President Rivlin inaugurates Munich memorial for slain Israeli Olympians

45 years after the gruesome attacks, Israel's president attends the opening of the memorial dedicated to the lives of those murdered.

Germany's President Frank-Walter Steinmeier greets Israel's President Reuven Rivlin as they attend the opening of "The Munich 1972 Massacre Memorial" dedicated to the 1972 Olympic attack in Munich, Germany September 6, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Germany's President Frank-Walter Steinmeier greets Israel's President Reuven Rivlin as they attend the opening of "The Munich 1972 Massacre Memorial" dedicated to the 1972 Olympic attack in Munich, Germany September 6, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
President Reuven Rivlin, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Bavarian President Horst Seehofer and other dignitaries on Wednesday inaugurated a memorial to the 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team whom Palestinian terrorist group Black September murdered in 1972.
During the ceremony at Munich’s Olympic Park, the names of the 11 – together with that of a German policeman who was also killed – were read out.
The slain team members were: wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg, 32; weightlifters Yossef Romano, 32, Ze’ev Friedman, 28, and David Berger, 28; weightlifting judge Yakov Springer, 51; wrestlers Eliezer Halfin, 24, and Mark Slavin, 18; wrestling referee Yossef Gutfreund, 40; shooting coach Kehat Shorr, 53; fencing coach Andre Spitzer, 27; and track coach Amitzur Shapira, 40.
Addressing the memory of athletes and coaches who had been bestially dismembered by members of the terrorist Black September group, Rivlin said: “We are marching here, and our dead are marching with us – their children and their grandchildren and members of their families, and their colleagues who were in the same delegation – all those who did not forget you, not for a single minute. We are here with Olympic medalists, Israeli athletes who saw in you a symbol of excellence, and realized your dreams to return and to compete in the Olympic Games, and to bring home medals in your names as well as their own, because your dreams were like a last will and testament.”
Rivlin stressed the need for education against incitement from the earliest possible age. Children must be informed of the evils of hatred and incitement, he said, and should be imbued with the concept of “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Israel and Germany have a moral obligation to the uncompromising covenant to fight terrorism and to work together toward its eradication, said Rivlin.
He also referred to the long-standing thorn in Israel’s side – the ongoing refusal by the International Olympic Committee to begin the Olympic Games with a moment’s silence in memory of the murdered Israeli athletes. He voiced the hope that this injustice would be rectified.
Listing a series of Israeli Olympic medalists, Rivlin said that the human spirit, the sporting spirit, the spirit of camaraderie and determination continues to beat in the pulse of Jewish Israelis, whether competing on land or sea.
Steinmeier recalled that the Munich Olympics were intended as a joyful event, and in the beginning they were. “Everything was supposed to be different from the previous Olympics in Germany,” said Steinmeier, alluding to the 1936 Olympics that the Nazis used as a vehicle for propaganda. Munich 1972 was supposed to be a demonstration of democracy, and to prove that it was not the Germany of 1936, he said. Olympic officials from around the world were protected by security, but Germany was unable to protect the Israelis, Steinmeier lamented.
It took 45 years for Germany to erect a memorial.
The security failure “was not a good moment for Germany.
It was not a good moment for Munich,” said Steinmeier, describing it as “the most tragic” of flaws. “The Olympic village was transformed into a platform of Palestinian terror, attracting world attention to the dissemination of fear and threat, a platform of unending hatred for Israel and Israelis.
Such a thing should never have been allowed to happen.”
Moving to the present, Steinmeier said there are still people who don’t hesitate to demonstrate their hatred of Israel.
“There are still people who want to disrupt our lives with acts of terror, and the resources at their disposal are the cruelest ever.”
Germany too has suffered from terrorism in recent years he said. “We have to struggle with it and to strengthen our determination. The perils of terror are great, but our determination is greater. We are resolved to fight for our lives.
We are united under the rule of law to live without violence and unending hatred.”
Seehofer said, “The Munich massacre left deep scars on all of us,” adding that it was incumbent on Germans to assume as much responsibility for the past as they do for the future and to unite in combating hatred, antisemitism and terrorism. “We will not allow Jews and Israelis in our country to become targets for violence,” he pledged. “We will not give even a small space to right-wing extremists, antisemites or radical Islamists.... Today we see the ugly face of terror in Europe – terror that seeks to induce panic, hatred and fear and threatens our security and values.”
Yet for all that, he said, he was certain that basic values of tolerance and solidarity were stronger than terrorism.
Bavarian State Minister for Culture Ludwig Spaenle, who oversaw the construction of the monument, told relatives and comrades of the murdered Israelis: “We could not prevent their deaths, but we wanted to give you this place of remembrance,” which he explained was a milestone in history that tells the stories of each of the victims and their families, offering those who remain alive whatever comfort is possible under the circumstances.
Ilana Romano and Ankie Spitzer, widows of two of the slain Israelis, have campaigned for years to have all 11 suitably memorialized. Each woman has been pained that in some quarters, the terrorists had been hailed as freedom fighters.
The Israeli and German dignitaries met personally with the families of the athletes following the inauguration ceremony.
Earlier in the day at a meeting with Seehofer, the Bavarian president told Rivlin that a series of administrations in Bavaria had outlawed and condemned all forms of racism and particularly antisemitism.
Seehofer, who heads the Christian Social Union, is at odds with German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the manner in which she has handled the refugee crisis. Seehofer has repeatedly threatened to take legal action against her policy.
Rivlin, who will meet with Merkel in Berlin before returning to Israel, underscored the importance of the memorial to Israel, adding that it was also an expression of Bavaria’s opposition to terrorism.
Seehofer said the inauguration ceremony was as emotional an experience for Bavaria as it was for Israel, and that Bavaria was greatly honored by Rivlin’s participation. There are strong, friendly ties between Bavaria and Israel, he said, and Rivlin’s presence at the inauguration of the monument served to strengthen the relationship.
After the ceremony, Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, met with the families of the athletes, along with Steinmeier and Seehofer.
President Rivlin with family members (Courtesy)President Rivlin with family members (Courtesy)
Ilana Romano said, “The disaster changed the lives of 11 families. Among them grew 14 orphans, who have grown into role models, and we are so proud of them. We have Holocaust survivors whose lives were shattered, and a child whose dream to be an athlete was destroyed.”
President Rivlin with family members (Courtesy)President Rivlin with family members (Courtesy)
Ankie Spitzer concluded, “This a dream which has been realized. We still hope the International Olympic Committee will say, ‘Come let’s remember what happened in Munich.’ We will persevere and say, ‘If you believe in something and know the justness of your path, don’t ever give up. We are so pleased to see this come to be.’”