Gretel Bergmann

Track & Field Athlete

born April 12, 1914 in Laupheim, currently lives in New York

  • British High Jump Champion 1934
  • Tied German high jump record 1936 (1.60 meters)
  • US American High Jump Champion 1937, 1938
  • US American Shot Put Champion 1937

Gretel Bergmann was a world-class high jumper in the 1930s. The peak of her career should have been the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. In April of 1933, due to her Jewish origin, she was banned from her sports club. Disheartened, she immigrated to England, and it was there in 1934 that she won the British championship in the high jump – a victory that gave her hope for a spot on the British Olympic team. The Nazi regime made threats against her family and required her to return to Germany in order to prepare for the Olympic games. Her participation in the preparations leading up to the Olympic games was meant to mislead the international community into thinking that Jewish athletes were equal to participate and thus allowed to compete. The sports leadership of the Reich hoped that their attempts would avert boycotts of the Olympics games, as threatened by the USA and other countries.

In actuality, the Reich sports leadership did everything in their power to prevent a Jew or “Volljüdin” from starting at the Berlin Olympics. Within a mere four weeks and despite adverse training conditions, Gretel Bergmann tied the German high jump record at 1.60 meters; thus, qualifying her to compete. And yet, citing a flimsy reason, the leadership refused to allow her to participate; her spot remained empty. Thus, Bergmann’s dream of capturing the gold and thereby destroying Hitler’s delusions of a superior “Aryan race”, could no longer be realized.

Gretel Bergmann immigrated to the USA in 1937 where she married fellow expat physician Bruno Lambert. The new beginning was a difficult one; training possibilities were moderate at best. Nevertheless, she managed to capture the U.S. high jump title in 1937 and 1938, as well as the shot-put title in 1937. Margaret Lambert, as she is now known, has two children with her husband and lives in Queens in New York City.

Late, but not too late, German sport attempted to make amends for past injustices. 60 years after the Nazi sports leadership forbade her participation in the Olympics, Walther Tröger, the president of the National Olympic Committee, invited Margaret Lambert and her husband to join the German NOC as honored guests at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. Three years later, Margaret visited Germany – her first time back since leaving more than 60 years ago. She received the Georg-von-Opel Award in Frankfurt am Main and attended the dedication of the Gretel-Bergmann-Stadium in her hometown of Laupheim. In 1996 she was inducted into the “National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame”. Finally, in 2009, the German Track & Field Association entered her record high jump into their records.

Berno Bahro

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Video Gretel Bergmann, 2:05 min (© WDR Sport Inside)

References