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Originally published Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 7:00 PM

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Vancouver's Holocaust Centre brings to life '36 Olympics dilemmas

In two exhibits, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre traces the unfortunate arc of the summer and Winter Olympic Games, both held in Germany in 1936.

Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre

This venue is well outside the downtown core, but its two exhibits, "More Than Just Games: Canada & the 1936 Olympics" and "Framing Bodies: Sport & Spectacle in Nazi Germany," are worth a special trip. In them, the unfortunate arc of the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, both held in Germany in 1936, is traced with painful clarity, from the moment in 1931 when the games were awarded to the Weimar Republic ("signaling Germany's return to the international community after its defeat in the First World War") to the events themselves.

Among the individual voices brought to life here are Toronto Daily Star reporter Matthew H. Halton who saw disaster brewing in 1933 ("My guess is ... that Hitler has come to stay until he is displaced by assassination, civil war or a disastrous foreign war") and Gypsy boxer Johann Trollmann who, when officials deprived him of a victory in the ring, came to his next match as a parody of an Aryan: hair dyed blond, skin powdered white.

Ambiguities and moral dilemmas riddled the 1936 Olympics. Was it better to boycott the games to protest the anti-Semitic policies of Hitler's regime? Or, if you were Jewish or African-American, might a sports victory help discredit Nazi racist theories?

Other confusions: The similarity of the Olympic salute to the Nazi salute was problematic for visiting teams.

Informative, incisive and rich with archival photographs and documentation, "More Than Just Games" and its companion show about the Nazi era's sports ethos offer a superb account of a nightmare phase in Olympics history. 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday, located on the lower level of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, 950 W. 41st Ave.; $5 suggested donation (604-264-0499 or www.vhec.org).

Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times arts writer

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