- Munich massacre
Image of hostage taker looking over the balcony of the Israeli team quarters at Building 31 of the Munich Olympic Village. This is probably the widely recognizable and iconic photo of the event.
Location Munich, West Germany Coordinates Date 5–6 September 1972
4:30 AM – 12:04 AM (UTC+1)
Target Israeli Olympic team Attack type mass murder, massacre, hostage-taking Death(s)
- 6 Israeli coaches
- 5 Israeli athletes
- 5 members of Black September
- 1 West German police officer
Perpetrator(s) Black September
The Munich massacre is an informal name for events that occurred during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Bavaria in southern West Germany, when members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually killed by the Palestinian group Black September. Members of Black September contended that Yasir Arafat's Fatah organization secretly endorsed the operation. Fatah, however, disputed this. Black September called the operation "Ikrit and Biram", after two Christian Palestinian villages whose inhabitants were killed or expelled by the Haganah in 1948.
By the end of the ordeal, the kidnappers had killed eleven Israeli athletes and coaches and a West German police officer. Five of the eight members of Black September were killed by police officers during a failed rescue attempt. The three surviving kidnappers were captured, but later released by West Germany following the hijacking by Black September of a Lufthansa airliner. Israel responded to the killings with Operation Spring of Youth and Operation Wrath of God, as well as a series of airstrikes and killings of those suspected of planning the kidnappings.
At the time of the hostage-taking, the 1972 Munich Olympic Games were well into their second week, and there was a joyous mood. The West German Olympic Organizing Committee had encouraged an open and friendly atmosphere in the Olympic Village, to help erase memories of the militaristic image of wartime Germany and, specifically, of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which had been exploited by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler for propaganda purposes. The documentary film One Day in September claims that security in the athletes' village was intentionally lax and that athletes often came and went from the village without presenting proper identification. Many athletes bypassed security checkpoints, and climbed over the chain-link fence surrounding the village.
The absence of armed security guards had worried Israeli delegation head Shmuel Lalkin even before his team arrived in Munich. In later interviews with journalists Serge Groussard and Aaron Klein, Lalkin said that he had also expressed concern with the relevant authorities about his team's lodgings. They were housed in a relatively isolated part of the Olympic Village, in a small building close to a gate, which he felt made his team particularly vulnerable to an outside assault. The German authorities apparently assured Lalkin that extra security would be provided to look after the Israeli team, but Lalkin doubts that these additional measures were ever taken.
General Ulrich Wegener, of the West German Border Police, who served as the military advisor to West German Interior Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, was the only member of the West German military allowed to listen to the planning by the Munich police. Although he was the only person connected to Munich who had any military experience, the leaders of the Munich Police Department completely ignored any tactical knowledge he might have been able to provide. Wegener confirms that the Israelis repeatedly asked not to be housed in the building assigned to them by the West German Olympic Organizing Committee. Wegener says Israeli experts far above Lalkin's level repeatedly asked that the Israeli team be housed either in the building with the American team or in a building near the Americans. Both the IOC and the German organizing committees refused to do anything about the Israelis' security concerns.
A West German forensic psychologist, Dr. Georg Sieber, had been asked by Olympic security experts to come up with 26 "worst-case" scenarios to aid them in planning Olympic security. His Situation 21 predicted with almost eerie accuracy the events of 5 September, but it was dismissed by the security specialists as preposterous. Organizers balked since guarding the 1972 Games against Sieber's scenarios would have gone against their goal of "the Carefree Games", as heavy security would be reminiscent of the 1936 Games.
On the evening of 4 September, the Israeli athletes enjoyed a night out, watching a performance of Fiddler on the Roof and dining with the play's star, Israeli actor Shmuel Rodensky, before returning to the Olympic Village. On the return trip in the team bus, Lalkin denied his 13-year-old son, who had befriended weightlifter Yossef Romano and wrestler Eliezer Halfin, permission to spend the night in their apartment—an innocent refusal that probably saved the boy's life. At 4:30 a.m. local time on 5 September, as the athletes slept, eight tracksuit-clad members of Black September carrying duffel bags loaded with AKM assault rifles, Tokarev pistols, 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 at 31 Connollystraße.
