On Sept. 5, 1972 the spirit of comradery, peace and sportsmanship was shattered when members of the terrorist group Black September stormed the Israeli athletes dorm at the Munich Olympics. Two people were killed and nine were taken hostage.
Less then six weeks after the world celebrated the opening of the Olympic games in London, we pause to remember another Olympics, an Olympics marred by violence and tragedy. Forty years ago today, eight members of the Palestinian terrorist group known as Black September, disguised as security guards and trash collectors, infiltrated the Olympic Village in what was then Munich, West Germany. Once inside the village, they burst their way in to the dorm housing the Israeli team, killing two team members and taking nine others hostage.
When interviewed by Europe Online Magazine Walther Troeger, the mayor of the Olympic Village in 1972, said the events of that day are still present in his mind. He recalls the leader of the terrorists, known as Issa, asking to speak with him about their demands. He says "Issa only wanted to talk to me, the mayor of the Olympic village. He had a hand grenade in one hand, two sub-machine guns were directed at me. Issa said ‘we are soldiers of the Palestinian people and we will probably not survive this.‘ There was no doubt, we were dealing with a suicide mission."
The terrorists demanded the release of 234 prisoners jailed in Israel as well as the release of the two co-founders of the German Red Army Faction, who were held in a German prison. Their demands were soundly rejected despite the terrorists' threat to kill hostages one by one until their demands were met. They eventually asked for a plane to take them to Cairo Egypt. They were told the Egyptian and German governments had agreed to allow them passage to Cairo and they, as well as the hostages, were taken by bus to awaiting helicopters. The helicopters flew the terrorists and hostages to a NATO airbase. As the transport was taking place, five German snipers were deployed around the airport. Once they arrived at the airport, Issa and one other terrorist walked over to the plane and saw it was empty. Realizing it was a trap, they ran back to the helicopters. The deployed snipers began shooting, trying to take out Issa. However each shot missed its intended target. After the chaos had ended, one police officer was dead, along with five terrorists and all nine of the Israeli hostages.
Last week, the Israel State Archive released 45 previously classified files regarding the events surrounding the Munich Massacre. The documents criticized what they considered to be a slow and unorganized response by German officials. They also placed blame on Israeli security agencies, saying they did not adequately plan or protect the Israeli delegation.
Times of Israel report that German newspaper Der Spiegel, went through archives and revealed publicly for the first time grave blunders on the part of German officials, both before and after the deadly Black September terror attack. BILD, one of Germany's largest newspapers, is quoted as saying “It is the bitter reckoning, with one of the most tragic events in recent German history.”
One of the terrorists/Israeli flag flies at half mast at the Olympic stadium
Spiegel Online International raises the question why the surviving terrorists were never tried for their crimes, saying In the coming weeks, during events to mark the 40th anniversary of the attack, the question will once again be raised as to why the German courts never tried any of the perpetrators or backers of the Munich massacre. The documents that are now available suggest one answer in particular: West Germany didn't want to call them to account.
In the first few weeks after the attack, German government offices in Bonn were imbued with a spirit of appeasement. From the Israeli perspective, it felt like a bitter irony of history that it involved Munich -- a city that became a symbol of the Western powers' appeasement of Hitler after the Munich Agreement permitting Nazi Germany's annexation of the Sudetenland was signed there in 1938.
Although the Munich attack involved multiple murders, the language in the files oddly downplays what happened there. Then-Chancellor Brandt is quoted as saying that the Olympic massacre was a "crazy incident," while Paul Frank, a state secretary in the Foreign Ministry, refers to it simply as the "events in Munich." Diplomats and senior Interior Ministry officials upgraded the status of Black September by calling it a "resistance group" -- as if its acts of terror had been directed against Hitler and not Israeli civilians.
Graves of five victims of the Munich massacre at the Kiryat Shaul Cemetery, Tel Aviv, Israel
The reasons behind Germany's response to those September events, both before, during and after, may never be fully answered to everyone's approval. All anyone can do now is remember those that lost their lives and pray that their deaths will serve as a reminder to everyone that politics and violence should never be allowed to infiltrate and overshadow the spirit of the Olympic games the way it did on that September morning in 1972.