Though dressed up as an ancient Greek tradition, the torch relay ceremony was originally designed to further Hitler's nationalist propaganda.
Adolf Hitler hadn't wanted to host the Olympics. They were "an invention of Jews and Freemasons," he'd said, a celebration of the internationalism and multiculturalism he loathed. But he loved propaganda, the lavish shows of German power and prestige, and by 1934 Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels had convinced him of the Olympics' value in the greater Nazi mission. "German sport has only one task: to strengthen the character of the German people, imbuing it with the fighting spirit and steadfast camaraderie necessary in the struggle for its existence," Goebbels said in April 1933.
The 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics were to be, according to Arnd Krüger and William J. Murray's history of "The Nazi Games," a means of furthering Hitler's ethnic and nationalist messages, a tool of Nazi soft power. Few aspects of the bizarre and highly political '36 games exemplified Hitler's propaganda mission better than the Olympic torch relay and ceremony. Though propagandists portrayed the torch relay as ancient tradition stretching back to the original Greek competitions, the event was in fact a Nazi invention, one typical of the Reich's love of flashy ceremonies and historical allusions to the old empires. And it's a tradition we still continue today, with this morning's lighting of the flame in Olympia, the birthplace of the original games circa 776 B.C., from which it will be carried by a series of relay runners to the site of the games, in this case London.