#2. Hitler and Jesse Owens Were Not Bitter Enemies
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The 1936 Olympics was supposed to be Adolf Hitler's coming out party, but not in the sense that we think of "coming out" today. In Hitler's twisted mind, the games would be the perfect international showcase of Aryan superiority and fast running skills. So Adolf sure did have egg on his face when African-American Jesse Owens won four medals. In fact, Hitler was so embarrassed that a black man had beat his whiteys that he refused to shake Jesse's hand, something the media was quick to report back home in America. What a racist idiot!
We can't tell if that guy is offensively saluting, or offensively trying to touch Owens' hair.
How We Got It Wrong:
While it's true that Jesse and Adolf never slapped hand skins, the idea of the Fuhrer storming out of the stadium in a dramatic huff is totally made up. No, the guy who orchestrated the greatest racially motivated genocide in history didn't want to shake hands with a black man, obviously. In fact, he didn't want to shake hands with any medalists who weren't German, because he didn't want non-Aryan cooties. So when the International Olympic Committee told him to shake hands with either all of the winners or none of the winners, Hitler chose none. What did you expect? It's not like the world's greatest monster was suddenly going to turn into a gracious sportsman.
The real surprise came when Owens was later asked about his time in Berlin. You have to remember that in 1936 Owens was a second-class citizen in his home country. Like other American blacks, Owens had to ride in the back of the bus and use the back door at restaurants, and once he got home from Berlin, this famous, world-class athlete even had to take the freight elevator at his own reception. But during the Olympics, it was a different story. Owens didn't just train, eat, and travel with his white teammates, he struck up a friendship with one of Germany's superstar athletes, Luz Long. Here's a picture of Jesse and Luz sharing a giggle fit.
So in Jesse's mind, he got more respect during the German games than he ever did before or since in America. It didn't bother him that the Big Nazi in Charge didn't shake his hand; it did bother him that his own president didn't send a congratulatory telegram because he didn't want to offend Southern voters. Especially since, according to Owens, Hitler sent him an inscribed picture of himself when the games were over. Sure, it was a tacky, egomaniacal gesture from a monster, but that was more than Owens got from FDR.
Plus, the stupid inscribed picture wasn't even the only recognition Owens got from Adolf. Jesse said Hitler gave him a wave:
"But before he left I was on my way to a broadcast and passed near his box. He waved at me and I waved back. I think it was bad taste to criticize the 'man of the hour' in another country."
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-2004-1202-504/CC-BY-SA
Some historians think he may have changed his mind and was calling for a high-five, in which case he totally got left hanging.
For all we know, Owens might have inadvertently given Adolf Hitler the Nazi salute and he just didn't know it. Still, you'd expect Hitler to be more of a dick about the whole thing.
And while we're on Hitler ...
#1. The Third Reich Didn't End With Hitler's Suicide
Aside from people who mistake Inglourious Basterds for historical fact, we all know how the Nazis met their end: On April 30, 1945, Hitler finally got the hint from the rest of the world and shot himself. With that final hit to the brains behind the Nazi empire, the rest of the organization fled, surrendered, or committed suicide before the Russians could get their big angry bear paws on them.
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R80329/CC-BY-SA
His greatest regret is not getting to Zangief-piledrive that silly little mustache off.
How We Got It Wrong:
Everyone, that is, except the guy that Hitler named as his successor, Karl Donitz. Karl and his leftover Nazis tried to make a go of being the new Hitler for three whole weeks.
If the situation wasn't tragically bookended by the 20th century's greatest atrocities, it would almost be funny. Karl Donitz and his remaining stubborn cohorts hunkered down in a North German town called Flensburg where they held cabinet meetings, hired a photographer, and flew the swastika with pride. The problem was that all that was left to do was surrender, and by May 9, the surrender was a done deal. Still, Donitz drove his Hitlermobile the quarter mile to work every day and sat with his cabinet while they planned a whole steaming mess of nothing.
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They considered blaming it all on the Jews before remembering that was what got them in this mess to begin with.
By May 15, the Allies surrounding the Nazi headquarters were just about embarrassed for the sad saps -- no communications with their people, no work to do, no barbarity left undone. Finally, on May 23, the Allies put the men out of their misery with an arrest. It was all very awkward and anticlimactic, so we all focus on the Hitler story instead.
You know you've gotten your ass handed to you when they don't even bother to bring handcuffs to your arrest.
But never forget that for 23 days in 1945, one man and his ragtag gang of pure evil tried to pull the Nazi regime back from the brink of destruction. Oh, and that this president of the Third Reich lived safely and happily with his family until 1980 when a nice, quiet heart attack struck him down. You could probably learn more about him from his memoirs, if you're so inclined.
Leisure Books/Nordon Publications Inc
He could never take off that hat due to the swastika carved into his forehead.
For more things you're just plain wrong about, check out 6 Things From History Everyone Pictures Incorrectly and The 5 Most Statistically Full of Shit National Stereotypes.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Ridiculous Ways 'Law & Order' Covered Celebrity Scandals.
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