Helene Mayer, the Jewish fencer who fought for Hitler, 1927-1936

Helen Meyer remains one of the great mysteries of the Olympics. She was part-Jewish, by definition of German law at the time, which cost her most of her citizenship rights. The press in his country was forbidden from mentioning his name.

She was once one of Germany's most beloved athletes, but by that afternoon she was living in exile for four years in America, unwanted from her homeland. So why did he throw up his hand in tacit acknowledgment of so much hatred?

In 1924, Helen Meyer won the German national championship in women's foil fencing at the age of 13. He successfully defended his title for six consecutive years. His extraordinary talent dazzled the nation, earning him fame and admiration.

Her statues were sold in souvenir shops all over Germany. Many considered her to be the greatest female fencer in history. He represented Germany at the 1928 Amsterdam Summer Olympics, bringing home the gold medal.

Four years later, she participated in the Los Angeles Games. Two hours before their final matches, she learns that her boyfriend had died in a military training accident. She finished fifth.

Meyer lived in California and attended the College for International Law, perhaps in hopes of one day becoming a diplomat for her country. In 1933, Hitler and the Nazi Party took power in Germany, and quickly began to take away the rights of Jewish citizens—including Meyer, whose father was Jewish.

Meyer's membership of her hometown fencing club was revoked, and it became clear that she could not return to Germany. The former celebrity was reduced to teaching German at a college in Oakland.

She continued to successfully fencing in the United States, but was drawn to her homeland and the fame that had been taken away from her. For the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, many in the United States were advocating a boycott of the Games as a rebuke to Hitler's regime.

Concerning the boycott as a potential disaster, the head of the US Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage, convinced Germany to allow a Jewish-German athlete to compete – a PR to stop the Nazi's heinous treatment of Jews. Stunt.

Meyer was invited to try for the German team. Homesick and desperate to reclaim his lost Olympic glory, he ignores and accepts the atrocities of the Nazis.


His return to Germany was far from triumphant. The press ignored him and the government tolerated his presence with disdain. She fought determinedly at the Olympics, but eventually lost her final duel against Hungary's Ilona Alec.

Standing on the winner's podium to accept his silver medal, Meyer ends his last Olympics with a Nazi salute to Hitler, the leader of the regime that will soon carry out the massacre of his people.

For a German athlete, the thrust of his arm on the medal stand was a non-negotiable requirement of the state. Failure to do so could have dire consequences.

But the bigger question, which has haunted historians, biographers and Holocaust experts for eight decades, is why she was there. Was she naive? Was she oblivious to the atrocities that Adolf Hitler was already committing? Did she know how the world would view her participation in the games known as the Nazi Games? Did he care? Was she protecting her family? Was she protecting herself?

Reality is complicated. Meyer, who died at the age of 42, did not leave an endless trail of correspondence. She did not live long after World War II to give revealing interviews in the modern media world.

There is no movie clip of him talking about that time. He never wrote a book. Her motives are pieced together by a handful of researchers who are parsing some of her letters and pulling answers from a small group of people who knew her.

But those depictions also feel emptiness; Heavy on the glamor of a handsome fencer who loved her fame, yet sheds light on who she was and all the turmoil.

There is no way for Germany in 1936 to see their participation as a sham, manipulated by officials of the International Olympic Committee, who ignored the horrors of Hitler's regime and the head of the US Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage, who were stopping a growing American movement to boycott the Games. ,

She was a "token Jew" who was put on the Germany team as a PR in order to fool the world into thinking the Jewish people still had rights in Hitler's Germany. Most historians have rejected the idea that she was protecting her mother and brothers in Germany by participating.

The general conclusion is that she was nothing more than an athlete stuck in a single-minded pursuit of her sport, desperate to compete in the Olympics, even if she had to do so for Adolf Hitler.

Part of the complication for Meyer is that he doesn't seem to have considered himself Jewish. Her father, Ludwig, a respected physician in the Frankfurt suburb of Offenbach, was Jewish and active in Jewish organizations, but her mother was not Jewish.

Milli Moguloff's 2002 biography of Meyer, Foiled: Hitler's Jewish Olympians, reveals that Meyer and his brothers Eugen and Ludwig were raised in a secular home.

She attended a Christian school, although she was exempted from religious activities because of her father's faith. Bacharach says that there was a growing culture during the time of mixed Jewish and Christian families that had Christmas trees in their homes and did not identify as Jewish.

Meyer returned to the United States, becoming a citizen in 1940. His brother stayed in Germany where he was forced into hiding before eventually being captured and forced to work in a factory.

Only the end of the war spared his life. How much contact the mayor had with him is unclear. She returned to Germany in 1952 and soon they married, but cancer was taking over her body. She died on 10 October 1953, never again to be the starlet she once was.

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