Part 1 of 2 (Part 2 here)
In addition to our sporting mission, we Germans also have the major political mission to fulfill. — Luz Long[i]
Carl Ludwig “Luz” Hermann Long (1913-1943) was a world-class German athlete who competed in both high and broad jump competitions and is best known for winning the silver medal in the broad jump at the 1936 Olympics.
He was one of the most visible ambassadors of sports in the Third Reich, sometimes even acting as standard bearer at sports events, and Long really was the ideal Aryan poster boy: tall, blond, and blue-eyed, with both a competitive and chivalrous streak to boot.
He became a Jugendwart (youth director or coach) at the Leipzig Sports Club in December 1936, which meant cooperation with the Sturmabteilung (Storm Troopers, or SA) and Hitler Youth; the sports organizations, in a kind of legal limbo, were always in danger of losing their independence to the party organizations. In early 1937 Long applied for membership in the National Socialist German Students’ League (NSDStB); interestingly, there are no documents of him ever actually becoming a member.[ii] In July 1938 he is mentioned as being a member of the SA for the first time, and in early 1940 he applied for membership in the NSDAP, the National Socialist Party proper. It is unknown whether he did any of these things voluntarily or under pressure, and whether he made the decisions out of conviction or for career reasons.
In a strange reversal of fortunes, Long is almost exclusively remembered today as a kind of proto-resister to the National Socialist government because of his friendly interaction with the black American athlete Jesse Owens during the 1936 Olympics, a story mainly promoted by Owens himself after the war and latched onto by a grateful Germany eager to prove there were at least some good Germans during the “12-year historical fact” (as writer Hans Wolfgang Hillers put it) as well as by an international audience looking for a restoration of their faith in humanity.
In an era when athletes were still trained in versatility, not just specialty, Long was also competent in discus, javelin, shot-put, hammer throwing, and running. Less well known is the fact that Long was not all brawn: He enjoyed a first-class education, something to which his parents attached great importance. After graduating from high school, he began his studies at the faculty of law in Leipzig in 1934 while simultaneously training for and competing in national and international sports competitions. Long became a Doctor of Law in July 1939.
Also little known is that Long wrote engaging articles for newspapers and sports papers, mainly from his home town of Leipzig, detailing his experiences in various European sports competitions. In the course of his career, he visited France, England, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Finland, Sweden, and — apparently — the United States. His impressions of these countries and their peoples would be worth translating in their entirety; I can only give a few excerpts here:
Helsinki: So this is the home ground of the world-class runners! Very cold weather, by our standards, plus quiet rain. This weather is supposed to have prevailed for weeks. How can the athletes be in shape? They surpass themselves; they accomplish their best performances of the year in a hard struggle against us. “Saksa” beat them last year, and they took the rematch seriously. They fought doggedly; I had to feel it again. This time I lost the fight by two centimeters. The Finns are taciturn — many speak German, and they take us as their role models. The common fight against Russia unites us. Very good comrades, informed about everything. . . . Finns always take their time, only in the 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter they are very much in a hurry. Many have had to learn that.
Almost as soon as I got back home, I received an invitation to Sweden. Germany wants to visit these Nordic student games to prove its Nordic solidarity. There were only four German participants, but four victories are what we won in the Olympic Stadium in Stockholm. I know of no other stadium in Europe that has made such a venerable, cohesive impression on me. Ivy grows up its walls, the old towers look proud and defiant, and one feels transported to the courtyard of an old English castle. The red running track, which is known to be fast; the wonderfully green, dense lawn — all this gives it atmosphere, atmosphere that we need so much to win. Here I meet all the Nordic acquaintances: Swedes, Norwegians, Finns. The Finnish runners with their role model, Nurmi. I saw him many times, but he was always serious. . . .
