THE PILLAR OF ACHIEVEMENT

 
GRETEL BERGMANN
Country: Germany
Born: April 12, 1914, in Laupheim, Germany

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 her family if she did not return home and compete for Germany, Bergmann
complied.

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 occasions. On June 30, 1936—one month prior to the opening ceremonies of the Berlin
Games—Bergmann equaled the German and European High Jump record of 5'3" (1.60 meters). Two weeks later, German sport authorities informed the young High Jump champion that her achievement was not good enough to represent Germany in the Olympics. The rejection was delivered in writing only days after the U.S. Olympic team, decimated by a passionate Olympic 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 to 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 later that she was a man.)

In 1937, Bergmann immigrated to the United States. That year, she won 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, and
Bergmann stopped competing.

In August 1995, at the initiative of the German National Sports Federation, the Gretel Bergmann Sports Arena was dedicated in the Berlin district of Wilmersdorf. Bergmann, now Mrs. Margaret Lambert, had previously stated that she would never again set foot in Germany. She did not attend. However, Bergmann-Lambert was an honored guest of the German 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, Hitler’s Pawn, a critically acclaimed documentary about the travails of German Olympic candidate Gretel Bergmann.

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 to compete in the 1936 Olympic Games.

 
© 1996- International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame
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