This week in history: Munich massacre in 1972

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.

black september311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
black september311
(photo credit: 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 Olympic village.
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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.
Some 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 captured.
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 forgive.”
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.