“Matti”[iii] throws on Friday, in the evening in pouring rain, at 12 degrees Celsius and in complete darkness. The runway is nothing but a big puddle. Spotlights catch Matti’s run-up and throw, then the javelin flies into the darkness, flashes, and is captured by spotlights just before landing; we estimate 73 meters. Atterwal [sic], his Swedish opponent, comes to 70 meters. The bodies fly ghostly over the brightly-lit hurdles; the sinewy athletes, who achieve very good times, appear white. Can we still be surprised if these Nordic boys set record performances in the “warm south,” in Germany?
The spectators persevered despite pouring rain, I estimate 5-6,000, and the same on the second day; 10-15,000 on Sunday. And the whole thing is just a student festival! In one corner are 30 Finnish fellow students. For each throw of their Matti they have a special verse, which the chorus calls out before the throw. They are always rewarded with applause from the rest of the audience. The battle cries must be gripping, I don’t understand Finnish.[iv]
L’Auto, the French sports newspaper, has invited me. Short training, last advice, and victory wishes at the station from [Georg] Richter [Long’s coach–Tr.], and his faithful accompany me on the last journey of this season. The new French rail route via Bar-le-duc [sic], Briand’s birthplace, is the work of ingenious strategy. The train races through historic territory at 100-110 kilometers per hour. A conductor draws my attention to shot-up villages, trenches, craters. The Verdun memorial is a long and insistent reminder: “Why can’t you be of one mind, European peoples; haven’t you had to make enough sacrifices?”
Paris, which they say is France, welcomes me again with all the bustle of a cosmopolitan city. I feel a great difference between Paris and the vast, silent, industrious countryside. My wish to jump against Robert Paul is not fulfilled. He is injured; he’s himself sorry, a fine and open comrade. I ask him about Peacock, the American Negro who jumped eight meters. Robert gushes long hymns of praise in a French dialect; I only understand it roughly. Peacock always beat Paul, even when the Frenchman jumped 7.70 meters. A nice outlook for Berlin. The best American didn’t even come to Europe: Jesse Owens![v]
Luz Long appears to have been good friends with the French athlete Robert Paul, whom he mentioned several times in his writings:
A real Frenchman: today above form, tomorrow useless, rising again. Everything else is solid. Already four years ago he had invited me for schnapps, which he drank from coffee cups for the sake of simplicity.
This time a similar thing. We got Bierseidel [beer steins] from the Löwenbräu in Munich as a souvenir. Beer doesn’t taste good to the French, so they, headed by my Paul, fill the steins with red wine and drink until they can’t stand up anymore. This, however, only happens after the competition.[vi]
No less friendly than the meetings with French athletes were those with British sportsmen:
Again the traditional banquet at the “Monico.” Smiling, I watched the team’s newbies who did not want to believe me that there are eight courses and had already stocked up. Now they are sorry. For the first time we find a very special cordiality at this banquet — perhaps like the one that exists between France and us. The cause is certainly the new leaders on the English side, who put aside all the stiffness they display on other official occasions. Guests are the envoy in London, Dr. Woermann, who recognizes me from the English championships, and His Excellency Lewald, who returns from an invitation to Scotland. We take our leave around 10 PM to sit together in a German beer cellar, and here the quite unbelievable happens when suddenly Lord Burghley, Lowe, and some English actives arrive to be guests of the German legation. Lord Burghley is delighted to join in German Gemütlichkeit once again, the very correct Honorable Secretary Lowe thaws and then tells in fairly good German how he remembers his starts in Germany so joyfully that he could not resist the invitation for beer.[vii]
Also interesting in light of future events is a sports competition in Warsaw in August 1937:
