Why Is Olympics Trove Still Secret Despite Pleas of Jewish Historians?
A feud over a famed archive brimming with Olympic history has spilled over into the Jewish world, with scholars pressing for access to documents they believe could shed light on both the notorious 1936 Nazi Games in Berlin and the Munich massacre in 1972.
Ironically, the aggressive tactics of the driving force behind the push to gain public access to the Richard W. Pound Olympic Collection, held at McGill University in Montreal, may be one of the main reasons that the archive is still locked away.
In recent months, two noted historians of the Holocaust, Michael Berenbaum and Deborah Lipstadt, wrote to McGill demanding that the school open up the Pound archive. Echoing Berenbaum’s pleas was the Canadian philanthropist Charles Bronfman, a major benefactor to McGill. Bronfman wrote to the university’s provost, Christopher Manfredi, in August, suggesting, that “perhaps both you and Dick [Pound] would be willing to do as he requests.”
The pressure from prominent Jewish communal figures to open the archive is the latest chapter in a years-long campaign by Steven Ungerleider, a psychologist and author from Eugene, Oregon. In an effort to get at the Pound documents, Ungerleider himself has brokered an inter-university loan, donated millions of dollars and launched two lawsuits.
Ungerleider, who declined to comment on the record to the Forward about the archive, has moved Jewish scholars to support his efforts with the prospect that the archive may contain documents related to the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics in 1972, as well as letters from the Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, who shot the 1936 Olympics.
Upon learning of the documents, Berenbaum wrote to Manfredi in July, emphasizing that “academic transparency needs to be honored with regard to this archive.”
Jewish scholars are not the only ones frustrated by McGill’s refusal to open up the archive. Even Richard Pound, who donated the materials, says he is baffled by McGill’s intransigence.
“In my view there’s nothing secret about any of this,” said Pound, a former vice president of the International Olympic Committee. “It’s not as if we are dealing in nuclear science.”
Pound’s collection includes 400,000 documents covering the four decades he served on the IOC, beginning in 1968. That period includes Pound’s own investigation into a bidding scandal over the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and the creation of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which Pound led from 1999 to 2007.
Pound said that he donated the materials to McGill with the express wish that they be made public. “I said, the deal is not that you put it in a room with no windows and do nothing with it,” Pound said. “I wanted it to be available.”
Pound, who served as chancellor of McGill until 2009, gave the materials to the school over several years beginning in 2006. But the public university, which Pound described as severely underfunded, lacked the manpower and the finances to process, index and digitize the collection.
Enter Ungerleider, a son of Joy Ungerleider-Mayerson, a leading philanthropist and the former director of the Jewish Museum in New York, who died in 1994.
Ungerleider has written six books on sporting topics, the most famous of which is “Faust’s Gold”, a 2001 book that chronicled the East German Olympic doping scandal of the 1970s and ’80s.
Beginning in 2009, Ungerleider coordinated discussions between McGill and Ungerleider’s alma mater, the University of Texas, which led to McGill loaning the Pound collection to the University of Texas for five years. In return, the University of Texas agreed to fund a legal review of the collection and to index and digitize it, keeping a copy for its own archives.
Ungerleider arranged for a not-for-profit organization that he co-founded, the Foundation for Global Sports Development, to donate $3 million toward the cost of digitizing the archive.
Meanwhile, the University of Texas created a new program for the project, calling it the Texas Program in Sports and Media. The school named Ungerleider to the program’s advisory board and also hired him as a visiting scholar.
But over the next couple of years, the relationship between Ungerleider and the University of Texas broke down, as Ungerleider made repeated unsuccessful requests for access to the archive.
Pound said that during the same period, he was in protracted discussions with lawyers working for the University of Texas regarding potential legal issues surrounding some of the material in the archive related to living people.
Pound said that the lawyers’ response to Ungerleider’s “badgering” was to look for any reason to withhold documents. As an example, Pound said that the lawyers found a transcript of Pound’s own grand jury testimony that he gave in the Salt Lake City corruption scandal.
The lawyers, Pound recalled, said, “We’re not allowed to have grand jury testimony,” Pound told them, ‘’It’s my testimony, and I got it from my lawyer.” But the lawyers told him that whether it was his testimony or not, it “would be illegal” to share that document.
Pound said that he told the lawyers: “If there are things like that, identify them and we’ll talk. And if there’s something that’s illegal to show to anyone, fine, we can put that away. But don’t bury the entire collection.’”
But the University of Texas and McGill University have buried the archive.
They have also circled the wagons as Ungerleider turned to the courts to try to force his way into the archive.
In March 2013, Ungerleider filed a petition in a county court in Texas, seeking to depose University of Texas officials over the archive. A copy of the petition, which was obtained by the Austin American-Statesman, stated that “Ungerleider has been offered a seven-figure contract for a seventh book, the contents of which were to be drawn from research into the materials in the Pound Collection.”
A couple of months later, Ungerleider’s Foundation for Global Sports Development sued the University of Texas in a state court in California, demanding the return of the $3 million it had donated as well as access to the archive.
The case dragged on until the fall of 2014, when both sides settled. The University of Texas agreed to pay the foundation $400,000 and to give Ungerleider a VIP parking pass through 2019.
At the beginning of 2014, the university sent the collection back to McGill, where officials now maintain they cannot open the archive until lawyers have had chance to examine and redact every document.
Colleen Cook, McGill’s dean of libraries, said she would love for McGill to be able to make available all documents that do not violate privacy, copyright and other laws, but it is a gargantuan task and one that McGill is currently unable to carry out because of a lack of manpower and money.
Cook added that, to the best of her knowledge, there is little to no information in the archive regarding the 1972 Olympics that could not be found elsewhere, such as at the International Olympic Committee’s headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.
She also said that according to the general index of the archive McGill has, the collection has no material related to the 1936 Olympics. “We really are perplexed at the suggestion there’s anything in there to do with the Berlin Olympics,” she said.
But a legal historian familiar with the Pound Collection, who did not wish to be named because of the delicate nature of the situation, said that the collection definitely contains material related to the 1936 Olympics.
The source provided to the Forward material obtained from the collection, including correspondence sent by Riefenstahl to the International Olympic Committee in 1998.
In one letter, Riefenstahl, who died in 2003 at age 101, inquires about an Olympic gold medal she said was awarded to her following a ballot at an IOC conference in London in 1939. The purported medal, she wrote, never arrived, because of the outbreak of World War II.
“Could you please make some investigations in your archive, whether the medal was ever sent off?” Riefenstahl wrote to David Aikman, a marketing official for the IOC. “I would be more than thankful to hearing (sic) from you.”
In another letter written the same day, Riefenstahl sought to clarify legal ownership of her movie “Olympia.”
Riefenstahl wrote that “the IOC has purchased” two copies of her film: one German version in 35 mm format, and an English 16 mm film. “The Olympia films are a monument for the Olympic idea,” Riefenstahl wrote. “I think it is very valuable to have the documents in your archive.”
Cook said she could not confirm whether the documents came from the Pound archive, but Pound said that the documents probably were genuine because during his time on the IOC he was involved in efforts to collect all official films of the Olympic games.
Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University, said it is “critically important” that McGill allows access to such materials.
“You don’t accept a collection to put it in a closet and lock it up,” Lipstadt said. “The whole thing sounds crazy.”