Heinrich Ratjen, born Dora Ratjen, was a German athlete who competed for Germany in the women’s high jump at the 1936 Summer Olympics at Berlin, finishing fourth, but was later discovered to be male.
He set a world record for the high jump at the 1938 European Athletics Championships, but competed as a female at that event. His true identity was discovered while riding on a train headed for Cologne.
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.”
On 21 September 1938, 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 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
On her last trip as a woman, Dora Ratjen wore a gray two-piece, skin-colored tights, and light-colored ladies shoes. On September 21, 1938 she took an express train from Vienna to Cologne.
At the European Athletics Championships in the Austrian capital a few days earlier, she had won gold for the German Reich, clearing the high-jump bar at 1.70 meters, a new world record.