Jean-Marie Valheur

lover of history

Few people know that the German doing the Nazi salute on the podium behind black American athlete Jesse Owens, Lutz Long, would become close friends with Owens. Long lived in Nazi Germany, where everyone was told each day of the supposed superiority of the Aryan race. But he, himself, didn’t feel that way at all.

Since the 1936 Olympics, until the days of WWII, Long and Owens exchanged letters. Even when Long was sent off to war, fighting in North Africa and Sicily, the two men still wrote to each other, checking in on one another, as they wrote of their wives, their families, hopes, fears and loves.

In North Africa in 1943, in the desert, Lutz Long wrote his final letter to Jesse Owens. A man he called his brother. His last ever known words, and they are haunting:

I am here, Jesse, where it seems there is only the dry sand and the wet blood. I do not fear so much for myself, my friend Jesse, I fear for my woman who is home, and my young son Karl, who has never really known his father.

⁣My heart tells me, if I be honest with you, that this is the last letter I shall ever write. If it is so, I ask you something. It is a something so very important to me. It is you go to Germany when this war done, someday find my Karl, and tell him about his father. Tell him, Jesse, what times were like when we not separated by war. I am saying—tell him how things can be between men on this earth.⁣⁣

If you do this something for me, this thing that I need the most to know will be done, I do something for you, now. I tell you something I know you want to hear. And it is true.⁣ That hour in Berlin when I first spoke to you, when you had your knee upon the ground, I knew that you were in prayer.⁣⁣ Then I not know how I know. Now I do. I know it is never by chance that we come together. I come to you that hour in 1936 for purpose more than der Berliner Olympiad.

And you, I believe, will read this letter, while it should not be possible to reach you ever, for purpose more even than our friendship.⁣ I believe this shall come about because I think now that God will make it come about. This is what I have to tell you, Jesse.

I think I might believe in God.⁣  And I pray to him that, even while it should not be possible for this to reach you ever, these words I write will still be read by you.

Your brother,


Jesse Owens received the letter, but by this time his friend and brother Lutz had been transferred to Sicily. He died defending it during the Allied invasion. More than thirty years after the war, an elderly Jesse Owens traveled to Germany and found Karl Long, the son of his best friend.

That’s Karl and Jesse Owens in the picture above. Jesse Owens kept his promise to his best friend. To see his son. To tell him about the father he never knew. To tell him of their friendship. To tell him father was a good man. A brave man and honorable man. Jesse Owens, himself, died shortly after meeting Karl.