The first thing after our arrival in Poland are big bouquets of flowers for the team leader Woellke and for me by German sports comrades in Poland [from the German minority in Poland — Tr.]. This gave us a foretaste of the sympathy that this first international match is arousing both among the Poles and among our German brothers. Four special trains arrive from Gaudenz, Posen, and Upper Silesia. The reception is extraordinarily warm, and we are staying in the hotel that belongs to the Sejm, the Polish Reichstag. The Parliament is on vacation, so there is plenty of room for us. I was curious how the Poles would receive us, especially during the competitions, and I was visibly surprised. You can feel the temperament, which here refrains from objective consideration and drives itself into ecstasy only for its own people, which is similar to the Hungarians, with such a holy seriousness in the matter that I am concerned for the comrades who are on the team for the first time. One senses their bias; only the experienced people put themselves above these storms of enthusiasm, which are not directed at us but solely to any success by the Poles. This does not mean that the Poles are against us. If their people obviously do badly, they are encouraged by whistles, which does not mean appreciation here. Good performances on our part are duly admired. — One must always consider that Poland does not yet have a large critical audience such as Germany, Sweden, England. Their press is not as objective and well-informed as ours. Too much of a sensation is made out of sports, as in our country shortly after the war, where a certain kind of people took over the sports press: people who have no clue about sports. Some of these gentlemen emigrated to Poland. — [viii]
We have no unpleasantness per se. I am surprised by the audience’s chivalry and honesty, because a thunderstorm came during my competition, which stopped only when the track was eight centimeters under water. The audience had sought shelter and had run across the field, while we ourselves had abandoned our things and were waiting in the dressing room, completely soaked, for the end. . . . Now, when the thunderstorm took its leave, I saw the people gathered at my jumping pit and doubted I would see my shoes and my expensive tape measure again. But everything was still lying safe and sound in the same place; it had not occurred to anyone here to hunt down a “relic”. (In America, I would have had to be more careful.)[ix]
Our Polish friends prepared a real Polish banquet for us. It started with a meal with lots and lots of vodka, which was dangerous for those of us who were worn out by the games. It was the birthday of our iron Max (Syring), which cost him in particular many glasses, so that he had glassy eyes already at the beginning of the main meal.[x]
But it was not all about sports for Luz Long:
This time I went to see the sculptures at the Louvre. I went there mainly to compare who has the better way of exhibiting, the Louvre or the British Museum. Well, the verdict has to be in favor of the Louvre. They’ve redone all the rooms, put up only a few choice pieces, and created lighting effects with indirect light. The floor is covered with rubber, with all the inscriptions in three languages. The whole thing looks tasteful and artistic due to that alone. In the British Museum I always had the impression that they needed to do a thorough decluttering. There are wonderful treasures, but one is almost on top of the other so that you are overburdened and overloaded, and do not know where the most outstanding pieces are. I therefore left the British Museum somewhat disappointed, although I was impressed by the contents of all the collections.[xi]
In one article, Long even explains the influence of Zen on his technique:
I learned this type of concentration, which perhaps saves the most nerves in a fight, from the Japanese in Budapest in 1935. It was the student championships, the little elastic fellows with “Nippon” on their training suits, who came silently to the contest. Over their shoulders they carried a small, white sack with all the competition utensils, and did not speak to anyone, not even their own people. They looked at the lanes, measured the run-up, jumped when called, and then went back to their training suits without caring about the jump’s result. This isolation from all distractions impressed me at the time, so that from then on I forced myself to become a master in this as well.[xii]
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[i] Luz Long, “Auf Kämpfen durch Europa,” in LSC-Blatt, Jg. XVI, Heft 4 (174), October/December 1935. Quoted in Kai-Heinrich Long, Luz Long — eine Sportlerkarriere im Dritten Reich (Arete-Verlag, 2015), 64. Translation by C. S.
[ii] Long, 125.
[iv] Long, 66-67.
[v] Ibid., 67-68
[vi] Long., 135. A friend of mine from the Alsace would disagree about the beer — but then, “We’re half German, after all.”
[vii] Ibid., 139.
[viii] Ibid., 140-141.
[ix] Ibid., 141.
[xi] Ibid., 142.
[xii] Luz Long, “Unkriegerische Gedanken“, in: Nikolaitaner-Blätter, 4. Jg., Heft 1, April 1941. Quoted in: Kai-Heinrich Long, p. 184-185
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