Thursday, September 03, 2009

How the Nazis replaced a Jewish woman athlete with a man in drag

A new German film, Berlin 36, tells the strange story of Gretel Bergmann, a German Jew who was heading for an Olympic gold in high jumping when the Nazis decided to replace her... with a man in drag:

The Nazis wanted to ensure that Hitler would not be embarrassed by a Jewish athlete winning a gold medal for Germany. Her room-mate and eventual replacement, the film reveals, was Dora Ratjen — real name Horst Ratjen. “Dora”, despite his male hormones, managed to gain only fourth place.

Two years later, still posing as a woman, he set a new world high jump record for women of 1.70m — but was disqualified after a doctor discovered that he had strapped up his genitals. He was stripped of his title and was quickly conscripted into the army; his personal details disappeared from German archives.

“I never suspected anything,” Ms Bergmann, now 95 and living in the United States, told Der Spiegel news magazine. “We all wondered why she never appeared naked in the shower. To be so shy at the age of 17 seemed grotesque but we just thought: well, she’s weird, she’s strange”...

Horst “Dora” Ratjen survived the war, despite being sent to the Eastern Front, and later worked as a barman in Hamburg. He said that he had been pressured into the subterfuge by the BDM — the Nazi League of German Girls — to save the honour of Germany.

Read the whole thing here.

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