Alpine Resort Town's Uncomfortable Past

Invited to Coffee with Hitler

The weather was unseasonably warm shortly before the opening ceremony, but then temperatures dropped just in time for the games. When Hitler arrived on a special government train at the Kainzenbad station, directly at the ski stadium, at 10:55 a.m. on Feb. 6, 1936, there were 20 centimeters (8 inches) of snow on the ground. According to the official Olympic report that was later released, Hitler was greeted with "a hurricane of jubilant voices shouting: Heil!"

At the opening ceremony, 1,100 athletes and officials from 28 nations marched into the stadium. Many extended their right arms in a Hitler salute in front of the VIP stand. Willy Bogner, whose son heads the organization in charge of the "Munich 2018" bid, delivered the Olympic oath.

The sports festival provided the Nazis with the images they wanted to see. Swastika flags lined the town's main thoroughfares. The athletes were performing at their best to cheering crowds. Franz Pfnür, a native of Berchtesgaden, won the gold medal in the alpine skiing combined event, while Polish champion Bronislaw Czech trailed behind, finishing in 20th place.

As a reward, Pfnür was later invited to coffee with the Führer at his mountain retreat in Obersalzberg. He also joined the SS.

Czech, however, joined a resistance group after the German invasion of Poland and worked as a courier. He smuggled people and important documents across the Tatra Mountains to Hungary, until his former trainer, an Austrian, betrayed him to the Germans. Czech was admitted to the Auschwitz concentration camp as prisoner number 349. He died there on June 5, 1944, at the age of 35.

'We Don't Sugercoat Anything'

The 1936 Winter Olympics helped to shape Garmisch-Partenkirchen's future. For the town, the games marked the beginning of mass tourism. This year, Garmisch-Partenkirchen celebrates its 75th anniversary.

A commemorative publication was printed for the 60th anniversary of the winter games. It is sitting on a table in the office of Mayor Thomas Schmid, who has had it put there -- as evidence.

Schmid, 48, who has been in office since 2002, is considered a modernizer. He is pinning his hopes on winning the 2018 Olympic bid, which would bring the town new luxury hotels, a new conference center and a better rail connection to Munich.

But what about the 1936 Olympics? Schmid insists that Garmisch-Partenkirchen has done a wonderful job of dealing with its past. "We don't sugarcoat anything, and we address the issue head on," he says, citing the commemorative publication as an example.

The cover depicts a ski jumper in the air. The 1936 games brought Garmisch-Partenkirchen "worldwide prominence and recognition," Schmid's predecessor, Toni Neidlinger, writes in the introduction, adding: "the political circumstances of the time complicate the way we view the event today."

The rest of the publication contains reports on the sporting events, stories about German star athletes like Christl Cranz, winner of the gold medal in the alpine combined competition. The political circumstances are glossed over.

Under Observation

This is hardly surprising. The publisher was historian Gert Sudholt, 66, a stepson of the former deputy Nazi press chief Helmut Sündermann. Sudholt heads the Berg Publishing Company, which has been under observation for years by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency.

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