On today’s date in 1972…. “Arab terrorists killed eight Israelis they took hostage at the Olympic Village (above, a terrorist looks down from the site of the attack) Tuesday when German police opened fire while the guerrillas were trying to escape at an airport near Munich. At least 15 persons were killed in the day-long drama that jeopardized the 20th Olympic Games “ So ran the first paragraph of the United Press International account of the day of terror which did indeed interrupt, but which did not end the Olympic Games that year. Only the headline from the Cincinnati Enquirer the next morning which headlines this posting proved wrong in one respect… the death toll came in the end to 17.
The 1972 Olympic Games Are Shattered by Terrorists
The 1972 Olympic Games were held in Munich, which was a modern city in what was then the Federal Republic of Germany, or West Germany. These games were intended to show off to the world that Germany had risen above and beyond the Nazi regime which had hosted the Olympic Games in 1936. This was to be the new, modern Germany shorn of her past and operating within the new spirit of international cooperation. The games had been going well. Mark Spitz had won a record-breaking seven gold medals in swimming. Olga Korbut was winning hearts with her performances in Women’s Gymnastics.
But all of this was shattered when at 4:30 am local time on September 5. While the athletes were sleeping, eight (above, the room where the Israeli hostages were held) members of the Black September faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, dressed in black tracksuits and carrying athletic bags loaded with arms and explosives climbed 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 at 31 Connolly Street.
The Terrorists Gain Access and Take Israeli Athletes Hostage
The following is an eyewitness account given to the Times of London by Dr. Shaul Ladany who managed to escape the Arab killers: “The guards apparently assumed that they were athletes who had been out late and were arriving back in an unconventional fashion. Then a burst of bullets was fired through a door. A few minutes later, another Israeli in a second apartment heard someone ringing his doorbell. Someone opened the door.. and at once four Arabs, armed with Russian Kalashamikov rifles came in and ordered the Israelis out. With the
Arabs was one of the trainers (Moshe Weinburg (above), who was already bleeding from a gunshot wound to the side of his face). The Arabs forced Weinburg and the other trainers to say where the rest of the team was.” Leading the intruders past Apartment 2, Weinberg lied by telling them that the people in there were not Israelis. Weinberg then led them to Apartment 3; where the gunmen took six wrestlers and weightlifters as additional hostages. Weinberg likely hoped that these stronger men would have a better chance of fighting off the attackers, but they were all surprised in their sleep. They were then marched single file to the coaches apartment, wherein there was further struggle in which Weinburg and weightlifter Yossef Romano were killed.
Negotiations Lead to the Airport
The terrorists demands were the release of 234 Palestinians and non-Arabs jailed in Israel, and also the release of two German terrorists held by the Germans, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, both founders of the German Red Army Faction. The terrorists threw the body of Weinberg out through front door of the building to demonstrate their resolve. Israel’s response was immediate and absolute: no negotiation. Israel’s official policy was and remains to this day refusal to negotiate with terrorists under any circumstances, for the
obvious reason that such negotiations would give an incentive to future attacks. The German government offered unrestricted ransom for the hostages, and also to substitute several high-ranking Germans for the Israelis. But this was refused. At one point negotiations were conducted through the windows by Fencing coach Andre Spitzer, who spoke fluent German, and shooting coach Kehat Shorr. (Above, Shorr is on the left). Shorr told the Germans that the Israelis would not object to being flown to an Arab country, provided that their safety was guaranteed by the Germans and whichever country they flew to. At 6 pm Munich time, the Palestinians made a further demand, that they be flown to to Cairo.
The Massacre at the Airport
Thee plan was to take the hostages via helicopter to Fürstenfeldbruck Airport, a nearby NATO base where a jet would be boarded by the terrorists and their hostages, which would then take them to Cairo. Of course, the Egyptians wanted nothing to do with this business, and refused to take the plane, but the Germans let the terrorists think that this part of the deal had been arranged. The Germans had placed several sharpshooters in key positions and the plan was to let two of the terrorists go to inspect the plane wherein they would be
overpowered by German police. In the meantime, the sharpshooters were to knock off the remaining terrorists who would remain with the hostages who were thought to number only three. Unfortunately, there were in fact twice that many. So when the Germans on the jet decided not to attempt to take the two terrorists, and when the terrorists found the plane empty, they knew that they were in a trap, and ran back towards the helicopters, and there were plenty enough terrorists to conduct a firefight. While the hostages tried valiantly to break free of their constraints, and the sharpshooters fired away, the terrorists tossed a hand grenade into the chopper, killing all of the hostages (above). In the firefight, all of terrorists were killed.
A Harbinger of Future Acts of Terror
There were of course plenty of recriminations to go around. Clearly the Germans had blown it at several points. In their zeal to make clear the emergence of a new and democratic Germany, the government of the Federal Republic of Germany had let security at the Olympic Village to become entirely too slack. And obviously they had blown the execution of the rescue at several points. But after a pause wherein a memorial
service was held (above) in which the Overture to Egmont (a story in which a patriot dies for his country) was played, the games continued. The Federal Republic of Germany went on to reoccupy the comatose eastern part of their country when the old East Block fell along with the… “Old” Soviet Union. The Israeli government hunted down and killed all of the planners of the terrorist massacre of her athletes. And the world got an unwelcome, in-your-face look at the depths to which the modern terrorist will sink, which has lead in turn to the Achille Lauro, the U.S.S. Cole, the mass-murders of 9/11, and of course to the depraved scourge of ISIS.
The Cincinnati Enquirer, Wednesday Morning, September 6, 1972, No. 150, Final Edition