Lotteries have always been popular in Europe. Seemingly there was no
event or cause that was not supported by some kind of lottery.
Germany, for example, had numerous lotteries that supported the
NSDAP (the Nazi Party), and the WHW (Winterhilfswerk), the German
welfare safety net program that permeated all aspects of German
society from 1933 to the closing weeks of World War II.
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One of the more interesting lotteries was held in Czechoslovakia in
June 1935 to benefit the nation’s athletes who would be participating
in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
The ticket is attractively printed in predominantly red, blue, and
gold with a large vignette of two of the nation’s Olympians. With a
face value of 5 korun, this attractive large format ticket even had an
irregular indented left margin that would be matched up with its stub
to assure its legitimacy if the ticket proved to be a winner. This
particular lottery offered a prize pool of 750,000 korun that was
divided among 40,799 winning numbers, with payoffs ranging from 10
korun (40,000 winners) to 120,000 korun (the grand prize winner).
In 1936, the world’s attention was focused on Hitler and the
American black athlete Jesse Owens who put a big dent in the “Arian
Superiority” concept by winning four gold medals in the Olympic Games.
The Czech team
But what of the athletes who were the recipients of their nation’s
support via this lottery? Czechoslovakia fielded a team of 190
competitors, including 15 women, who competed in 102 events in 17
sports. The team, somewhat surprisingly, won three gold and five
silver medals, with strong showings in canoeing (two gold and one
silver), gymnastics (one gold — men’s rings; and one silver — women’s
all around team), weightlifting (one silver), and wrestling (two silver).
This, of course, was the last Olympics until after World War II. The
nation of Czechoslovakia would be absorbed by Germany and
reconstituted as the puppet states of Bohemia-Moravia and Slovakia
during the war. Bohemia-Moravia would go on to have a national lottery
crafted to be virtually identical to the German Reichslotterie.
Czechoslovakia traded occupiers after the war, becoming a Soviet
satellite until 1989, when a democratic government replaced the
collapsed Communist regime. In 1993 the nation peacefully split to
become the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
But for one brief period in the waning years of peace before Europe
descended into darkness in 1939, a lottery helped fund a team that
made its country proud.