Otto the strange: The champion who defied the Nazis
Otto Peltzer was a German track hero in the Twenties, was vilified and jailed for his sexuality in the Thirties, survived a death camp in the Forties, then found a remarkable new life in the Sixties. Tim Pears tells the unknown story of the world-record holder who stayed true to the amateur ideal
* Tim Pears
* The Observer,
* Sunday June 29, 2008
In 1962 the male athletes of East and West Germany toured Asia. At the Rome Olympics two years earlier the united team had won six track medals, including gold in the 4x100m and silver in the 4x400m relays. Now the Teutonic superstars travelled the East, displaying their prowess to one undeveloped sporting nation after another. India was one of those nations. India sent few athletes to the Olympics. They only ever won one medal per Games - although it was generally gold - in the men's hockey.
The Germans arrived in Delhi, for a two-day competition, and found to their surprise that the Indians were not the humble, easygoing athletes they had expected, but tenacious competitors who matched them in event after event, and particularly the relays. At the end of the second day the Germans, to their disbelief, had been beaten. The other thing that puzzled them was that the Indians were trained by a haggard, 62-year-old German, unknown to most of the visitors' entourage. One or two of its older members did recognise him: journalist Adolf Metzner published an article in Die Zeit called 'Yogi with Prussian Eagle'.
'Today the former German champion runner lives in the New Delhi stadium and exists on handouts from his charges. All his possessions are in a small suitcase. He suffers from the terrible heat in summer, and is bothered by mosquitoes and dogs. As possessed as ever, he gives advice to anyone who seeks it. When the Indian government gave him an honorarium of 1,000 rupees after the Rome Olympics, he gave it to the victims of a flood. The Indians venerate him like one of their wise men.'
During the Weimar era, Otto Peltzer had been Germany's pre-eminent sportsman. At his peak he held the national record in eight different events, and was world-record holder at three middle distances. Captain of the 1928 and 1932 Olympic teams, Otto was a driven, disputatious man, as unpopular with officialdom as he was popular with his fellow athletes and with the public.
Peltzer also happened to be homosexual, a 'crime' for which he would pay, under the Nazis, a terrible price. He was borne up and then ground under the wheels of European history in the 20th century, at whose beginning he was born. And yet he would survive, and find in India an extraordinary valediction.
Part 1: Glory
Otto was born on 8 March 1900 to a bourgeois family in the hamlet of Ellernbrook-Drage, Holstein, in the north of Germany. A sickly child, a 'half-haemophiliac', he was diagnosed with a heart defect, suffered frequent infections, and spent much of his childhood in confinement, with no company beyond books, and his own thoughts. As he came through adolescence, however, Otto discovered that he possessed, despite his frailty, natural athletic talent. A skinny beanpole, he surprised running opponents with his speed; despite a weedy upper body, he even won discus and javelin events.
The solitary, somewhat furtive boy began to develop an obsession with his physical improvement through sport. It was one, moreover, conducted in secret. One day Otto was caught mimicking his teacher: his father furiously, and publicly, upbraided him. Otto responded by resolving to keep his running a secret from his family. So successfully would he do this that they would know nothing of his sporting life until long after he had left home, and, at the age of 22, won his first German championship.
During the dying weeks of the First World War, in 1918, Otto went to university in Munich. He studied economics, law and social politics, and later stayed on as a postgraduate. In Munich, Otto joined the TSV 1860 club, where he met people who shared his devotion to sport. Before long he began to coach his fellow athletes, and soon developed his own, eccentric ideas. He believed that all-important schnellkraft, speed strength, depended on elasticity and softness of muscles, to be gained by regular hot baths, pre-race rubdowns with oil, and post-run massages. He subjected his charges to rigorous indoor training sessions - rope skipping, hopping with your partner on your back - and introduced handball games played at high speed, with frequent twisting and turning, to develop the 'inner organs'.
Each session ended with an 8km run, whatever the weather. Only those who took part in the run could have a warm shower, although Otto himself always chose a cold one, 'to close the pores and avoid catching cold', he said, as well as to have 'the most wonderful after-feeling'.
Peltzer also paid scrupulous attention to weight, diet and precise times of eating. He made diary entries about each race (including weather and track conditions) and even training session.
