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From Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936 to Beijing 2022

The stench of greed overpowering the solidarity the Olympics claim to represent has intensified recently.

The Beijing 2022 logo is seen outside the headquarters of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Nov. 10, 2021. (CNS photo/Thomas Peter, Reuters)

In July 2016, as we were sitting on the fantail of the Swiss sidewheeler Rhone while she chugged across Lake Geneva, my host pointed out the city of Lausanne, where a massive, glass-bedecked curvilinear building was shimmering in the summer sun. “Isn’t that the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee?” I asked. When my friend replied in the affirmative, I said, “I thought I smelled it.”

That rank odor — the stench of greed overpowering the solidarity the Olympics claim to represent — has intensified recently.

Even the casual student of modern Olympic history knows about the August 1936 Berlin Games, at which America’s Jesse Owens, a black man, took four gold medals and trashed Hitler’s Aryan supremacy myth. Fewer may be aware that, in February that year, the Olympic Winter Games were held in the Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. How, we ask today, could two Olympics be held in the Third Reich? How could people not know?

There was some controversy about holding the summer and winter Olympics under Nazi auspices. But in 1936, the German situation was not as comprehensively ghastly as it would become in later years. Yes, the Dachau concentration camp for political prisoners had opened in March 1933, and the Nuremberg Laws banning Jews from German citizenship and prohibiting marriage between Jews and “Aryans” had been enacted in 1935. The horrors of the Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938 were two years in the future, however, and the satanic Wannsee Conference to plan the “Final Solution” to the “Jewish Question” would come six years later. Clear-minded people ought to have discerned some of the implications of the Nuremberg Laws. But the industrialized mass slaughter of millions, simply because they were children of Abraham, was beyond the imagination of virtually everyone.

So Hitler and his thugs temporarily behaved themselves (sort of) in the run-up to the Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Berlin Olympics. And the International Olympic Committee could salve whatever conscience it had in those days and proceed with the games.

The IOC has no excuses today, two months before the XXIV Olympic Winter Games open in Beijing. Because today, everyone knows.

Anyone paying the slightest attention to world affairs knows what the Xi Jinping regime is doing in China. It is carrying out a brutal campaign of cultural genocide against the Uyghurs, herding over a million of them into re-education camps where torture is not uncommon. It has abrogated human rights in Hong Kong and imprisoned pro-democracy leaders there, including my friend Jimmy Lai (a brave Catholic still awaiting a public word of support from the Vatican). Xi’s regime conducts massive, continuous surveillance of its own people, in history’s most draconian effort at Orwellian social control; last month, for example, Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai disappeared for days after charging on social media that she ‘d been raped by a high Chinese communist party official. China is saber-rattling throughout its neighborhood and constantly threatens Taiwan. And does any sane person believe the Chinese government is telling the full truth about China’s relationship to a pandemic that has, to date, killed 5.5 million people worldwide, massively disrupted the world economy, and created untold social and mental distress everywhere?

The reductio ad Hitlerum is a cheap rhetorical device to be avoided. So let’s just say that holding the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing in February 2022 will be an obscenity. There are no excuses this time. The information culture of 1936 was nothing like today’s transparent world; in 1936, the truth about Nazi Germany was, if not hidden, then less glaringly apparent than it would be today. Everyone knows what is going on in Xi Jinping’s China. To proceed as if that knowledge can be bracketed for a few weeks is gross moral cowardice.

Some months ago, I signed a petition asking the IOC to move the XXIV Olympic Winter Games from China. That is not going to happen. What, then, can be done? Make Xi Jinping and his techno-thugocracy pay for all the attention their country will get during the games. The world media should shine a spotlight on China’s human rights abuses, its draconian methods of social monitoring and its religious intolerance. Athletes from free countries should be supported by their national Olympic committees if, as they ought, they speak out in solidarity with the Uyghurs in concentration camps, with persecuted Christians throughout China, and with the hard-pressed human rights and democracy activists of Hong Kong.

The IOC bosses will squeal. Let them. Exposing their craven kowtowing would nicely complement publicizing communist China’s brutality before the world.

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About George Weigel 484 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).


  1. “The reductio ad Hitlerum is a cheap rhetorical device to be avoided. So let’s just say that holding the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing in February 2022 will be an obscenity. The information culture of 1936 was nothing like today’s” (Weigel). Yes, Weigel is correct. + Although there is a parallel justification in Weigel’s ‘reductio ad Hitlerum’. May 13 1939 the German liner St Louis left for Cuba to disembark over approx 900 Jewish emigrees fleeing Nazi persecution, impending death. Aktion T4 Germany’s dreadful euthanasia program of undesirables was already in place (Holocaust Encyclopedia). However Cuba changed its policy and refused the Jewish emigres admission despite their Cuban visas. Captain Schroeder appealed admission from the US and was denied by the FDR administration. Schroeder attempted to ground the ship off Florida but was thwarted by the Coast Guard. Canada also refused and the St Louis returned to Europe where approx 200 emigres were accepted by Britain the remainder disembarked Antwerp. In a few months most of the Jewish emigrees dispersed in Holland, Belgium, France awaiting the Holocaust. + If there is stench it also wafts from this White House, resulting from the Biden administration’s markedly benevolent China policy [seemingly related to previously arranged business interests by the Bidens] and its refusal to meaningfully address the Uyghur persecution alleged concentration camp killings body parts harvested. Yes, George Weigel is right. There is stench.

  2. Xi Jingping’s regime should be treated with the same contempt reserved for Hitler’s National Socialist Regime, the USSR and Apartheid South Africa.

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