The documentary explores the hopes and heartaches experienced by Margaret Lambert, a Jewish athlete training to compete for the German Olympic team in the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin. Co-produced with Black Canyon Productions, this is an exclusive HBO presentation.
"This story is so compelling, and so emotional, that we expect it to spark a lot of discussion about the events of the 1936 Berlin Games," said HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg. "Margaret Lambert is not a household name. She's not in any record books or a hall of fame, but her story as a young Jewish girl growing up in Laupheim, Germany, dreaming of someday representing her country in the Olympics, and the setbacks she endured and overcame, is a gripping narrative."
Born Gretel Bergmann in Germany in 1914, Margaret Lambert developed into a superior athlete during the late '20s and '30s, excelling in the high jump. Her dream of competing for Germany in the Olympics was clouded by the rise of the Nazi Party early in the 1930s, when Jewish athletes were being expelled from German sports clubs.
During that turbulent decade, Bergmann's life became intertwined with the political movement that was dominating Germany. When it was important for the Germans to show foreign countries and dignitaries that their athletics were open and free of discrimination, she was allowed to compete. But the story of how Bergmann was set up and abandoned on the eve of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin is a chilling reminder of the discrimination endured by Jews in Nazi Germany.
Held up as a bold example of how Germany was not discriminating in athletics - which would help ensure that Berlin would not be forced to relinquish the '36 Games -- Bergmann was unconscionably bounced from the Olympic Team a few weeks before the opening ceremonies. Though teams were permitted to field as many as three high jumpers for the Games, Germany chose at virtually the last minute to reduce its team to two high jumpers and keep Bergmann out of the competition.
Crushed, Bergmann left her homeland in May 1937 and moved to the United States. Settling in New York, she began to compete again, but never forgot the disappointment of 1936.
In Hitler's Pawn, Bergmann, who married fellow athlete Bruno Lambert and became Margaret Lambert, returns to Germany 68 years later, revisiting her hometown athletic fields. She reunites with German teammate Elfride Kaun, who was allowed to compete in the Berlin Games. Their competition as world-class athletes had been respectful and friendly before the Games; Kaun was wrongly led to believe that Bergmann was sidelined by injuries for the '36 Olympics. This emotional reunion in Berlin caps Lambert's long odyssey