In 1925, shortly after receiving his doctorate in Munich, Peltzer travelled to Helsinki to visit the great Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi, 'the iron man of the cinder paths'. Peerless Paavo welcomed Peltzer and the two ran together and discussed training methods - strictly timed runs, hard Finnish massages, but most of all the importance of willpower. 'Forget your opponents,' Nurmi told Peltzer. 'Conquering yourself is the greatest challenge of an athlete.'
Otto returned to Germany and began to consider his future. He loved coaching, but could not take payment without forfeiting his amateur status and thus his own running career. He began to consider a job in teaching.
The 1920s saw a ferment of radical ideas about youth and education in Germany. These included bodies such as the Wandervogel, an umbrella organisation of independent groups moved by the spirit of Romanticism to seek brotherhood and adventure in unspoiled nature, and the Free School movement, led by Gustav Wyneken.
Wyneken's Wickersdorf Free School Community was based on certain precepts, among them two that were particularly influential. The first was Jugendkultur, the belief that adults should refrain from overtly leading youth groups, who should find leadership from their own ranks. The second was Pädagogischer Eros, a blend of Greek Platonic ideals and high German philosophical ideas, which exalted the erotic attraction between a teacher and a pupil. This relationship tended to be openly homoerotic yet chaste.
Although Otto did not have a teaching qualification, it might be possible to find work as an erzieher (youth worker), so he began to apply for jobs.
For the moment, though, nothing distracted him from his sport. He developed the habit of causing a false start, not to upset his opponents but to settle his nerves. He taught himself the skill of dozing off, at any time, even for a few minutes just before a race. He discovered the efficacy of nude sunbathing, particularly at high altitude, to 'help blood circulation in the skin'. Otto also advocated jumping exercises to develop leg muscles and enjoyed entertaining friends when he visited them by leaping halfway up the stairs. He even redesigned the strip for his home club, Preussen Stettin (in what is now Szczecin in Poland), which included a black stylised eagle on the white vest and a lapel badge hailed as 'the most beautiful of all club badges'.
Otto Peltzer earned his nickname Otto the Strange in 1925 from his clubmate, hurdler Heiner Trossbach, after Peltzer turned down an invitation to a prestigious international race in Berlin because he had already given his commitment to a small club event in Hamburg. Many thought Otto an oddball, and the nickname stuck.
1926 saw the peak of his career. In July, in the AAA Championships at Stamford Bridge in London (to which a group of German athletes had been invited), Peltzer beat Great Britain's reigning Olympic 800m champion Douglas Lowe, breaking the world record for the distance.
On their return to Germany (which had been barred from the first two postwar Olympics, in Antwerp in 1920 and Paris in 1924) the team were treated as heroes, with Peltzer the star among them. One aspect of the fanfare, however, annoyed him. 'To whom does German sport owe the rise of its athletes? Not the sport's functionaries, but the young leaders and coaches in the clubs, who do it for nothing. Yet the big-time officials puff themselves up as if it's down to them that we've caught up with the best in the world again.'
On 11 September 1926, Peltzer took part in a historic race, a specially set up 1500m in Berlin with Paavo Nurmi, Swede Edvin Wide and a young German, Herbert Böcher.
Nurmi was the world's finest middle- and long-distance runner: at the Paris Olympics he had won gold at 1500m and 5,000m, in two cross-country races and in the team 3,000m.
Sweden's Wide, known as 'The Flying Schoolteacher', had won silver at 10,000m and bronze at 5,000m, but like Nurmi had designs on the 1500m - the blue-riband Olympic distance. The two had met before, with the same result: Nurmi set a pace Wide could not keep up with, but then Wide almost caught the Finn in the dash for the line. It was generally felt that Wide was now ready to take Nurmi's mantle and that one, possibly both of them, would break the world record.
Böcher, a 23-year-old from Berlin, was the most promising young German runner over 1500m and was thought by some to have the potential to cause an upset.
Peltzer accepted an invitation to take part, although he was principally an 800m runner. Friends advised him not to, particularly after he ran just three days before, in a 2,000m race, which he won in the sprint. Why risk humiliation, Otto's friends argued, not only by the two northern stars but even more so by his young German rival? Why not stick to 800m, and even retire, now, as a great champion? Otto laughed them off. 'A champion should never retire at his peak,' he argued, 'but should give his successor the honour of starting off with a glorious victory.' Trying to retire as a champion showed that a runner ran out of ambition and egotism, he said, not inner passion and love of the sport.
