Documentary on HJer Greta Bergmann

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Documentary on HJer Greta Bergmann

Postby BillVol » Sat Aug 11, 2007 9:47 am

I have this on the Current Events board because I feel that the story of Greta Bergmann and what she went through is "current" and always will be. She told me herself today that she wants everybody to know her story (more on that later).

I have Comcast cable. They have an "On Demand" feature which allows viewers to pull up programming that has already run. I was just sitting on the sofa cruising through all the options and went to HBO and then to the movie title "Hitler's Pawn." I hit info and saw that it was about a German track and field star named Greta Bergmann. If you haven't seen this documentary, be sure to see it. It is one of the most moving and well produced documentaries I've ever seen.

I had never heard of Greta Bergmann before. She was one of the best HJers in the world. But she was Jewish in Hitler's Germany. As a child, she had a normal childhood. But when Hitler took over, all of her non-Jewish friends shunned her. As a top high jumper, she wanted to compete, so she moved to London where she enjoyed her time there.

As the Olympics neared, the United States was threatening to boycott if Jewish athletes weren't given a fair chance to compete for Germany. USOC officials urged Germany to include Jewish athletes on their team. Germany "agreed" and decided to call Greta Bergmann. So Greta's dad called her and said that German officials want her back and if that she didn't come back, bad things might happen to the family. So she went back, her train ride becoming worse and worse as she neared Germany, as she said.

She began to work out in Germany with a fury in her to "show people what a Jew could do." She said she jumped and jumped and jumped and was jumping so well she thought she might "go into the atmosphere." As before, all the German athletes shunned her -- except for Elfriede Kaun (eventual bronze winner in the HJ in Berlin). May God bless Elfriede Kaun.

With Bergmann "on the team," the USOC and the AAU were satisfied and the US decided to send the team. Germany also had a fencer who had a Jewish father but was raised a Christian, but Germany claimed her as a Jewish athlete. But when she won her medal, there she was on the podium doing the Heil Hitler salute.

The day after the ship carrying the US team left New York, Greta Bergmann got a letter from a German sports official saying that she would not be on the team since "she was jumping so badly." It was dated the day after the US ship left NYC. "If that's just a coincidence, I'll eat my hat," Greta said on the documentary. Germany fielded just two HJers, Kaun and another person who was actually a man in drag (no kidding), and left the third spot open. They said the spot was for Greta, whom they said was "hurt." Just before the games, in competition, Greta cleared 1.60 meters, which was the height cleared by the eventual gold medalist. (Did some research on that (Wiki) and it said that three jumpers cleared 1.60 m and they were all allowed a 4th jump and that the winner cleared 1.62 m. But I guess the official winning height was 1.60.)

Germany cleaned itself up for the Olympics, ridding the place of all of the anti-Semitic propaganda, but after the games were over, things were worse than before. So Greta moved to the US and later helped her husband move there. While here, she won the AAU in the HJ and shot!

The documentary ends with Greta returning to Germany to visit with Elfriede Kaun. Very moving. Also, a track stadium in her hometown has been named for Greta Bergmann, and it showed her visiting the track.

In the documentary, it was shown that Avery Brundage (USOC head) was very much anti-Semitic. His construction firm was awarded a contract to build the German embassy in Washington. Hitler loved Brundage, and how appropriate that they are both burning in hell now together. Some people don't believe there is a hell, but when you pull stuff like those two did, you go to hell.

Anyhow, that documentary got my attention, and I don't know why, but I thought I'd try to give Greta a phone call. I think you have to take advantage of the opportunity to connect with people with whom you want to connect. (I did that recently here in town with Eddie Test, star basketball player in town in the '50s at my mom's HS and eventual Tennessee Vol. Walked right into his store and introduced myself and we had a nice talk.) I looked up Greta's number in the white pages based on information from the documentary and the number popped right up. She answered the phone, and after establishing that it was her and who I was, we had a great 10 - 15 minute chat. She said, "Are they still running that documentary?" I explained that I had ordered the show from Comcast for free. She said that people still contact her and that she wants people to know her story. She then said, "I appreciate you calling. I'll be happy to answer any questions you have." I just asked her how she was doing. "Well, I'm 93, but I'm doing well." She said her husband, Bruno, is 96 and is OK, too. I asked her if she keeps in touch with Elfriede Kaun. She said that she has forgotten how to write in German and that has made it difficult. Greta said that "Elfriede says she doesn't understand English, but I'm not too sure I believe her." LOL

At this time, I had to get in a plug for the Big Orange. I told her that I was from Tennessee and had been raised around great track and field at the University of Tennessee. I'm not sure if she had heard of us (the Vols) before, but she has now, and that is important to me.

