Oral History

Gary Bigus describes Berlin during the 1936 Olympics

Gary (Gerhard) was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1924. His father owned a men’s clothing store. As a child, Gary faced antisemitism from his peers. His family’s store was boycotted several times, and ultimately destroyed in 1938 during Kristallnacht. As the city prepared for tourists to arrive in Berlin for the 1936 Olympics, Gary noticed anti-Jewish signs vanish from storefronts. In 1939, Gary and his parents escaped Germany after securing passage to Shanghai, China. His father died of illness in Shanghai shortly before the war ended. Gary and his mother were the only remaining members on both sides of their family to survive the Holocaust. They immigrated first to Israel after the war, then settled in the United States.


Interviewer: Gary, do you remember the Olympics?

Gary: Yes. 1936. During that time, all the signs about Jews vanished. And restaurants—“Jews not wanted” or what—vanished. So foreigners came and they saw nothing. Berlin was a beautiful city and they decorated it, I must admit, beautiful. And, I went with some friends to the… autograph hunting for, for… we were kids, you know.  

Interviewer: Did you get it? 

Gary: Oh yeah, I got some autographs from, quite a bit from foreign countries… what… who participated, you know, men and women who participated in the sports. And we were proudly showing off you know. And we knew all about Jesse Owens. He was our hero, you know, and, it was a good time, I must say. I mean that’s the honest truth. And then of course after a while, the signs, they’re back again.   


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