The Woman Who Jumped Up For Jesse Owens


‘You could easily take the day off tomorrow,’ Lotte pleaded with Alex as they walked along the flagged “Unter den Linden”. Berliners were proud that their city was hosting the Olympics and they had pulled out all stops to make the games a success. Nazis or no Nazis it would have been the same without them as far as they were concerned.

Lotte wanted to see Jesse Owens run in the 100m sprint final and had hoped Alex, her husband would go with her.

‘Please, come with me Alex,’ she beseeched him.

‘Look at all those people, they have so much fun. We will have so much fun together.’

Alex bought two ice-creams from a seller with a small, mobile stand. The ice cream came in huge shells, made out of wafers, and while handing Lotte her ice-cream he said,

‘You know, I have to go to the office and prepare a report for the Minister about the upcoming harvest ‘

‘Blast the Minister, he’ll be in the stadium, sitting on his fat bum and watching with his boss Adolf, for all the world to see…’, Lotte said enraged.

‘Watch what you say,’ Alex said with a cautionary look around. They kept arguing and did not lick their ice-cream fast enough. The soggy shells started to break up. Ice cream began to drop everywhere.

‘Look what you’ve done,’ Lotte said wiping a drop of ice cream from her floral dress.

‘I did nothing. I just told you I can’t take the day off,’ Alex said slightly annoyed.

‘I will go on my own then,’ Lotte said defiantly.

‘You will not,’ said Alex sternly and threw the rest of his ice-cream into a rubbish bin; his hand now wet and sticky from the melted ice-cream and added,

‘People might see you and they will start talking at the office.’

‘Nonsense, there will be a hundred thousand people and nobody will see me in that crowd. And what is wrong with having a bit of fun?’

Alex was jealous of his pretty wife and was beginning to imagine all sorts of things. It incensed him that she wanted to do something he did not approve of.

While Alex and Lotte were arguing, the people around them were not taking any notice of them. They were soaking up the atmosphere and were enjoying the sunshine. Children were running about and a Dachshund was licking off the ice cream from the pavement. Yellow buses and the green and black taxis were spilling more people on to the boulevard. Lotte and Alex had become quiet. They took the Underground home, suffering in silence, each in their own thoughts.

Lotte was a young woman and wanted to experience life. Alex, a few years her senior, was more settled and thought sport was not his cup of tea even though all the hype of the Olympics had even him interested. The papers and the news reels were full of stories about the new running star Jesse Owens. He had become the darling of the Berliners and had made a big impression in the early rounds; and he would be in the 100m Final .

Next morning, Alex went to the office still fuming after a loveless night. But he wanted to get back into his wife’s favour, so he asked her, while heading for the door,

‘Will you be back home, when I come back from the office?’

‘Perhaps,’ she answered with a light smile and kissed him on his cheek. She had decided to go to the Olympic Stadium and she would wear her new lime-green Bleyle dress, with the large attractive white flower in the front of her chest. She loved being noticed.

After doing some local shopping in the morning and a quick lunch she walked to the Underground station nearby. The train was crowded and after a change of trains she was finally on her way to the Stadium. From the station to the stadium people had to walk a few minutes. But the crowd was much too slow for Lotte’s liking and she pushed her way through. She wanted to be ahead of others.

A quick check of her watch told her, there was not much time left for the start of the race. The walk from the station to the gates of the stadium seemed endless to her and queues of expectant and excited people were waiting at the ticket windows.

‘Oh my God, will I ever get in?’ she asked herself and waved a newspaper in front of her face for some relief. Finally, she got a ticket and hurried across the forecourt and up the staircase to the section for her seat. From time to time she heard the roar and applause of the people in the stadium who were watching the Hammer Throw. Her heart rate went berserk as she thought she had missed the race. Finally she saw the opening to the section she was looking for. As she came through, she saw the inside of the huge stadium for the first time and it took her breath away. A hundred thousand people watching the drama of the games unfold. If only Alex could see it; he would have been so proud. What a colourful picture. On the red track she saw the runners getting ready.

