“… the Olympics still preserves the self-glorifying aura of the Nazi myth,” writes Michael Dobkowski, professor of religious studies at HWS, in an opinion piece that appeared in the Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, N.Y., on May 27. In the piece, he compares this year’s Olympic torch relay and protests surrounding it to the torch relay of 1936, when Nazi Germany was host to the Olympic Games – and routed the torch through countries that would eventually become part of Hitler’s military drive East. That torch was met with pro-Nazi rallies rather than political protests. He notes, World leaders chose to participate in the 1936 Olympics, leaving Germany unchecked as it prepared for a genocidal conquest. He says there was a “warning unheaded” in those games and warns America’s leaders to consider the ceremonies in Beijing in context with history. Dobkowski received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. (with distinction) from New York University. In 1996, 1998, 2004 and 2006 he participated in the Goldner Holocaust Symposium at Wroxton College in England, and in 1979 he was a Fellow at the Institute for the Teaching of the Post-Biblical Foundations of Western Civilization at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He received the New York University Ferdinand Czernin Prize in History and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Additionally, he was a key organizer of the Hobart and William Smith Genocide Series, which continues to bring such notable speakers as Elie Wiesel, Cornel West, Peter Balakian, and Henry Greenspan to campus. His complete op ed follows.
Democrat and Chronicle “From Berlin to Beijing-The Passing of the Olympic Torch” Michael Dobkowski, May 27, 2008 The Chinese government, with exquisite irony, refers to the Olympic torch relay, as a “journey of harmony”. It has been anything but harmonious as the torch bearers have had to deal with thousands of protesters, police and Chinese security personnel in Paris, London, San Francisco, Canberra, Seoul, and other locations. These protesters are reacting to Tibet’s human rights grievances against China and to China’s support of the Sudanese government in its genocidal war against the people of Darfur. Beijing is the largest foreign purchaser of Sudanese oil and is its largest trading partner. China also provides arms to Sudan in violation of the UN arms embargo thus acting as the chief enabler of the genocide. The torch relay, assumed by many to be a symbol of the Olympic spirit of competition and brotherhood, actually has its origins in the early years of the Nazi era. In 1935 the brilliant and controversial German film maker, Leni Riefenstahl, still basking in the success of her “Triumph of the Will” documentary on the 1933 Nazi Party Nuremberg rally, was planning a film on the 1936 Berlin Olympics. She was approached by Dr. Carl Diem of Germany’s Olympic Committee with his vision. Young runners in relays would carry a burning torch from Greece’s ancient Olympia across Europe to the new stadium in Berlin where it would ignite the Olympic flame to open the games. This passing of the torch is meant to demonstrate a lineage of historical connection from ancient Greece to Nazi Germany thus providing legitimacy to this fascist and soon to become genocidal regime. The ritual has a similar purpose in 2008. In truth, the Olympics still preserves the self-glorifying aura of the nationalist myth. That is why these protests are so important to remind us that powerful nations often hide behind manufactured myths and symbols masking darker purposes. The Tibetan protests and China’s violent repression have laid bare the true nature of this powerful nationalist state. This month, we recognized Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Commemoration Day, an appropriate occasion to recall these connections and the consequences of silence and inaction in the face of oppression(Tibet) and bald opportunism(Darfur). In 1936 the relay reflected a more ominous and obvious threat. The torch was carried through European cities that would soon be overrun by the German army in its quest for European dominance. No one is anticipating a Chinese military conquest but the symbolism of the torch passing through the major capitals and up the heights (Mount Everest) of the world suggest China’s interest in staking its claim to be a dominant world force. In 1936 the world powers acquiesced and participated in the games after Germany’s assurances that discrimination against Jews and other human rights abuses would stop. We now know how empty those promises were. I urge America’s leaders to keep this context in mind as they ponder how or whether to participate in the very public ceremonies in Beijing. This is our opportunity to express our extreme displeasure with Chinese policies. Victor Klemperer, a victim of Nazi oppression wrote in his diary on September 3, 1939, days after the German invasion of Poland. “Is there no one in Germany who does not feel a pang of conscience? Once more: Machiavelli was mistaken; there is a line beyond which the separation of morality and politics is unpolitical and has to be paid for. Sooner or later.” That was true in 1936 and is no less true today. The 1936 Berlin games were a warning unheeded. We dare not make that mistake again. Dobkowski is a professor of religious studies, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, Ontario County Michael N. Dobkowski Professor of Religious Studies Hobart and William Smith Colleges Geneva, New York