Sport: Track & Field
Born: April 12, 1914, in Laupheim, Germany
Died: July 25, 2017 in Queens, New York
Teenager Gretel Bergmann was Germany’s national female High Jump
Champion during the 1930s. She was one of three Jews named to the German
team for the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
In 1933, after Bergmann and other
Jews were denied opportunity to
train and compete in their country of birth, she was sent by her parents
to live in England. With an eye on competing for Britain in the 1936
Olympic Games, she won the 1934 British High Jump championship.
News of her success crossed the channel quickly. Facing threats to
family if she did not return home and compete for Germany, Bergmann
Although she was not allowed to train with other members of the German“
Olympic nucleus team” from which the three best in each event
would be chosen for the Games, she competed with them only on special
On June 30, 1936—one month prior to the opening ceremonies of the
Games—Bergmann equaled the German and European High Jump record
5'3" (1.60 meters). Two weeks later, German sport authorities informed
young High Jump champion that her achievement was not good enough
represent Germany in the Olympics. The rejection was delivered in
only days after the U.S. Olympic team, decimated by a passionate
boycott movement, sailed for Germany. With several German Jews announced
as participants in the 1936 Olympic Games (Bergmann, ice hockey
player Rudi Ball, and fencer Helene Mayer), an international movement
boycott the Nazi-influenced Olympiad had subsided.
The Women’s Olympic High Jump gold medalist three weeks later
equaled Bergmann’s German record mark. Without the Jewish High
Jumper, Germany’s remaining women jumpers finished third and
fourth in the event. (The fourth-place finisher would reveal 30 years
was a man.)
In 1937, Bergmann immigrated to the United States. That year, she
the U.S. Women’s High Jump and Shotput championships and
captured the Women’s High Jump title again in 1938. Shortly
before the 1939 U.S.
track and field championships, World War II broke out in Europe,
Bergmann stopped competing.
In August 1995, at the initiative of the German National Sports
the Gretel Bergmann Sports Arena was dedicated in the Berlin
of Wilmersdorf. Bergmann, now Mrs. Margaret Lambert, had previously
stated that she would never again set foot in Germany. She
attend. However, Bergmann-Lambert was an honored guest of the
Olympic Committee at the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Olympic
Games in Atlanta, Georgia.
Several years later, at the request of the German government, Bergmann
relented and accepted an invitation to attend 1999 ceremonial activities
related to the Berlin sports arena named in her honor. The event also
marked the beginning of restoration of Berlin’s 1936 Olympic Stadium–the
one Germany’s best female high jumper.was not allowed to enter
as an Olympian.
In July 2004, HBO (Home Box Office) premiered its film,
a critically acclaimed documentary about the travails of German Olympic candidate
Bergmann-Lambert was elected to the Pillar of Achievement
as a representative
of all Jewish athletes, including 21 other German Jewish
Olympic candidates, who were not permitted by Nazi Germany
in the 1936 Olympic Games.