Later on, I asked if 1.60 m was her career best. She said that it was. I said, "What is that...about 5-2?" Still the competitor, she replied very quickly "5-3!" I apologized for getting that one wrong. I know how she feels. My first marathon I knew I'd barely slide in under 5 hours. And I made it by 2 seconds. But in the newsletter, they had me in 5 hours, 2 seconds. I called up and raised hell. She also talked about her winning the shot in the AAU at her light weight. She said, "You're a track man; you know that someone my size doesn't often win the shot." I was able to hide the fact that I know very little about track and field, but, yes, I did realize that it was unusual for someone her size to win the shot in a major competition.

If you see the documentary, you will see that although she is now a bit older, she talks like a young person. She sounds young and uses a young person's style of talking. She still does. She is 93 but sounds like she is 23.

At the end of the call, she said, "Thank you for calling, and I wish you the best things for your life." I said, "Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. It was an honor."
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Postby gh » Sat Aug 11, 2007 10:13 am

Proper first name Margarete...... she was =No. 5 on the '36 world list.
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Postby dukehjsteve » Sat Aug 11, 2007 11:21 am

Great stuff Billy V, thank you !
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Postby Bruce Kritzler » Sat Aug 11, 2007 2:26 pm

Just happened to catch the documentary a couple of weeks ago, and agree that it was excellent. Was surprised at how much original film footage they used from the period. At first I thought it was a Leni Riefenstal movie.
Bruce Kritzler
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Re: Documentary on HJer Greta Bergmann

Postby Flumpy » Sat Aug 11, 2007 2:59 pm

BillVol wrote:Anyhow, that documentary got my attention, and I don't know why, but I thought I'd try to give Greta a phone call.

That's such a great thing to do.

A couple of years ago just after London won the Olympics we crashed a reception for past Olympic athletes and were ecstatic to meet Dorothy Tyler who won silver in the HJ in both '36 & '48. She was lovely if a bit bewildered by our excitement in meeting her. Unfortunately our camera decided to choose that exact moment to stop working :cry:

I've also got Gwen Torrence's phone number for some reason. One of these days I'll give her a call.
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Postby mojo » Sat Aug 11, 2007 3:42 pm

That is a very cool story. Good for you for calling her. The worse that could have happened is she hung up on you!

I emailed Mary Peters(one of my teenage idols) and that was pretty emotional.
Jon promised I would meet her in Birmingham but of course he lied.

Anyway Greta sounds like a wonderful woman and what a life story.
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Postby BillVol » Mon Aug 13, 2007 3:37 pm

First, thanks to the guys above. Glad you enjoyed it the post.

Related to this, thought you all might enjoy these stories on the Vols basketball team's trip to Czech Republic, where they are as I type this. Bruce Pearl, our great coach, has a story (first link) about visiting a concentration camp. The second link is the story by UT beat writer Mike Griffith. ... s-freedom/ ... tion-camp/
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Re: Documentary on HJer Greta Bergmann

Postby fasttrak85 » Thu Sep 26, 2013 1:27 pm

Saw this documentary for the first time recently and it was very touching. That was a bold move for you, as a complete stranger, to reach out to her but I bet it was rewarding. While her her story is for the most part about being a track and field athlete the larger theme is that of humanity. To think she has this wonderful story which in fact is not so wonderful for her because of the accomplishments denied her but at the same time is fortunate to not have perished like many other Jewish citizens of Germany.

I heard there is a movie on her and i would love to see it. Does anyone know the title?
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