The race that day was one of the greatest of the 20th century, watched by a crowd of 30,000 around the cinder track and on the overlooking railway embankment. There were local races for the first hour, but many of the spectators preferred to mill behind the stands to watch Nurmi, Wide, Peltzer and Böcher warm up. When, finally, they entered the stadium, there were loud shouts of 'Heja!' ('Go for it!') from the Swedes who had travelled to Berlin to support Wide, and even greater welcomes for both Nurmi and Peltzer.
They lined up with Böcher on the inside, then Nurmi, then Wide, with Peltzer on the outside. Once Peltzer had made his usual early false start to calm himself, the four men were set to go. The gun went off and Wide stormed into pole position. Peltzer snuck in behind him, with Böcher next and Nurmi untroubled at the back: he always ran his own race, according to his own time. Towards the end of the first lap, as Wide let the pace slacken, Nurmi steadily drew to the front. Peltzer overtook Wide to keep on Nurmi's shoulder. As he ran, he heard a spectator shout: 'Look at that. Old Peltzer's having a go.'
Perhaps encouraged by Peltzer, Wide refused to let Nurmi open up a gap, and the three of them sped in close formation right through to the final lap. Böcher, unable to stand the pace, fell away.
The bell rang and still they ran together, Nurmi at his powerful, even pace, knowing at every moment where he was in his own mental schedule of the race. But this time Wide had stayed with him. As they entered the first bend of the final lap Wide made his move, according to a contemporary newspaper report, 'storming past Nurmi and Peltzer in the blink of an eye, and moving metres ahead. Paavo Nurmi does not allow his rhythm to be upset by this unexpected attack. Otto Peltzer hangs on behind him. The spectators at this great event suddenly veer in their sympathies, from Nurmi to this bold Swede trying to run away from him. Mixed with the "Heja!" shouts, all you can hear is people yelling "Wide! Wide!"'
Two hundred metres from the line Wide had opened up a 20-pace lead. The gap was growing and Nurmi was surely leaving it too late. 'But what's this?' the report continued. 'Peltzer goes into the outside lane on the bend. A cry of delight. Peltzer passes Nurmi. Not Nurmi but Peltzer intends to thwart the Swede's victory. The noise in the stadium swells. Peltzer seems to get enormous power from his long legs. He sweeps round the last part of the bend, eating up the ground, and the unimaginable becomes reality: he catches Wide 50 metres from the line and cruises towards it, completely relaxed. All eyes are on him - few see Nurmi almost catch his great Swedish rival in the sprint.
'The cheering... has hardly died down when the announcer declares that Germany's great middle-distance runner has broken Nurmi's world record, with a time of 3 minutes 51 seconds. The spectators are so overcome that many have tears in their eyes. This 11 September 1926 will be entered in golden letters in the history of German sport. Even an Olympic victory could not have this significance, for here three great masters of the track measured themselves against each other at the zenith of their abilities.'
After lengthy celebrations, Peltzer returned to his hotel, to telegrams of congratulations from around the world. Also waiting in the hotel were two American sports impresarios, boxing manager Ted Richards and agent Jack Dixon. They told Peltzer that now everyone would want to see the three of them running, and they offered him a contract of $250,000 for a year to run against Wide and Nurmi at sports meetings around America. They promised a similar contract would be on offer the following year, as well as lucrative advertising deals. Peltzer told them they could tear it up. 'I want to run in the Olympic Games,' he said. 'And I'll always remain amateur.'
The Americans argued that a financial opportunity like this was unheard of for a European athlete, but Peltzer told them they were wasting their time. As it happened, the trainer of the German amateur athletics team, Josef Waitzer, was in the hotel lobby, and saw what was happening. 'Don't be a fool,' he told Otto. 'You can set yourself up for life with this deal. You'll get no thanks for remaining amateur. Of course we want you in the Olympic team in Amsterdam, but if you're not there, we'll manage.'
But Peltzer was unmoved. 'A sportsman does not need financial compensation, since the act carries its own reward,' he wrote. 'You can't turn it into a job without taking away its ideal root, and the inner joy in doing it... If we want to support amateur over professional sport we can't do it by cleverly worked-out rules but by cultivating a correct sporting consciousness, by a new deepening of the whole attitude to life in our times.'
Instead of signing with the Americans, the next morning Peltzer went to the nearest post office and sent a telegram to the writer (later Berthold Brecht's publisher) Peter Suhrkamp, pedagogical head of the Freie Schulgemeinde Wickersdorf, based in a mountain village in the central German state of Thuringia, accepting an offer to teach geography, history and biology.
