This week in history: Munich massacre in 1972
LAST UPDATED: 09/13/2010 16:35
The Black September terrorist group murders two Israeli athletes and takes nine hostages at the Olympics; during a failed rescue operation, all remaining athletes killed.
Khalid Jawad, Black September terrorist Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESS
On September 5, 1972
a terrorist group known as “Black September” infiltrated the Olympic
village in Munich, Germany and took hostage eleven Israeli athletes, in
what came to be known as the “Munich massacre.”
It was the
second week of the Olympic Games, and the mood was joyful. On the
evening of September 4, the Israeli athletes had enjoyed a night out,
watching a performance of Fiddler On The Roof and dining with the star
of the play, Israeli actor Shmuel Rodensky, before returning to the
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At 4:30 a.m. local time on September 5, as the
athletes slept, eight tracksuit-clad members of Black September carrying
duffel bags loaded with AKM assault rifles and grenades scaled a
two-meter chain-link fence with the assistance of unsuspecting athletes
who were also sneaking into the Olympic Village. Once inside, they used
stolen keys to enter two apartments being used by the Israeli team.
25 minutes later, two of the sportsmen were dead, murdered in cold
blood and nine others were taken hostage. The terrorists, subsequently
reported to be part of the Palestinian fedayeen (men ready to sacrifice
themselves for a sacred cause), demanded the release and safe passage to
Egypt of 236 prisoners jailed in Israel.
For 24 hours, there was
a tense stand-off between the German police and the eight
highly-trained hostage takers. An attempt to storm the building was
aborted when the police realized the terrorists were watching their
preparations live on television.
Two more attempts failed after
the terrorists demanded a plane to fly out of Germany. They were
ultimately provided with two helicopters to fly them to the Munich
airport. Upon landing, five German snipers opened fire on Black
September. In minutes, the shootout left all nine remaining hostages
dead along with five terrorists. The three remaining terrorists were
On October 29 of that year, however, a Frankfurt-bound jet was
hijacked. The terrorists demanded the release of the captured Black
September members, and the German government swiftly complied.
What followed was perhaps the best remembered operation in Israeli
history. Under orders from then-prime minister Golda Meir, the Mossad
was tasked with hunting down not only the released Munich terrorists but
all those involved in planning the massacre. The mission, dubbed “Wrath
of God,” was designed to instill fear in every terrorist’s heart. In
the words of Defense Minister Ehud Barak as quoted in Gordon Thomas’s Gideon Spies, “The intention was to strike terror, to break the will of those who remained alive until there were none of them left.”
Over the period of two years, Mossad carried out a series of brilliantly
planned, clinically executed assassinations. The first terrorist was
shot eleven times in Rome, one bullet for each Israeli he helped murder.
Another died when he answered a call in Paris; the bomb in the phone
blew off his head. The next to die was expertly pushed under a London
bus at rush hour.
Hours before they died, each man’s family would receive flowers and a
condolence card bearing the same words “A reminder we do not forget or
Thirty three years later, Spielberg’s movie Munich
came out. The movie was harshly criticized by the Israeli intelligence
community for being highly inaccurate, with the current Mossad head Meir
Dagan calling it “entertainment maybe, accurate absolutely not.”
While mystery and speculation continues to surround certain details, the
Munich massacre ultimately traumatized the country, and remains
controversial to this day.