Olympic Silence: The Anti-Semitic Past of the IOC
During the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, Count Jacques Rogge, the Belgian who is the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), refused to hold a minute of silence for the eleven Israeli Olympic athletes murdered forty years ago at Munich. Instead, a week before the official opening of the Games, the Belgian aristocrat held a minute of silence during a minor ceremony in the Olympic village.
Count Rogge has announced that he will also attend a ceremony in London today, Monday August 6, organized by the Israeli embassy and the London Jewish community, and that he will speak at a ceremony in Munich on September 5. Critics of Rogge claim that the Count was afraid to mention the murdered Israelis in the opening ceremony of the London Games because he feared that this would upset member states of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC). Fear of the OIC made the IOC cower.
Normally, when an athlete dies, as in the case of a Georgian athlete two years ago during the Winter Olympics, the IOC President expresses his condolences during his official speech, while the Olympic flags are flown at half-staff.
The families of the 11 murdered Israeli sportsmen declared that they were "very hurt" by Rogge's decision. Ilana Romano, widow of weightlifter Yossef Romano, said that the Count had let "terror win." Ankie Rekhess, widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer, said that Rogge was using the upcoming Munich ceremony as an excuse not to hold the minute of silence and questioned his motives for attending the Munich event. "If they cannot do the right thing at home, in the Olympic ceremony, why come?"
Rekhess and Romano recently met the IOC President. "My hands are tied," Rogge told Rekhess. She was not impressed: "Your hands are not tied," she said. "My husband's hands were tied, so were his feet, when he was murdered. That is having your hands tied."
Meanwhile, Joods Actueel, a Jewish monthly magazine in Antwerp, Belgium, published details of the shameful anti-Semitic past of the International Olympic Committee and its former president, Count Henri de Baillet-Latour – like Rogge, a Belgian aristocrat.
Baillet-Latour was IOC president from 1925 until his death in 1942. Joods Actueel delved into the Count's past. Journalists Geert Versyck and Guido Joris discovered that the Count and his wife were Nazi sympathizers. To keep this truth hidden, the IOC is trying to rewrite its own history, presenting Baillet-Latour as a critic of the Nazis rather than a supporter.
Baillet-Latour was IOC President in 1931, when the decision was made to hold the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. In 1933, when Hitler came to power in Germany, the Nazis began to turn the Games into a propaganda tool to demonstrate to the world the superiority of the Aryan race. In 1933, Jews were barred from civil service in Germany and Jewish athletes were excluded from sports clubs. Even Gretel Bergmann, the high-jumper who held the German record, was banned -- because she was a Jew -- from participating in the Olympics.
Although this was a boorish violation of the fundamental Olympic principles, it did not appear to disturb Baillet-Latour. In 1935 Ernest L. Jahncke, the American member of the IOC, wrote a letter to Baillet-Latour urging the IOC to cancel the Berlin Olympics in protest against "the contempt of the Nazis for fair play and their sordid exploitation of the Games." In response, Jahncke was the only person ever to be expelled from the OIC.
Jahncke was replaced, however, by an American with fewer qualms about anti-Semitism: Avery Brundage. "Jews usually start screaming before they have a serious reason to do so," Baillet-Latour wrote to Brundage in connection with calls for a possible boycott of the Games.
At the opening of the Berlin Olympic Games, Hitler was flanked by Baillet-Latour. There are pictures showing the Count as he gives the Nazi salute. He is standing near the American athlete Jesse Owens, who does a regular salute with the hand to the temple, while the IOC President extends his arm. After the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Hitler sent Baillet-Latour a letter thanking him for his "generous cooperation" during the Games. That same year, the Count became an honorary member of "Freude und Arbeit," the Nazi sports organization of propaganda minister Goebbels.
The Count's wife, Countess Elisabeth de Clary, was a devoted Nazi. In 1938, she congratulated Hitler when he annexed the Sudetenland. In 1940, when Germany invaded her home country, she even thanked him "for bringing Nazi ideology to Belgium."
Count Baillet-Latour died in Brussels in 1942. Leading Nazis attended his funeral while German soldiers stood guard at the coffin. On the coffin was a wreath embellished with a swastika, which had been sent by Hitler. The Nazi Karl von Halt, an IOC executive who led the Sports Office of the Third Reich, and was president of the German National Olympic Committee until 1961, held a speech at the funeral on behalf of both Hitler and the IOC.
After the war, the IOC did little to make amends for its collaboration with the Nazis. Even Ernest L. Jahncke never received apologies from the IOC for having been expelled, while his successor, Avery Brundage, later moved on to become IOC President himself. Brundage was in office during the 1972 Munich Olympics where, after the massacre of the Israeli athletes, he declared that the "the Games must go on."
The official IOC biography does not make a reference to Count Baillet-Latour's role as organizer of the Nazi Games. The IOC honors him as one of the great figures of the Olympic Movement. The Count is buried in the small village of Latour, Belgium. In the presence of IOC President Jacques Rogge his tomb was recently given a new slab, displaying the Olympic rings.
Opposite the Latour cemetery is a museum devoted to the former IOC President. It was recently extended at a cost of €100,000 by the InBev Baillet-Latour Fund "as a tribute to this pioneer of the Olympic movement … who despite pressure from the Nazis managed to take a stand against the ideological plans of Hitler." There is a picture in the museum of Hitler with the Count. The text under the picture reads: "President Baillet-Latour warned Hitler before the official opening that the IOC would strictly enforce the Olympic protocol." Though this sentence is followed by a copyright symbol "© IOC" it is a blatant lie. Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that an organization that refuses to face its anti-Semitic past refuses to honor the murdered Israeli athletes.
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