'The die was cast, not by others but by me,' he said later. 'I determined my future myself. A new life stood before me, tempting and beautiful - teaching young people, promoting sport with high ideals and struggling against the mechanisation of human life. This was my future.'
In July 1927 Peltzer set a world record for the 1,000m in Paris. Afterwards a French cultural critic, Jacques Mortane, met him for a book he was writing about the new Germany. 'Tall, slim, blond with grey eyes, that's how I saw Dr Peltzer, the victor over Nurmi and Wide, Germany's best-known sportsman, who runs like an artist, not a machine.'
Peltzer told Mortane: 'I never know in advance which tactic I will pursue. I change my approach every time. Anyone who becomes a slave of a system is in my view not a true champion. On the contrary, he will find his master.'
By the end of 1927 Peltzer held the German record at 500m, 600m, 800m, 1,000m, 1500m, 2,000m, 880yards, and 400m hurdles. He had run five world-record times. Visiting America in 1927 with the German team, Peltzer was the one athlete invited to the White House to meet President Calvin Coolidge. Soon, however, he came into conflict with the German athletics authorities. Elected team leader by his fellow Olympic athletes, he became involved in early 1928 in a series of disputes with officials who treated the athletes like 'military recruits'. Peltzer was thrown out of the team, only for the other athletes to tell the director: 'If he goes, we all go.' Otto was reinstated.
After the great race in Berlin, both Nurmi and Wide decided to revert in the Olympics to the longer distances. In the 5,000m Nurmi would take silver, Wide bronze; in the 10,000 Nurmi won gold, Wide another bronze.
Peltzer was now the favourite for the 800m. Not long before the Games began in Amsterdam, however, disaster struck. During a game of field handball at the Wickersdorf school, another player stepped on and fractured Peltzer's foot. He was unable to train and, although a Finnish masseur helped him recover in time to take part and he progressed through the 800m heats, in the semis he failed by centimetres to qualify for the final. Douglas Lowe retained the 800m title, while another German, Hermann Engelhard, claimed bronze. After the final, Lowe told Peltzer he should have won, and gave him a letter signed by all the British middle-distance runners expressing regret over his injury.
Four years later, in 1932, in the German Olympic team bound for Los Angeles, Peltzer was once again elected team captain. Barely had the ship set sail before he began arguing with the team officials: the athletes had inside cabins without portholes next to the engine rooms, while officials were in the outer cabins. He demanded they swap places. His request was refused. They arrived in New York, to make their way across country by train in an itinerary that demanded the athletes' presence at one formal reception after another but left them no time for training. Again Peltzer complained, without success.
The trip, and the athletes' ambitions, were consumed in a bonfire of such petty arguments. When they reached LA they found that the Olympic track was hard as asphalt, for which the long spikes they had brought were quite unsuitable. Other teams had already arrived and bought up all the stocks of short-spiked running shoes in Los Angeles. The Finns obtained small grinding machines with electric motors with which they patiently ground down their spikes. Peltzer asked the German officials to buy similar machines. They gave him a set of handfiles for the team.
This continuing series of conflicts was largely to blame for Germany failing to win a single medal on the track. Peltzer ran the 800m final with only half the spikes of one of his running shoes filed down, so wobbly that he could hardly stand up. His Olympic dream was over. 'On the way back to the Olympic village, talking with [journalist] Adolf Metzner,' he said later, 'the pain overwhelmed me, and tears came to my eyes.'
Part 2: Suffering
President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933. In the following months the National Socialists eliminated all rival political parties: by the summer Germany had become a one-party state. Soon there were just two significant areas of German society that remained outside Hitler's direct control: one was the army, whose Prussian officer class prized its independence, although its size remained limited under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles to 100,000 men.
The other was the Sturmabteilung [SA], the Nazi paramilitary organisation. Its stormtroopers had spent the previous few years intimidating rivals: smashing up meetings and fighting street battles with Social Democrats and Communists. With membership approaching three million in 1934, the SA became ever more militarily powerful. After nights of heavy drinking its stormtroopers would run riot in the streets, attacking first passersby, then the police sent to arrest them.
The SA was a peculiar combination of mass membership of young men, many unemployed and criminals, and ideological leaders committed to the socialism inherent in the Nazi party's name. The head of the SA, Ernst Röhm, was an old colleague of Hitler from the 1923 Munich Beer Hall Putsch. The two had shared prison time. Röhm described Hitler's rise to power as merely a 'half-revolution' and called for the 'second revolution': nationalisation of large firms, profit-sharing for employees and appropriation of the vast landed estates of the aristocracy.
