On September 5, 1972, eight Palestinian terrorists dressed in training suits and
carrying duffle bags with rifles and handguns broke into a dormitory at the
Olympic village in Munich, with the unwitting help of American athletes. Using
stolen keys, they found their way into the dormitory where Israeli athletes and
coaches were sleeping and took them hostage.
In a struggle that left one
of the terrorists beaten and unconscious, two of the Israelis were shot and
killed. Using the remaining nine hostages, the kidnappers tried to scare Israel
into releasing 200 Palestinian terrorists. Israel refused to negotiate, and a
standoff ensued for some 20 hours.
In a botched attempt by German
security authorities to free the Israelis, all the hostages were
The horror of that murderous act was amplified by the fact that
the terrorists ruthlessly exploited an atmosphere of mutual brotherhood and
peace among the nations that is at the heart of the Olympic Games.
world is now preparing for another Olympics. Israeli officials and two
members of the US Congress, acting on behalf of two widows of Munich murder
victims, made a simple and human request: that when the nations of the world
descend on London in July, the athletes and the cheering crowds pause for a
minute of silence.
Just for a minute.
But the International
Olympic Committee said no.
The decision was not surprising. The IOC has
callously rejected previous requests made by Ankie Spitzer, widow of fencing
coach Andrei Spitzer, and Ilana Romano, widow of weightlifter Yossef
Nevertheless, there was hope that this time it would be
different. This year marks a particularly opportune time to right past wrongs:
It is the 40th anniversary of the massacre.
And this time, Deputy Foreign
Minister Danny Ayalon issued an official request to the IOC’s president Jacques
Rogge. Ayalon’s missive was joined by the letters of two members of the US
Congress, Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey, Democrats from New York. But it was
not to be.
In his response to Ayalon sent last week, Rogge rejected the
request. But he did say he planned to attend a reception at London’s Guildhall
hosted by the Olympic Committee of Israel in memory of the victims.
strongly sympathize with the victims’ families and understand their lasting
pain,” Rogge said in his letter, adding: “What happened in Munich in 1972
strengthened the determination of the Olympic Movement to contribute more than
ever to building a peaceful and better world by educating young people through
sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic
“Rest assured that, within the Olympic family, the memory of the
victims of the terrible massacre in Munich in 1972 will never fade
While it may or may not be true that the memory of the Munich 11
will remain vivid “within the Olympic family,” observing a minute of silence at
the upcoming Olympic Games and in the ones to follow would go a long way toward
making sure that they will continue to be remembered outside “the Olympic
family” as well.
In any event, a moment of silence does not seem to be
too much to ask, especially considering the brutality of the murders and the
fact that the victims were killed not on the streets of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv
but rather inside the Olympic village as participants in the Games. The Munich
massacre should be commemorated not primarily as an Israeli tragedy, but as a
tragedy “within the family of nations,” as Ayalon noted.
Rogge missed an
opportunity and clinched a gold for insensitivity. But his failure should not in
any way diminish the the legacy of the Munich 11.