James McNeish on the athlete who defied Hitler

From Nine To Noon, 10:07 am on 21 April 2016
Werner Seelenbinder

Werner Seelenbinder Photo: supplied

Werner Seelenbinder was a champion wrestler in 1930s Germany as Hitler came to power and the third Reich's war machine was gearing up.

He was also a communist and part of the resistance against Nazi rule, who used the cover of being part of the German national wrestling team to distribute subversive material for the resistance and agitate against the war.

In 1933, he refused to give the Nazi salute when receiving his medal at the German Wrestling Championship and was rewarded with a 16-month ban on training and sports events.

He went on to represent Germany at the 1936 Berlin Olympic games.

The Nazis had only allowed Seelenbinder to take part in the Olympics because they thought he would secure them a medal: otherwise, they did not trust him in the slightest.

At one stage during the games, he was even treated for an injury by Himmler's private physician.

Seelenbinder's story has now been brought to life by Wellington writer and biographer James McNeish, who came upon it in Berlin while conducting research for his earlier book on the New Zealand Olympic gold medal winning runner Jack Lovelock.

McNeish says he decided the write about Seelenbinder's plight because it was a buried story of an "an ordinary person trying to do something against a great evil".