced his concerns in a letter to the Interior Ministry in Berlin. Halt emphasized that he didn't want to be misunderstood -- "I am not expressing my concerns in order to help the Jews" -- but wrote that "if the propaganda is continued in this form, the population of Garmisch-Partenkirchen will be so inflamed that it will indiscriminately attack and injure anyone who even looks Jewish."

The Jew-baiting in the Alpine idyll did not go unnoticed abroad. An English reporter who had traveled to the Werdenfelser Land region in advance of the games photographed the Partenkirchen Ski Club's clubhouse, where a sign reading "No Jews Allowed Here!" was posted on the wall. The image circled the globe. A boycott movement had already been formed in the United States. Organizing committee chief Karl Ritter von Halt was worried that the entire German Olympic project could fail. "If the slightest disturbance occurs in Garmisch-Partenkirchen -- this is something which we are all well aware of -- it will be not be possible to hold the Olympic Games in Berlin, because all other nations will then withdraw from the event."

Berlin reacted. Adolf Wagner, a high-ranking Nazi Party official, ordered all anti-Semitic signs and posters removed. The Olympics could begin.

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