45 Years After Munich Massacre, Germany Finally Memorializes the Slain Israeli Olympians

The Israeli Olympic Team pictured during their time held as hostages.
45 years ago today, what was supposed to be a symbol of the world coming together in sportsmanship at the Olympic Games, erupted into tragedy that shocked the world. Islamic terrorists broke into the Israeli team’s quarters, instantly killing two Israelis and keeping another nine hostage as they brutalized them and sexually mutilated them. A day later the hostage scene came to a crashing end in a bloodbath where 11 Israelis were massacred, along with a German police officer.

The Israeli victims

Hoping the world would see them as “peace lovers”, the German government did not employ strict security at the ’72 Olympics as they wanted to showcase their newly demilitarized army. This allowed an Islamic terrorist group calling itself “Black September” to access the apartments of the Israeli athletes undetected.

Only three of the terrorists survived. Two were later killed, allegedly by Israeli intelligence. Photos: The 1972 Munich massacre

The Munich Olympics were particularly poignant for the Israeli Olympic team, many of whom were Holocaust survivors who had suffered directly at the hands of the Nazis The team marked their arrival with a visit to the Dachau concentration camp.

The Israeli team visits a concentration camp before the Olympic games begin. A few days later, many in this picture would be killed by Islamic terrorists.

After these murders, the Israeli government directed the Mossad to track down and kill the Black September assassins. The 2005 movie ‘Munich’ directed by Steve Spielberg, was based on these events.

Now after 45 years, a memorial to the Munich massacre is set to open on Sept. 6.

“There are no happier people, no more satisfied people, than us,”  Ankie Spitzer told the New York Times, her husband, Andre, a fencing coach, was among those killed at the Munich Games. “It took 45 years, but like I tell my kids, if you have a dream, pursue it, if you feel that it is just.”

The remaining Israelis immediately returns home to Israeli after the attacks.

Family members of the victims of the slain Israelis spent decades asking the International Olympic Committee for a formal acknowledgment of the massacre at the Games. Finally last year, at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, one finally took place, with a small ceremony and the installation of a monument in the Rio Olympic Village.

Ilano Romano, left, and Ankie Spitzer, who both lost their husbands in the 1972 attack, in London in 2012. Romano, Spitzer and other victims’ families led a 45-year campaign for a comprehensive memorial to their loved ones in Munich. Credit Lefteris Pitarakis

But Spitzer and the other families were not satisfied with this and urged the German government for years to erect a comprehensive memorial and museum at the Olympic Park.

The coffins of the dead Israeli Olympians arrive at Ben Gurion airport.

For decades the memorial request was largely ignored, until more-sympathetic ears arrived in the leadership of the Olympic committee and the local government in recent years.

Munich movie shows a dramatization of the botched rescue attempt by the German army as the Palestinian terrorists kill the remaining Israeli Olympians. 

“It is late,” said Ludwig Spaenle, the Bavarian minister of culture, whose office led the project. “But it is not too late.”

The new memorial rests unassumingly along a quiet walking path in Munich’s Olympic Park. Visitors to the site descend a short set of steps to enter the main space, which has the effect of stepping into a sanctuary. The exhibition area, which measures about 1,700 square feet, seems almost like a cave, resting under a thick mound of grass and blending into a backdrop of linden trees.

Munich memorial architectural rendering.

Along the back wall, a large LED screen, about 36 feet long, will play a 27-minute loop of news footage broadcast during the crisis. In the center of the memorial, a triangular column will display biographical profiles of each victim in German and English, with photographs.

“Our design idea was to cut into the hill, to take something away from the landscape,” said Stephan Graebner, an architect at Brückner & Brückner, the German firm selected in 2014 to design the memorial. “When you think about the massacre, it took something away, cutting into the lives of the victims, the families, the Olympic Games. We wanted to fill this void with memory.”

Among the most poignant elements of the exhibition are the personal effects, one for each victim, that were photographed for the memorial.

There is, for example, a postcard that the athlete Ze’ev Friedman sent to his parents from Munich before the attack. It arrived in their mailbox days after his death. There is a copy of a telegram that Golda Meir, the former Israeli prime minister, sent to the United States to the parents of David Berger, an Israeli weight lifter who grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio. “I know that no mortal word can assuage your grief,” Meir wrote to the Bergers, adding that “the pain is not only yours but that of a whole nation.”

Munich Massacre terrorist on the balcony of the Israeli team’s apartment in Munich.

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin will dwill be in attendance at the inauguration of the memorial. Rivlin issued the following statement before he left to Germany.

“Forty-five years after the massacre, international terrorism continues to threaten and strike innocent civilians. There are still those who see the massacre of the sportsmen as an heroic act,” said Rivlin.

A Munich synagogue held the coffins of the victims of the attacks at the 1972 Olympics. Terrorists representing a branch of the Palestine Liberation Organization breached apartments housing Israeli athletes. Credit Associated Press

“The center which we will inaugurate must carry a message for the whole world: There can be no apologizing for terror. Terror must be condemned unequivocally, everywhere. In Barcelona, in London, in Paris, in Berlin, in Jerusalem, everywhere. We, the international community, must stand untied in the struggle against terror, determined to fight and defeat it.”

May the  memories of the slain Israelis be a blessing and the horrors forever be remembered.



Youtube & The New York Times contributed to this story.