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National Socialism and the Olympic Flame


Today marks the end of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay which has travelled throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, journeying from Olympia, Greece itself. Lighting of the Olympic Torch marks the official inauguration of the London 2012 Games and signals the beginning of the XXX Olympiad. Given its presence in the modern Olympic Games, the torch relay has somewhat surprising origins. It is difficult to imagine that the symbolic gesture of peace, travelling throughout the corners of the world, actually began in 1936 with the XI Olympiad, hosted by the city of Berlin under the national socialist dictatorship of Adolf Hitler.


With more than two months elapsed and over 8,000 miles covered, the London 2012 Olympics Torch Relay originates not within ancient Greece, nor even in the nineteenth century when the modern Olympics was first revived, but rather with Dr Carl Diem and the racial policies of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party (Nazi). Paganism, ritual and racial purity came to define the Olympic ideal; a High Priestess lit the fire using refracted sun light and mirrors, that same fire would burn continually and would pass from person to person in its unadulterated state. Believing the ritual to have its basis in the myth of Prometheus, the snatcher of fire from Zeus, the Olympic flame and its relay had thoroughly ritualistic overtones. The Nazis, inspired by pagan mythology and the occult, drew similarities between their own and the ancient Greek societies.



Diem proposed the organisation of a relay system to carry the Olympic flame all the way through Europe to Berlin. The 3,422 km route would be run by 3,422 Aryan athletes, each of whom would represent the genetic ties between ancient Greeks of old and the modern day Aryan Übermenschen of the Third Reich. At each stage of the relay, German runners were embarking upon a political and overtly propagandistic endeavor, travelling through the countries of Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria and Czechoslovakia – countries previously proclaimed as Lebensraum and future dominions of the Third Reich during war time 3-4 years later. At the last stage of the procession, the flame was carried on the final kilometre in central Berlin to the fanfare of hundreds of thousands of spectators, the area all around a garland of flags and adorned swastikas. In the first part of the 1938 film by Leni Riefenstahl entitled, Olympia: Fest der Völker (Festival of the Nations), the Nazis showcased the games on an international level. It allowed for a dramatised documentary of the relay as it passed from Greece to Germany, immortalising the sporting ideal of Aryanism and national socialist rhetoric.


               Berlin 1936 Olympic Torch                                          London 2012 Olympic Torch

The festivities of London 2012, coupled with the patriotic fervor that has gripped the nation and united communities throughout the British Isles are certainly reminiscent of 1936. Although the event is nothing more than a symbol of peace in our time and a ritualised ceremony of sporting prowess, it is difficult to disconnect the image of Riefenstahl’s Olympia from the BBC Torch Relay news broadcasts of today. Although conceived in the dark days of National Socialism, the Olympiad tradition still reigns true to its ancient ideals, celebrating sporting achievement and international socio-political cohesion.

The first part of the film by Leni Riefenstahl, Olympia: Fest der Völker (1938) can be viewed online via YouTube by clicking on the image below:





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Leni Riefenstahl, Olympia(Olympia Film GmbH, 1938). Copyright © 1938 Leni Riefenstahl.
 
British Broadcasting Company (BBC), “BBC News: Torch Relay” http://www.bbc.co.uk/torchrelay. Copyright © 2012 BBC.
 
All copyrighted material used in this article or cited by this website is the property of their respective owners and ajjmackenzie.co.uk in no way accepts any responsibility for an infringement on one of the above.
 
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