Margaret Lambert, a Jewish high jumper who was barred from competing at the 1936 Olympics, has died at the age of 103. Her niece Doris Bergman informed the New York Times of her death.
She was born Gretel Bergmann in 1914 in Laupheim, Germany. By 1936, she was arguably the best female high jumper in the world and competed at the British high jump championships in 1935. The Nazis convinced her family to return to her to Germany and compete for them. She reportedly cleared 1.60 meters in Germany's trials but Adolf Hitler decided that she would not be allowed a spot on the Olympic team due to her heritage. She often said that she was "The Great Jewish Hope" at the time.
"I had nightmares about the whole thing for months before," she said in 2015. "How would people on the team treat me? Maybe they would break my leg to keep me from competing. If I won, could I stand up there and salute that man? What if I lost?"
She moved to the United States in 1937 with less than $10 in her pocket. Soon after, she married fellow German refugee Dr. Bruno Lambert and changed her name to Margaret Bergmann Lambert. She continued training and competing in track and field while in America and won the U.S. title in the high jump and shot put in 1937. She defended her high jump title in 1938 before focusing on the 1940 Olympics. She did not compete in Helsinki after war broke out in Europe.
She vowed to never return to Germany but returned in 1999 when a local stadium in Laupheim was renamed after her.
“I don’t hate all Germans anymore, though I did for a long time,” Lambert said in 1996 when she was invited to the Atlanta Olympics by the German Olympic committee. “But I’m aware of many Germans trying to make up for wrongs as well as they know how. And, yes, I felt that the young people of Germany should not be held responsible for what their elders did.”
She lived in New York City and died on Tuesday at her home in Queens.
Her life story was also the subject of a 2004 HBO documentary titled "Hitler's Pawn."