Army and business leaders implored the Führer to deal with Röhm. They were joined by the racial purists of the Nazi party: it was an open secret that Röhm, his deputy Edmund Heines and Berlin Sturmabteilung leader Karl Ernst, like others in the SA hierarchy, were homosexual.
The Night of the Long Knives took place between 30 June and 2 July 1934. Hundreds of senior SA officers were arrested and summarily executed, as well as numerous other opponents in the settling of old scores, including Hitler's predecessor as Chancellor, General Kurt von Schleicher, who was assassinated along with his wife at their country home.
This violent purge was presented as the response to a plot led by Röhm and von Schleicher to overthrow the government. On 13 July Hitler gave a nationally broadcast speech to the Reichstag in which he said: 'In this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I became the supreme judge of the German people.' Retrospective legalisation of the extra-judicial killings met with no opposition in the Reichstag. Hitler also referred in his speech to 'a sinister group of elements which were held together through a like disposition'. Most of the listening public understood what he meant.
Enshrined in German law since 1870 was a statute against sodomy: Paragraph 175 of the criminal code. In 1935 the Nazis revised and strengthened Paragraph 175, making the mere suggestion of homosexual intent grounds for arrest: kissing or embracing another man, gossip spread by neighbours, even receiving a letter from a gay friend were adequate evidence. From the end of 1934 - even before the revised law was ratified - police raids and mass arrests of homosexual men became common. In March 1935 Otto Peltzer was arrested and accused of homosexual relations with young runners. His interrogators at Gestapo headquarters included Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, who regarded homosexuality as a particularly abhorrent threat to the Aryan race and took personal responsibility for stamping it out.
After the intervention of a medical friend highly placed in the National Socialists - Dr Martin Brustmann, who had helped him as a young runner - Peltzer was released from custody. He made the mistake, however, of immediately writing to friends at home and abroad, urging them to help him get the charges dropped. Douglas Lowe was among those who sent personal appeals to Hitler. Peltzer was swiftly rearrested and in June 1935 was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Homosexual prisoners' uniforms often bore the letter A, signifying the German word for 'arse-fucker'. This mark would later be replaced, in the concentration camps, by the pink triangle (homosexual Jews had to wear two triangles, one imposed, upside down, on top of the other, creating the shape of the Star of David). According to Arnd Krüger, in The International Politics of Sport in the 20th Century: 'The Nazis persecuted former members of the German youth movement, much as they did Catholic priests: as much for their non-conformism as for their homosexuality.'
Peltzer was released from prison early, two days before the 1936 Olympics began in Berlin, after signing a declaration that he would do and say nothing about his case, and keep out of sport.
After the Games, Peltzer moved from Berlin back to Stettin, where he worked as unofficial trainer to his old club, whose athletes began to improve dramatically. He would later claim to have delayed the exclusion of 'non-Aryans' from his club, echoing the fact that Gustav Wyneken's Wickersdorf school had always accepted a large proportion of Jewish pupils.
In 1937 Peltzer was rearrested for failing to keep away from sport. After three weeks in Gestapo HQ in Prinz-Albrecht Strasse in Berlin he was released, thanks again to Dr Brustmann, and told that he should leave the country. He was warned that if he tried to oppose the government from abroad, then his family would be imprisoned. Peltzer went to Denmark, where he found temporary work as a travelling carpet salesman. He moved on to Finland, where he stayed on a German steamship in Helsinki harbour, until thrown off for supposedly making advances to a crew member, after which he slept on a park bench, and contracted bronchitis. When the war started, Peltzer made his penniless way to Sweden, where an old friend helped him first to hospital, then into work writing sports articles and training at clubs, including the Jewish Sports Club of Stockholm.
In early 1941, after receiving assurances that old charges against him would be dropped, he returned to Germany. He was met off the ferry at the docks in Sassnitz by the Gestapo, who told him that, as an incorrigible enemy of the Reich, he could not be left free. After some weeks in various jails in Berlin he was sent for three months 're-education' to a camp in Austria. This turned out to be KZ Mauthausen. It would come to be known as Mordhausen, 'the Murder Houses'.
