The Munich Olympics were supposed to be the Happy Games, dubbed by the organizers “Die Heiteren Spiele” (happy/cheerful/carefree games), but instead ended up being another tragic chapter of Jewish history on German soil. The Munich massacre is a painful reminder of the dangers we face as Jews and Israelis and how, in the end, we will never be able to rely on anyone for our safety besides ourselves.Despite trying to rehabilitate its image, Germany failed to prevent the murder of Jews while 900 million people watched on broadcast live television.After recovering from the aftermath of Nazi rule and Germany’s collective guilt over World War II, the country was ready to redefine what its nation stood for. The Olympics were especially crucial since Hitler used the previous 1936 Berlin Olympics to spread his propaganda and push the notion of an Aryan race.
The 1972 Olympics in Munich were an opportunity to showcase the “new and improved” face of Germany. Their goal was to showcase the exact opposite of what the Berlin Games represented, emphasizing openness and tolerance with about 121 countries represented and over 7,000 of the world’s top athletes. For this reason, the organizers were eager to portray this Olympics as “Carefree Games.”
For the Israeli team, marching with the Israeli flag on German soil, just 27 years after the Holocaust, less than 10 kilometers from the Dachau concentration camp, was a powerful statement. Many of the athletes on the Israeli team had lost family members in the Holocaust. Marching at the Munich Olympics was meant to showcase Jewish resilience and a new reality in the same country responsible for the murder of 6 million Jews.Germany’s “Carefree Games” notion meant non-militaristic and peace-loving games, which meant a deliberate and irresponsible lack of security. The Munich organizers allocated less than $2 million for security measures, and their security personnel were expected to be unarmed, discreet, and avoid confrontation. The Games had been underway for 10 days without significant incidents, causing security officials to become complacent.The entire time, however, the gunmen of the terrorist group known as Black September had scouted the Olympic village and prepped for the terror plot. Leading up to the games, the head of the Israeli delegation, Shmuel Lalkin, expressed concern about the lack of security but was reassured that the West German police would provide the Israeli team with extra protection.During the early hours of September 5, as the Israeli athletes slept, eight Black September members climbed an unguarded fence surrounding the Olympic Village. They made their way towards Connollystrasse 31, the lodging place of most Israeli athletes.The rest of the details are deeply disturbing from start to finish, and reinforce that when it comes to Jews, cruelty and inhumanity know no boundaries. The first Israeli to notice what happened was Yosef Gutfreund, a wrestling referee. He shouted a warning and alerted a weightlifting coach named Tuvia Sokolovsky, who smashed a window and escaped. Another wrestling coach, Moshe Weinberg, attempted to fight the terrorists but was shot and taken hostage.The monstrous attackers forced Moshe at gunpoint to lead them to the rooms of the remaining Israeli coaches and athletes. Some reports claim that Moshe strategically led them to the wrestlers and weightlifters, hoping they had the best chance at fighting off the terrorists. But the gunmen, having easily scouted the location, knew exactly which apartment to go to. Shortly, one by one, nine Israelis were captured by the terrorists.
THE BLACK September terror group was an affiliate of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), whose goal was to destroy Israel through armed struggle. The mastermind of the Munich Massacre, Abu Daoud, had openly stated that Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman, approved the terror plot. The group demanded the release of over 236 Palestinian prisoners, most of which were held in Israeli prisons. If the prisoners were not released, they would kill the Israeli hostages.What disturbs me about the following sequence of events is that while all this was happening, and the German authorities were at a loss for what to do, the Olympics continued as usual. While knowing about the hostage situation, Avery Brundage, the president of the Olympic Committee, declared that the games must go on.The idea that Olympic athletes were celebrating and competing in the games while two Israelis lay dead and terrorists held nine others captive just yards away is an unimaginable reality. At the Olympic press center, monitors simultaneously streamed the athletic competitions and the building where the terrorists held the Israelis hostage. Journalist Dave Marash of the CBS network in the US stated, “Those simultaneous images flickering on those monitors struck me as the most incongruous, most inappropriate, most flat surreal visual memory of my life.”It was about 10 hours into the hostage situation before the Olympic Committee halted the games. By then, every news crew pitched cameras outside the hostage building, and thousands of athletes walked to the building to watch and wait for the news.German authorities turned down help from the Mossad, who, unlike them, had a counterterrorism unit. Instead, they began feeble negotiations with the terrorists while German police attempted to attack the terrorists with no real plan. In a tremendous oversight, the Germans realized that the world, including the terrorists, was watching their actions on live broadcasts. There was no way to surprise the terrorists and they had no information on what they were walking into. With cameras capturing their every move, the Germans could not confront the terrorists and resorted to an unorganized Plan B. A botched rescue attempt by the Germans resulted in the tragic cold-blooded murder of all nine hostages.The Munich Massacre was the day that terrorism won and the world showed how, only 27 years after the Holocaust, they could once again sit aside and watch Jewish people murdered on German soil. It reminds me that as an Israeli, I do not have the luxury to take the security of my country or my fellow citizens lightly.
On September 5, we painfully honor the victims of the Munich Massacre: Yossef Gutfreund, Moshe Weinberg, Yossef Romano, Kehat Shorr, Amitzur Shapira, Andre Spitzer, Yakov Springer, Eliezer Halfin, Mark Slavin, David Berger, and Ze’ev Friedman.
May their memories be a blessing.
The writer is a social media activist with over 10 years of experience working for Israeli and Jewish causes and cause-based NGOs. She is co-founder and COO of Social Lite Creative, a digital marketing firm specializing in geopolitics.