UW News

April 23, 2024

Video: UW professor on ‘The Boys in the Boat,’ Nazi Germany and the 1936 Olympics

The film version of “The Boys in the Boat,” released on Dec. 25, was inspired by the University of Washington men’s rowing team that won a gold medal at the 1936 Olympics. It’s based on the 2013 book by Daniel James Brown.

But there is more to the story than the improbable victory by UW student-athletes from small towns and working-class backgrounds. The 1936 Olympics were held in Berlin, following a failed movement in the United States and Europe to boycott the games in protest of the oppression and persecution of German Jews and other communities.

Laurie Marhoefer, professor of history at the UW, studies Weimar and Nazi Germany with a focus on queer and trans people. Germany was named the host of the 1936 Olympics before the Nazis came to power, Marhoefer said, and the Games were supposed to serve as part of the country’s rehabilitation after World War I. Instead, they became known as the Nazi Olympics.

“In 1936, Adolf Hitler had been in power for three years and the Nazi dictatorship was well-established,” Marhoefer said. “All of the things you associate with Nazism were already in place and already a lot of the alarming levels of racism and violence that later get much more pronounced and ends in the Holocaust were apparent.”

UW News sat down with Marhoefer to discuss the state of Germany at the time, the push for a boycott, and how — despite the fact that Olympics gold medals by Jesse Owens and the UW Men’s Rowing team, among others, undermined some of Hitler’s claims — the 1936 Olympic Games cemented Hitler’s status as a leader among Germans, which in part led to the Holocaust and World War II.

For more information, contact Marhoefer at marl@uw.edu.