Peltzer was greeted by a camp officer. 'Ha, we've been waiting for you. Your English friends won't get you out this time, not like in 1936. So, you've been working against us abroad, you scoundrel.' Peltzer denied this, and got a front tooth knocked out. 'This bloke's getting cheeky,' yelled the officer.
Then the commandant, Franz Ziereis, appeared. 'So, the fast runner's here. He can show us his tricks. Run to that fence and back. Come on!' Peltzer ran as ordered. 'Pity you didn't use the fence to turn,' Ziereis declared. 'Did you know it was electric?'
Peltzer said that the people in Berlin had told him he was here for three months' re-education. The officers burst out laughing. 'You'll be out in less, probably,' Ziereis told him. He pointed to a chimney. 'There's the way out of this camp.' (Among other practices that would make Ziereis notorious, he allowed his 11-year-old son to shoot prisoners with a rifle from the family's porch.)
Mauthausen was part of a series of camps, initially for those incarcerated under the 'protective custody' laws: communists, anarchists, homosexuals and Roma. It was a labour camp, practising Vernichtung durch Arbeit (extermination through labour), working the intelligentsia of Germany and occupied countries to death, in granite quarries. The SS guards called the sides of the Mauthausen quarry the Parachutists' Wall, from which weak prisoners were thrown to their deaths, 'parachutists without a parachute'.
Otto Peltzer survived in Mauthausen until the camp was liberated by forces of the US 11th Armoured Division on 5 May 1945. It was the last camp freed. Peltzer had two-and-a-half litres of water drained from his lungs by doctors, the result of untreated pleurisy.
All his relatives died in the war and its immediate aftermath. He found some work as a coach and in sports journalism. For a brief period he taught in the Free School of Montana in Zug, Switzerland, but had to return to Germany when his residence permit was not renewed.
Many athletics officials from the Nazi years remained in place. Karl Ritter von Halt, Hitler's last Reichssportführer, and a Nazi party member from 1933, was elected president of the German Olympic Committee in 1950 and honorary president of the athletics federation in 1949. Otto Peltzer's was the most prominent voice among those calling for the denazification of German athletics, but, as before and after, Otto the Strange's homosexuality was used against him.
The postwar German government failed to acknowledge as victims of the Nazi regime, nor give compensation to, those who had been made to wear the pink triangle: they had been incarcerated for a criminal offence and no restitution was granted to 'criminal' concentration camp victims. Indeed, homosexuals' concentration-camp imprisonment became a part of their police record; it increased their vulnerability to police raids. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, German courts convicted homosexual men at a rate as high as they had under the Nazi regime. 'Still seen as criminals and perverts,' according to Dr Klaus Müller, historian and consultant for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, writing of the men with the pink triangle, 'they never had an opportunity to regain their dignity in postwar society. They survived, but they were denied their place in the community of survivors.'
In 1950, having moved to Krefeld in western Germany, where he was a coach at the athletics club, Peltzer was suspended from athletics activity for two years for allegedly poaching a young runner from another club. He claimed that his former adversaries among the prewar blazerati (among them Dr Carl Diem, founder and rector of the sports academy in Cologne, an enemy from the 1920s onwards) were on the German Athletics Association (DLV) committee, and wished to stop him coaching because his athletes did better than those at officially sanctioned clubs. The suspension, however, was upheld. Furthermore, Otto found his articles refused by sporting magazines, who did not wish to upset the DLV.
Peltzer was once more persona non grata, betrayed by people who might have been expected to be proud of his achievements. He got a job in a chemical firm in Frankfurt.
In 1956 homosexuality was still a crime and the new public prosecutor in Frankfurt was known to be particularly keen to prosecute offenders. Peltzer got wind that he was on a list of targets for arrest. He obtained a commission to report on the Melbourne Olympics for a German newspaper and left West Germany. Once again, the runner was on the run.
After the Games, Peltzer stayed on in the southern hemisphere, trying to get work as a coach with national athletics organisations, from China to Iran, Iraq to Japan. He found it impossible: the German Foreign Office, prompted by Carl Diem and his friends, sent a letter to 12 embassies, six consulates, and the general consulates in 19 Asian and African countries, three pages long, stating that Dr Peltzer had communist affiliations on top of his homosexual tendencies. He should receive no money, and they should react cautiously to any requests for work references.
