Excerpts from the New York Times, Hitler’s Berlin Games Helped Make Some Emblems Popular:
“The torch relay is so ingrained in the modern choreography that most people today assume it was a revival of a pagan tradition – unaware that it was actually concocted for Hitler’s Games in Berlin,” the author Tony Perrottet wrote in “The Naked Olympics” (Random House, 2004).
The modern tradition of spiriting the Olympic torch to the main stadium did not become a fixture until 1936, when a 12-day run opened the Games in Berlin.
Hitler, who admired the powerful imagery of Greek gods like Zeus, wanted his Games to promote his belief in Aryan supremacy.
The torch relay, memorialized in Leni Riefenstahl’s film, “Olympia,” was part of Hitler’s elaborate attempt to add myth, mystique and glamour to an Olympics intended to intimidate pre-World War II Europe. In Hitler’s eyes, the torch symbolized the perfection and victory of the German nation.
“Hitler took considerable personal interest in the ritual, and pumped funds into its promotion,” Perrottet said. “The Nazi propaganda machine covered the torch relay slavishly, broadcast radio reports from every step of the route, and filled the Games with the iconography of ancient Greek athletics.”
The Olympic rings, another universally recognized symbol of the Games since they made their debut in 1920 at Antwerp, Belgium, have a Nazi connection.
Riefenstahl, the filmmaker who also chronicled Hitler’s rise to power, had the rings carved into a stone altar at the ancient Greek city of Delphi, spawning the myth that they were a symbol dating back more than two millennia.
With Hitler’s influence, the rings became part of the Nazi pageantry at Berlin, and they have come to symbolize the Olympics.