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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Malleable Man: The International YMCA and Christian Manhood, 1890-1940


In the summer of 1936 Hitler’s Nazi regime co-opted the prestige of the Berlin Summer Olympics by using sweeping victories and a title wave of propaganda to prove the racial superiority of blue-eyed, blond-haired Germans. 1 This narrative is familiar to most people. A lesser known story is that of the international YMCA’s involvement in the Games. In 1935 the Y distributed newsletters, pamphlets, and other printed materials all advertising the 1936 Olympics as an event of international and interracial Christian Brotherhood. Christian athletes and coaches from China, Japan, the Philippines, India, and the United States came to Berlin, not only to represent their nations, but also to represent the YMCA’s mission. The Y encouraged its members from all over the globe to come to the Olympics and celebrate the YMCA’s contribution to sports, Christianity, and manhood. While the Y’s effort achieved nowhere near the coordination, publicity, or success of the Nazi effort, the international YMCA’s relationship to the 1936 Olympics provided a stark ideological contrast to that of Nazi Germany.2

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