His Own Man is the story of an unjustly forgotten athlete, who ascended the heights, fell from grace under the Nazis, then achieved redemption coaching street children in India.
Born with the twentieth century, Otto Peltzer overcame a lonely childhood, beset by illness, to gain a doctorate in sociology and multiple world records on the running track. In 1920s Germany he became an international celebrity, rival to Paavo Nurmi, the 'Flying Finn'. He competed in two Olympics, but his outspokenness made him persona non grata to the Nazis. His homosexuality was the pretext for a trial which resulted in his being sent for 're-education' in Mauthausen concentration camp.
After the war, having survived four years of brutal treatment and lost his home and family to the Red Army, Peltzer was blocked from competing or coaching by his 'denazified' pre-war enemies. He found salvation in India, where, as national coach, he followed up a surprise victory over an all-conquering German team by training street urchins to Olympic level. Chronically ill as a result of his camp experiences, he died of heart failure in 1970.
His Own Man is not simply a sporting biography, but the story of an era: 20th-century Germany:
- A lonely, sickly boy, born with the century, Peltzer defies his parents to seek fulfilment in sport.
- His eccentric lifestyle and training regime, including fashionable naturism and nude ‘snow-bathing’, earn him the epithet, ‘Otto the Strange’. He is also gay.
- Breaking five world records and defeating three Olympic champions, Peltzer is hailed as Germany’s greatest athlete.
- But his dreams of Olympic glory, first at the 1924 Chariots of Fire Paris Olympics, then at Amsterdam 1928 and Los Angeles 1932, fall victim to political interference, accidental injury and his own volatile temperament.
- A Peter Pan figure, combining sporting success with high intellectual achievement, Peltzer has a passion for working with young people.
- His charm and charisma make him hugely popular among his young charges at the ‘progressive’ Wickersdorf Free School Community, as well as in the wider world of sports-mad, sexually tolerant Weimar Germany.
- But his outspokenness and independence of spirit also make him lifelong enemies. When Hitler seizes power, and Peltzer publicly criticises the regime’s racial and militaristic agenda, he becomes a marked man.
- His homosexuality and closeness to his ‘pupils’ provide his enemies with the opportunity to ‘neutralise’ him under harsh, new, anti-gay legislation.
- Thanks to his physical and mental resilience, he survives four years' incarceration in Mauthausen, most brutal of Nazi concentration camps (KZ).
- Having lost his home and family to the Red Army, shunned in post-war West Germany for his homosexuality and links with the communist East, Peltzer achieves redemption and rehabilitation coaching street-children in India.
- His health compromised by his camp experience, Otto Peltzer dies before his time, leaving a legacy of affection and respect, as well as a love-child by his closest female admirer.
- Copiously illustrated, the book includes many fine action pictures, as well as rarely seen shots of senior Nazis and graphic images of Mauthausen KZ.
About the Authors
Co-written by Tim Johnston and Donald Macgregor, former GB Olympians.
A Cambridge-educated solicitor, Tim has worked for many years as draftsman/translator/editor with a number of international organisations. A former holder of UK national and world records on the track, he finished eighth in the marathon at the 1968 high-altitude Mexico Olympics. He has written two novels.
Donald taught and lectured in French and German at Madras College, St Andrews, and is currently a Fife county councillor. He acts as translator for the Journal of Olympic History and published his autobiography Running My Life in 2010. He finished seventh in the marathon at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
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