New York/Frankfurt – Former German high jumper Gretel Bergmann, who as a Jew was denied by the Nazi regime to compete at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, has died at age 103, her son confirmed to dpa on Wednesday.
Gary Lambert said that his mother passed away at her home in New York’s Queens district, with her family present.
“She was healthy until a few weeks before the end. She was very peaceful in the end. There was no pain,” Lambert said.
Margarte ‘Gretel’ Bergmann Lambert was one of the world’s leading high jumpers ahead of the 1936 Games but removed from the team and her place taken by a man disguised as a woman.
She left Germany in 1937 and married another German refugee, Bruno Lambert, a year later.
She told dpa last year from her home in the Queens district she would “never ever never” forgive the Nazis as she despised everything about her former home country and swore she would never return to Germany.
But she eventually did so in 1999 to accept a prize and in 2012 was later entered into the “Hall of Fame” of the German Sports Aid Foundation.
Three years ago, Bergmann said when she turned 100: “I am surprised to be alive because I have experienced so many terrible things and under Nazis had to expect every day to die.”
German athletics federation (DLV) president Clemens Prokop paid tribute to Bergmann who he had visited on the occasion of her 100th birthday in April 2014.
“I was deeply saddened by the news of Gretel Bergmann’s death. She has an extraordinary biography, and she suffered great injustice in Germany during the Third Reich,” Prokop said.
“She has become a role model for all young athletes. We will commomorate her in a special way during the 2018 European championships in Berlin.”
Bergmann left Germany for Britain after Adolf Hitler’s Nazis gained power in 1933 but was lured back ahead to be part of the German team – after the US threatened to boycott the Games if no Jews were admitted to the German team.
Bergmann was dropped again as soon as the Americans departed for Berlin, although she was one of the world’s leading high jumpers and had equalled the German record with 1.60 metres.
“I became a decoy, a pawn in Hitler’s political feint,” Bergmann recalled in her 2005 memoir By Leaps and Bounds.
Bergmann has insisted she would have won Olympic gold which instead went to Hungary’s Ibolya Csak with 1.60m.
Dora Ratjen took fourth place in place of Bergmann. She was later revealed to be a man, Heinrich Ratjen, a fact Bergman learnt in 1966.
“He was my room-mate. I never thought it wasn’t a woman,” Bergmann
Bergmann left her German birth- and home town of Laupheim for good in 1937, fearing for her life and with bitter feelings. She emigrated to New York where she lived in Queens until her death.
Bergmann continued her high jump career in the US, becoming national
champion in 1937 and 1938, while despising everything about her
former home country.
“I hated Germany, the people and even the language for what it did to
me and the Jewish people,” she once said, while also admitting in
1996 in the Schwaebische Zeitung that her fate was not a big deal
“compared to the fate of the 6 million innocent Jews who were
She eventually made peace with her former home country where her record-equalling jump from 1936 was finally entered into the athletics federation’s record books in 2009.
“I will never forget what happened,” she said, but added she was happy that she eventually went to Germany again.
“It is not nice to live with all this bitterness within yourself,” she said.