By Jeffrey S. Gurock
Los Angeles’ Erez Sherman is the rabbi of one of the largest congregations in the United States. He is on a mission to enlighten his fellow Americans—especially young people— about the scourges of antisemitism, past and present. Recently, he had the opportunity to speak his piece to a group of University of Southern California track athletes who were soon to embark on a consciousness-raising trip to Auschwitz. He chose to discuss my new book Marty Glickman: The Life of an American Jewish Sports Legend. In the book, I tell the story of Marty Gilckman, who was the voice of New York sports for almost half a century. Before his illustrious broadcasting career, however, he was a runner.
In 1936, Marty Glickman was an accomplished athlete. As Sherman explained that day, he was set to run in a signature relay race at the Berlin Olympics. At the last minute, Glickman and another outstanding Jewish runner, Sam Stoller, were sidelined because the Nazi-sympathetic American Olympic officials did not want to embarrass their hosts in the Reich. It was bad enough for these haters that African American athletes like Jesse Owens were winning gold medals, shattering the pernicious myth of Aryan superiority. But Jews on the victory stand in front of 80,000 fans?
It is fitting that Sherman told this story to today’s USC runners. Back in 1936, the USC coach Dean Cromwell headed the US track squad and delivered the decision to oust Glickman and Stoller. When the two runners were sidelined, neither the general press nor the Jewish newspapers of the time rallied to their defense. For decades after 1936, Glickman would state that what painfully happened to him took place “before Kristallnacht” of November 1938, and that “no one was killed.” Yet he ultimately came to understand that the exclusion was a prequel to the Holocaust. In this era, Jews stood alone in venues far more horrible than a stadium, unaided as the world stood by. This was the message that Glickman frequently articulated late in his life, including when he spoke on behalf of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and around the country. He then became a teacher to future generations of the consummate Jewish calamity. Glickman died in 2001, but would he be content that what he had to say is still being heard?
Sherman told me that he was “powerfully” impressed and undeniably troubled that when he spoke from the rostrum “not one person in the room knew Marty Glickman’s story,” and he emphasized that we “had work to do.” He hoped that the USC runners and their mentors would delve more deeply into this disturbing account and the darker future that befell the Jews. Sherman wants to revive this story for Americans young and old and not have it be relegated as an unhappy historical moment. Glickman’s experience is part of our history, and it also bespeaks present-day difficulties with antisemitism and racism in 21st century America.
Glickman was wronged in 1936, but he did not allow his career to end with that horrible moment. Instead, the story of Berlin coheres with a much larger, eighty year life story that must be told. It is an account of an emblematic second generation Jewish man, from the Bronx and Brooklyn, who is now known as the greatest New York sportscaster of his time. I want my readers to appreciate through my protagonist’s experiences not only Hitlerism, but also the big picture of the trials and triumphs of a child of immigrants who strove to make it in this county amid prejudices that conspired to hold him back. Thousands of his fellow Jews fought similar battles to achieve the American dreams of success and acceptance, and many continue to fight against anti-semitism today. Through Marty Glickman, their story may also be told. The long duree of Marty Glickman’s life speaks broadly of adversity that faced Jews of his times and their battles to overcome discrimination.
Jeffrey S. Gurock is the Libby M. Klaperman Professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University. He has written or edited 25 books, including Jews in Gotham, which in 2012 was honored as Winner, Everett Family Foundation Award, Jewish Book of the Year, Jewish Book Council.