Down some steps and into the row where her seat was. She looked around and saw a woman with a silly hat with flowers on it.

‘I would not wear a hat like that,’ she thought. She took a deep breath and dropped onto her seat. She asked the young man on her left,

‘What is going on?’

‘The runners are getting ready for the one hundred meter sprint.’

‘Which one is Jesse Owens?’ Lotte asked unable to hide her enthusiasm for him.

‘The black man on the inside lane, No 733.’

There were six runners, two black men in the outside lanes and four white men in the middle, and they all kneeled down to be ready for the start. Their hands nervously seeking the right position to push themselves up from.

‘On your marks ̶ ready, set, go!’

There was the sound of the starter’s gun and off they went. The stadium erupted in a mighty roar as the runners jumped up from their starting positions. Jesse Owens took the lead right from the start and seemed to pull away easily from all the others. What a fine athlete to watch, Lotte thought to herself. If only the woman with the silly hat would stop waving her paper flag in Lotte’s face. When the runners crossed the line, Lotte jumped up and waved her right arm in the air, triumphant and as if waving to the winner. This was a great moment for her. The people were happy that Jesse Owens had won and were clapping their hands and talked to each other excitedly.

‘What a run,’ the young man said to Lotte. It wasn’t a world record but a good time anyway.

Lotte stayed a while longer. She would tell Alex all about that fabulous race. And when she did, he couldn’t help but be happy that Lotte had a great time and he was not angry any more. She was probably right, none of his friends would have seen her.

‘Why was I so worried in the first place?’ he asked himself.

The same evening, Leni, the producer of the film of the Olympic Games, was still at work , as she wanted to see the rushes of the day’s filming. She and the cutter were looking into the viewer and comparing the film strips prepared for them.

‘That was a great race today, Otto, wasn’t it? ‘ she asked.

‘Yes, you can see Jesse Owens sprinting away like a gazelle,’ Otto answered.

‘You know Otto,’ Leni said and continued, ‘I think we have to make the point, that the people liked Jesse Owens and that they don’t think, we “Whites” are the superior race. If we can show that, we are doing something worthwhile.’

‘Hang on Leni, I saw a take from the crowds where a typical German woman jumps up and waves to … possibly Jesse Owens, what do I know.’

‘Good Otto, lets see and we might put it in. If we do, people will not think we are making pure propaganda,’ Leni said.

And so it happened; Lotte’s jump of elation became a historic document and millions of people saw it around the world at the movies. Alex and Lotte were both wrong, she could be seen in the stadium without her husband.

Jesse Owens

Image via Wikipedia

More than seventy years later, Lotte’s daughter Uta received a text message from her daughter Carrie,

‘Saw Oma on YouTube, xplain l8ter.:-)’

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7 thoughts on “The Woman Who Jumped Up For Jesse Owens

  1. Hitler would probably not have liked it that a German woman showed such enthusiasm for the achievements of a black man. I wonder whether he would have admonished Leni Riefenstahl for putting this particular incident into her film!

  2. We can not know now, why Leni Riefenstahl put that shot in. Hitler probably did not realise it was more than just a shot of the crowd. Generally he was well pleased with the work of Riefenstahl.

    The same scene of the woman jumping up in the crowd appears twice in the Oscar winning film. That is why I assume she put that scene in on purpose to make a point. Riefenstahl herself loved athletic looking black men. As can be seen in her later photographic work in Africa.

  3. Pingback: A Catholic Marriage? | auntyuta

  4. A fascinating and timely story and discussion. Leni gets the rap of being Hitler’s publicist, but perhaps she was no more “his” than the countless poor German boys, like my mother’s cousin, who lost limbs and lives fighting his war.

    • Thank you, Linda, for commenting. Leni Riefenstahl got the rap because she used her ability to make movies in a way that seemed to reflect well on Hitler. During the war she refused to make propaganda when she saw what was really happening in Russia.

      In later life she lived in Sudan with the Nuba tribe as a photographer.

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