Part 3: Poverty
In dire straits, Peltzer reached India, where he took various short-term jobs, until in May 1959 he was given permanent work on a tiny salary of 533 rupees a month. He worked alone out of a wooden shack inside the national athletics stadium in New Delhi - which had been built as the venue for the inaugural Asian Games in 1951, then neglected - training budding Indian athletes. Peltzer's star had fast faded, rather like that of Bill Tilden, the finest tennis player of the first half of the 20th century, who was also gay. But now began the third, and perhaps most remarkable, phase of his life.
Doc Peltzer, as the Indians called him, lived in the Marina Hotel and came to the stadium each day. 'He never missed training, not once,' said Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, who came fifth in the Olympic 110m hurdles final in Tokyo in 1964, and is now chairman of the Athletics Federation of India. 'Always he was there, spurring us on, to make of ourselves the best that we could.'
Through the Sixties, Peltzer put a generation of the best Indian athletes through a rigorous training programme, raising the level and the expectations of the sport. PK Mahanand, a discus thrower and shot putter, and national weightlifting champion, describes Peltzer as 'very strong-willed, a very dedicated man. He couldn't tolerate people who didn't train properly, who puffed themselves up. And he was so poor. His students used to bring a bottle of milk and some bread for him.'
Peltzer created a system for talented juniors to develop, overcoming indifference and opposition to set up Olympic Youth Delhi. True to form, he had battles with the authorities, who disliked Peltzer demanding the right to accept anyone with talent and character, including street children. Perhaps he recognised fellow untouchables.
Peltzer's motto was 'Play and Study'. The youngsters, he told parents, would study better if they did sport. He understood how to develop grassroots youth athletics. Soon he had 50 elite juniors, known as the 'Peltzer boys', although some were girls. Eventually the Delhi Sport Council started giving grants to junior medal winners, most of which they used to keep their families fed. But Peltzer was developing heart problems, brought on perhaps partly by smoking as well as by his maltreatment in Mauthausen. He complained he had to chase the Indian athletes to train hard - even the best wanted his exclusive attention, so that after training it took him two hours to recover from the intense effort.
On 11 September 1967 Otto Peltzer suffered a heart attack. He was persuaded to go back to Germany. He left on 14 December saying: 'I'll be back.' He was treated in Malente, in Holstein. On his 70th birthday he asked for no flowers or presents, but contributions to Indian charity.
Happy Sikand, an Indian junior champion, hoped to compete in the Olympic pentathlon in Munich, in 1972. Peltzer invited him to Holstein. There Sikand, running barefoot as he did at home, won the local championships. On 11 August 1970 Happy ran an evening competition 1500m on the Waldeck track in Eutin, with Doc Peltzer shouting out the lap times. Afterwards, while Happy got changed, Otto Peltzer headed towards the car park. He was found on a field path, dead, with the stopwatch still around his neck.
'In 1996, at the cross-country championships of Schleswig-Holstein in Eutin,' wrote Volker Kluge in his fine biography of Otto Peltzer, 'the course led exactly over the spot where his heart had burst. The idea would certainly have appealed to him.'
Back in Delhi, Doc Peltzer's athletes began the tradition of the Otto Peltzer Memorial Road Races in his honour. Created for juniors in various age groups, they took place every Sunday throughout the year, at distances ranging from 800m to 2,500m, and they continue to this day. The Olympic Youth Delhi was renamed 'Otto Peltzer Memorial Athletic Club'. Since 1970 there has been an annual national event, the Dr Otto Peltzer Cross Country Hill Race.
As recently as 2005 The Hindu newspaper ran a profile of Doc Peltzer, 'a true friend of India'. 'His English, punctuated with German, tended to be incomprehensible... he survived on toast and soup...
'One can still picture in the mind's eye his gaunt, lanky figure, in jogging suit and cap, walking with hasty strides from Barakhamba Road towards Connaught Circus, a sheaf of papers in his hand and muttering to himself. Where would one meet the likes of him again?'
In the introduction to Kluge's biography, Walter Jens, professor of rhetoric at the University of Tübingen, called on the Deutscher Leichtathletik Verband to honour Peltzer. 'The DLV should bring him home, this admirable heretic in its ranks, this dreamer who at that moment of deep humiliation refused to abandon the thought that, after the National Socialist tyranny had been overcome, athletics would rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Yes, the DLV should commemorate him.'
On 4 December 1999 the DLV established a new prize: the Otto Peltzer Medal. It was to be awarded, occasionally, 'to athletes who have distinguished themselves through critical solidarity with German athletics, outstanding performances, and courageously responsible actions'.