The terrorist attack on the Munich Olympics in 1972 killed 11 Israeli athletes


Fifty years ago, on Monday, September 5, 1972, Palestinian extremists infiltrated the athletes’ dormitories at the Munich Summer Olympics, an attack that resulted in the murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches and one German policeman and sparked an international crisis.

It also led to five decades of complaints from athletes‘ families that German authorities had botched the response to the attack and withheld key details from them.

Today, after years of legal wrangling, Germany agreed to donate 28 million euros to the families of slain Israeli athletes, the Israeli and German governments announced on Wednesday.

“We are happy and relieved that an agreement on historical clarification, recognition and compensation was reached shortly before the 50th anniversary,” German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a joint statement with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

The deal came just days before a 50th anniversary commemoration that the families had planned to boycott unless the German government offered what they considered fair compensation.

Just weeks ago the families turned down an offer from Germany that would have amounted to around 200,000 euros for each family, according to Ankie Spitzer, whose husband, Olympic fencing coach Andre, was murdered when taking hostages.

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Calling the initial offer “an insult,” Spitzer told German officials they could keep the money “because it’s not a worthy offer,” Spitzer said in a phone interview from his home. outside of Tel Aviv. She noted that compensation for international acts of terrorism generally ranges between $3.5 million and $22 million per victim, according to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The families of passengers on Pan Am Flight 103 that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 each received $10 million, for example.

The new agreement provides 1.2 million euros for each of the 23 eligible family members, Spitzer said.

Considered the “Happy Olympics”, the 1972 Munich Games were the first to be broadcast internationally on television. Seeking to shed its Nazi past, West Germany aimed to project a harmonious image in the world, to erase the memories of the 1936 Games in Berlin which served as a platform for Hitler’s propaganda.

Swimmer Mark Spitz won a record seven gold medals, a feat that remained unmatched until Michael Phelps won eight at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Olga Korbut of the USSR, dubbed “the sparrow of Minsk”, became an international celebrity after she stunned performance on the balance beam, floor exercises and uneven bars.

But in the early morning hours of September 5, the image of unity was shattered when Palestinian militants armed with submachine guns stormed the apartment where 11 Israeli athletes were staying. The activists were members of the group Black September, which sought to draw attention to the Palestinian cause.

Black September executives believed the Olympics, with an international TV audience, would put their politics on the map.

The eight guerrillas immediately killed two athletes, and nine others were taken hostage, handcuffed and beaten. The Palestinians have demanded that Israel, West Germany and other nations release over 200 political prisoners. If the demands were not met within a certain time, the terrorists would kill one hostage per hour until all the prisoners were freed.

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“The Serenity Olympics became the one thing Germans didn’t want them to be: The Terror Olympics,” ABC-TV announcer Jim McKay told his audience, according to the documentary. from 1999 “One day in September”.

The image of a hooded Palestinian holding a machine gun on the balcony of the Olympic apartment has become a global symbol of lawlessness. West Germany contacted Israeli officials, experienced in negotiating with terrorists, but ultimately refused their offers of help.

German officials had been warned of potential action by Palestinian militants. But more concerned with maintaining a peaceful appearance, officials decided not to send armed police to the scene, but instead to use unarmed security guards.

For the next 20 hours, Germany tried to rescue the hostages but was constantly thwarted, including when cameras captured covert police maneuvers, which the Palestinians saw on TV at the Israeli team’s apartment. .

Meanwhile, the United States chased American Jew Mark Spitz from the Olympic Village for fear he would be targeted.

With talks stalled, that night the Palestinians requested a plane to fly the remaining nine hostages to an Arab nation to continue negotiations. German officials hatched a plan: They would send five snipers to Fürstenfeldbruck, a German air force base outside Munich, and put police on the plane to catch up with the terrorists. Under West German law, the military could not get involved in what was called a civil matter, so Bavarian police with no experience in counter-terrorism had to lead the operation.

Munich police officer Guido Schlosser was 21 and had just completed his training when he was called to join 13 other officers to pre-board the Lufthansa plane and overtake Black September leaders, a- he said in an email interview.

The police officer in charge “saw no chance of successfully subduing the terrorists inside the aircraft compound and declared it a suicide mission,” said Schlosser, 71, retired after 42 years as an officer and detective.

The officer proposed a vote to abort the mission, and the young, inexperienced lawmen agreed to abandon the plane.

When two helicopters carrying Palestinian terrorists and Israeli team members landed in Fürstenfeldbruck, chaos erupted. Two Palestinians boarded the Lufthansa plane, saw that there was no crew or fuel, and realized it was a set-up. When the German snipers opened fire, the Palestinians responded by firing back and throwing grenades at the helicopters, killing all the Israelis and a German policeman. Five Palestinians were killed in the shooting; three survived and were arrested.

The families of the 11 murdered Israelis denounced the way the German authorities handled the episode. When searching for answers, family members said they encountered obstruction and sometimes hostility.

“After this first happened in 1972, an official said to me, ‘You Jews have spread terror,’ and refused to release any documents,” Spitzer said.

Finally, in 1992, documents and photos were sent anonymously to Spitzer’s attorneys, “and then we saw the horror,” she said. Photos showed the hostages brutally beaten, chained and covered in blood and excrement.

Prior to last week’s deal, families of Israeli victims had received small humanitarian payments from the German Red Cross and later from the German government, which has never formally accepted responsibility until now, Spitzer said. .

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Guido-ridden with guilt, Guido Schlosser made a bold move last year: he reached out to Spitzer and his daughter, Anouk, to finally apologize for his role in the failed rescue attempt.

“I saw the dead Israeli athletes shot and tied up in their blood sitting in the helicopter,” he said. “I saw the Palestinians being torn to pieces by their own hand grenades – all terrible images that I couldn’t get out of my head.”

“When he said he was sorry he couldn’t help save my husband and Anouk’s father, we all cried,” Spitzer said.

“Afterwards, I felt relieved like a heavy burden had been lifted off my shoulders,” Schlosser said. “I was able to make my inner peace.”

Naomi C. Amerson