With anti-Semitism on the rise in Germany — she recalled signs in shops declaring, “No dogs or Jews allowed” — she left home at 19 and moved to England, where she won the British high-jump championship in 1935. But when the Nazis pressured her father to bring her home, she returned to Germany to seek a position on the Olympic team.
Shortly after winning that June meet, held at Adolf Hitler Stadium in Stuttgart, she received a letter from Nazi officials informing her that she had not qualified. “Looking back on your recent performances,” the letter stated, “you could not possibly have expected to be chosen for the team.” Her accomplishment was removed from the record books.
Hurt and angry, she turned down the officials’ offer of a standing-room ticket, “free of charge,” for the Olympic track and field games. Travel expenses and hotel accommodations were not included in the offer. “I never replied,” she said.
In 1937, Gretel Bergmann was able to obtain papers that allowed her to emigrate to the United States. She landed in New York City with no more than $10 — all the money the Germans would allow her to take out of the country. She worked as a…