Lambert, Margaret Bergmann (1914—)

views updated

Lambert, Margaret Bergmann (1914—)

German track-and-field champion and only Jewish athlete besides Hélène Mayer invited to represent the German team for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, though the Nazis refused to let her participate. Name variations: Gretel Bergmann. Born Margarethe Gretel Bergmann in Laupheim, Germany, in 1914; married Bruno Lambert (a doctor), in 1939; children: two sons.

Margaret Bergmann, known as Gretel, was born in Laupheim, Germany, in 1914. As a young girl, she played soccer and field handball on boys' teams. Since Germany had no collegiate sports system and amateur athletes trained in sports clubs, Bergmann joined Ulm's athletic club in 1930 and began winning events in track and field. Her rise in the German world of sports came to an abrupt halt three years later. Despite her many medals, the UFV club (the Ulm Soccer club) notified her that she was no longer welcome because she was Jewish. In response, she and her Jewish friends formed their own soccer club in Stuttgard,

playing on a potato field. Bergmann was the only female on the team. As well, she was about to begin her studies at the University of Berlin but was told she could not attend classes. As discrimination intensified, her parents decided to move to Great Britain, and Bergmann enrolled in the London Polytechnic to study English. Competing for her new school, she won the British highjump championship in 1934.

By 1933, Nazi discrimination had caused a groundswell of protest in the United States over the upcoming 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Germany had decreed that German-Jewish athletes would be barred from participating, while the U.S. Olympic Committee sought to have all athletes participate. The Americans threatened to boycott the Games which the Nazis hoped to use as a propaganda centerpiece. In 1934, Hitler's government seemed to give in, announcing that 21 Jews, including Gretel Bergmann, would be considered for a place on the German Olympic team. Bergmann had received notification that she was to return to Germany and compete for the Nazis. She was likewise informed that if she refused, members of her extended family, as well as all Jewish athletes, would suffer.

In the days leading up to the Olympics, however, Bergmann was not allowed to compete directly with German athletes as she was barred from joining the German Track and Field Association. But her results were as good or better than her teammates. The Nazis also assigned Doro Ratjen to be her roommate. In 1966, it was revealed that "Doro" was actually Hermann Ratjen. Gretel had strongly suspected Doro was a male, but the Nazis knew that, as a Jew, Bergmann could ill afford to betray the Aryan Ratjen. Ratjen, on the other hand, was unlikely to make advances toward Bergmann during the time they shared living quarters, because he would be severely punished for making advances to a Jewish woman.

In 1935, Bergmann was the only member of her group to meet Olympic standards. On June 30, 1936, she equaled the German women's highjump record of 5′3″. Two weeks later, on July 16, the day after the U.S. Olympic team set sail for Europe, Bergmann was informed that her achievements were inadequate. Hélène Mayer , a tall blonde fencer, would be the only Jew allowed to participate in the Games. Ironically that summer, the half-Jewish Hungarian Ibolya Csák won the Olympic gold medal in Bergmann's event, with a jump of 5′3″.

Bergmann left Germany in 1937, arriving in New York with $10, the only money she was allowed to bring out of the country. She began working, first as a maid, then as a masseuse, and eventually as a physiotherapist, earning $100 a month. Bruno Lambert, her fiancé whom she had met in Germany, arrived in 1938 from Switzerland where he had been studying medicine. They were married in 1939 and lived in Jamaica, New York.

Csák, Ibolya (1915—)

Hungarian high jumper. Name variations: Csak. Born in January 1915.

In the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, there was a long, drawn-out duel for the gold medal between Hungary's Ibolya Csák and 16-year-old Dorothy J. Tyler . Both had jumped 5′3″, but the completion ended in a jump off. Csak took first because she had less failures at that height than Tyler. Had a later rule applied for deciding ties, Tyler would have been the champion.

Margaret Bergmann Lambert was still competing. Training at the Park Central Athletic Association, she had won the American highjump and shot-put championships in 1937 and 1938. The outbreak of war and the Holocaust, however, ended her career. With so many family members still in Germany, she had little desire to continue competing. Her husband joined the U.S. Army, and she moved with him from post to post. In 1980, Margaret Bergmann Lambert was recognized by the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in Israel, one of the countless gifted individuals whose career was destroyed by the Nazis.


Slater, Robert. Great Jews in Sports. Middle Village, NY: Jonathan David, 1983.

Karin L. Haag , Athens, Georgia

About this article

Lambert, Margaret Bergmann (1914—)

Updated About content Print Article