Former Instructor Helene Mayer Won Silver Medal for Nazi Germany in 1936 Olympics

Friday, August 12, 2016
J WEEKLY -- Helene Mayer, a teacher at Oakland’s Mills College and one of two Jews allowed to compete for Nazi Germany in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, won a silver medal in fencing — and celebrated her achievement by saluting Hitler. Mayer was at Mills College teaching German and coaching fencing when she received the invitation to join the team. As she prepared to return to Germany, she found herself criticized by American Jews: the Yiddish newspapers called her “calculating” and “cynical.” Meanwhile, in Germany, propaganda minister Goebbels issued a press blackout on Mayer, instructing that “no comments may be made regarding Helene Mayer’s non-Aryan ancestry or her expectations for a gold medal.” Her father had died in 1931, while her two brothers spent the war in labor camps, which they both survived. Mayer returned to the U.S. following the games and continued teaching, first at Mills, and later at San Francisco State.