Author to discuss 1936 Olympic defeat of Hitler's rowing team

by Tim Troglen | reporter Published:

Hudson -- Historians have documented, in graphic detail, how Allied forces ground out hard-fought victories through Normandy hedgerows, in German skies and on Atlantic waters to defeat Adolf Hitler and his Axis machine during World War II.

However, in 1936, before the U.S. even fired a shot, Hitler was handed an epic defeat on the international stage by nine American boys in a single boat.

The tale of that defeat will be chronicled May 27 at the Hudson Library & Historical Society by Daniel James Brown, author of "Boys in the Boat." The book, which has been described as "breathtaking," "riveting" and "a suspenseful tale of triumph," tells the story of The University of Washington's eight-oar crew which defeated the elite American teams of the time and made its way to the 1936 Berlin Olympics to face the German rowing team, in front of Hitler.

"This story literally walked into my living room one day about six years ago, in the person of my neighbor Judy Rantz Willman," said Brown, 62. "Judy asked me to visit her father, who was living under hospice care at her home."

Her father, Joe Rantz, was an Olympic gold medalist in rowing.

"Joe was in the last few weeks of his life, but he began to tell me an absolutely mesmerizing story about growing up during the Great Depression," Brown said. "Then he shifted gears and began to talk about how he had begun to row crew for the University of Washington and how he and his teammates had wound up rowing for an Olympic gold medal, against a German boat, in front of Hitler at the 1936 Berlin Olympics."

By the time Rantz was finished, Brown knew he "had stumbled across a great story."

The story "really gets to the heart of what America is all about, whether you are from Seattle or New Orleans or San Diego or Hudson, Ohio," he said.

"People sometimes make the mistake of thinking it is only a book about rowing," Brown cautioned. "It's really a much bigger story, about a band of extraordinary but rag-tag young Americans who overcame great obstacles to earn the chance to confront true evil and ultimately stand on the world stage victorious."

The story "celebrates the virtues that make America great," according to Brown.

"So it doesn't really matter much where you come from, but offhand I can't think of a better place than Ohio -- in some ways our most representative state -- to enjoy this story," he said.

Brown is the author of two previous non-fiction books, "The Indifferent Starts Above" and "Under a Flaming Sky," which was a finalist for a Barnes & Noble Discover Award. He has taught writing at San Jose State University and Stanford University.

The author lives in Washington with his wife of 27 years, Sharon. They have two daughters, Emily and Robin.

Ellen Smith, the library's head of reference and archives, called Brown's work "a fabulous book."

"Anyone who enjoyed the book 'Unbroken' and its message of perseverance will be captivated by the power of 'Boys in the Boat,'" Smith said. "The two stories even share the staging of the 1936 Olympics. It's one of those rare non-fiction titles that reads like a novel."

According to Smith "everyone in the library's Between the Lines Book Club raved about it, and they are a discerning group of readers, indeed."

The story of the Olympic victory also "defines our parents' generation--what Tom Brokaw called the 'Greatest Generation,'" Brown said.

"I see this story of these nine young men who climbed in a boat and learned to trust one another and to pull together -- quite literally pull together -- to accomplish great things as a metaphor for what that whole generation did," he said.

As the Great Depression hit and WWII arrived, the generation "found themselves in the same boat and they learned to pull together, to get things done," according to Brown.

"They built great monuments like the Grand Coulee Dam; they worked their way out of the Depression, they won the war, and they went on to build the most prosperous society in the world," he reminisced. "The book is very much a tribute to their spirit."

The Learned Owl Book Shop will provide copies of Brown's books for purchase and signing.

Those wishing to attend the free event can register online at hudsonlibrary.org or call 330-653-6658 ext. 1010.

Email: ttroglen@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9435

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