Dora Ratjen (Dora Ratjen)

Dora Ratjen

A file containing the findings of an investigation conducted in 1938 and 1939 into Ratjen’s life was made public by Der Spiegel in 2009. Dora Ratjen was born in Erichshof, near Bremen, into a family described as “simple folk”. The father, Heinrich Ratjen, stated in 1938: “When the child was born the midwife called over to me, ‘Heini, it’s a boy!’ But five minutes later she said to me, ‘It is a girl, after all.'” Nine months later, when the child, who had been christened Dora, was ill, a doctor examined the child’s genitalia and, according to Heinrich, said “Let it be. You can’t do anything about it anyway.” Dora stated, also in 1938: “My parents brought me up as a girl [and] I therefore wore girl’s clothes all my childhood. But from the age of 10 or 11 I started to realize I wasn’t female, but male. However I never asked my parents why I had to wear women’s clothes even though I was male.” In his teens, Dora began competing successfully as a girl at sports, apparently being “too embarrassed to talk about what was happening to him”. In 1936, he took part in the Olympics, his teammate Gretel Bergmann stating: “I never had any suspicions, not even once… In the communal shower we wondered why she never showed herself naked. It was grotesque that someone could still be that shy at the age of 17. We just thought, ‘She’s strange. She’s odd’… But no-one knew or noticed anything about her different sexuality.” In 1938, Ratjen competed at the European Athletics Championships, and won the gold medal with a world record jump of 1.67 m (5 ft 5.75 in).

In 1939 he broke the world record in the high jump. But Dorothy Tyler-Odam was suspicious of Ratjen and, according to Odam, “They wrote to me telling me I didn’t hold the record, so I wrote to them saying, ‘She’s not a woman, she’s a man’. They did some research and found ‘her’ serving as a waiter called Hermann Ratjen. So I got my world record back.” Odam’s world record was formally recognized by the sport’s world governing body, the IAAF, in 1957. On 21 September 1938, Dora Ratjen took an express train from Vienna to Cologne. The conductor of the train reported to the police at the station in Magdeburg that there was “a man dressed as a woman” in the train. Ratjen was ordered out of the train and questioned by the police. He showed his genuine documents which said he was a woman, but after some hesitation, admitted to being a man and told his story. A physician was summoned and after an examination pronounced Ratjen to be male. However, the physician described Ratjen’s intersex genitalia as having a “coarse scarred stripe from the tip of the penis to the rear”, and stated his opinion that with this organ sexual intercourse would be impossible. The athlete was arrested, and sent to Hohenlychen sports sanatorium for further tests, with the same results. Criminal proceedings continued until 10 March 1939, when the public prosecutor stated: “Fraud cannot be deemed to have taken place because there was no intention to reap financial reward.” Dora promised the authorities he would “cease engaging in sport with immediate effect”. The athlete’s father, Heinrich Ratjen, initially insisted that Dora Ratjen should continue to be treated as female, but on 29 March 1939 wrote to the police chief of Bremen: “Following the change of the registry office entry regarding the child’s sex, I would request you change the child’s first name to Heinrich.” The gold medal won by Ratjen was returned and his name expunged from the records.

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Born

  • November, 20, 1918
  • Bremen, Germany

Died

  • April, 22, 2008
  • Bremen, Germany

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