Yossef Gutfreund, a wrestling referee, was awakened by a faint scratching noise at the door of Apartment 1, which housed the Israeli coaches and officials. When he investigated, he saw the door begin to open and masked men with guns on the other side. He shouted a warning to his sleeping roommates and threw his nearly 300 lb. (135 kg) weight against the door in a futile attempt to stop the intruders from forcing their way in. Gutfreund's actions gave his roommate, weightlifting coach Tuvia Sokolovsky, enough time to smash a window and escape. Wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg fought the intruders, who shot him through his cheek and then forced him to help them find more hostages. Leading the kidnappers past Apartment 2, Weinberg lied to the kidnappers by telling them that the residents of the apartment were not Israelis. Instead, Weinberg led them to Apartment 3, where the terrorists corralled six wrestlers and weightlifters as additional hostages. It is possible that Weinberg hoped that the stronger men would have a better chance of fighting off the terrorists, but they were all surprised in their sleep.
As the athletes from Apartment 3 were marched back to the coaches' apartment, the wounded Weinberg again attacked the kidnappers, allowing one of his wrestlers, Gad Tsobari, to escape via the underground parking garage. The burly Weinberg knocked one of the intruders unconscious and slashed another with a fruit knife before being shot to death. Weightlifter Yossef Romano, a veteran of the Six-Day War, also attacked and wounded one of the intruders before being shot and killed.
The terrorists were left with nine hostages. They were, in addition to Gutfreund, sharpshooting coach Kehat Shorr, track and field coach Amitzur Shapira, fencing master Andre Spitzer, weightlifting judge Yakov Springer, wrestlers Eliezer Halfin and Mark Slavin, and weightlifters David Berger and Ze'ev Friedman. Gutfreund, physically the largest of the hostages, was bound to a chair (Groussard describes him as being tied up like a mummy); the rest were lined up four apiece on the two beds in Springer and Shapira's room, and bound at the wrists and ankles and then to each other. Romano's bullet-riddled corpse was left at his bound comrades' feet as a warning.
Of the other members of Israel's team, racewalker Prof. Shaul Ladany had been jolted awake in Apartment 2 by Gutfreund's screams and escaped by jumping off a balcony and running through the rear yard of the building. The other four residents of Apartment 2 (sharpshooters Henry Hershkowitz and Zelig Stroch, and fencers Dan Alon and Yehuda Weisenstein), plus Chef De Mission Shmuel Lalkin and the two team doctors, managed to hide and later fled the besieged building. The two female members of Israel's Olympic team, sprinter and hurdler Esther Roth-Shahamorov and swimmer Shlomit Nir, were housed in a separate part of the Olympic Village inaccessible to the terrorists. Three more members of Israel's Olympic team, two sailors and their manager, were housed in Kiel, 550 miles (900 km) from Munich.
Black September's demands
The terrorists were subsequently reported to be part of the Palestinian fedayeen from refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. They were identified as Luttif Afif (Issa), the leader (three of Issa's brothers were also reportedly members of Black September, two of them in Israeli jails), his deputy Yusuf Nazzal (Tony), and junior members Afif Ahmed Hamid (Paolo), Khalid Jawad (Salah), Ahmed Chic Thaa (Abu Halla), Mohammed Safady (Badran), Adnan Al-Gashey (Denawi), and his cousin Jamal Al-Gashey (Samir). According to Simon Reeve, Afif, Nazzal and one of their confederates had all worked in various capacities in the Olympic Village, and had spent a couple of weeks scouting out their potential target. A member of the Uruguayan Olympic delegation, which shared housing with the Israelis, claims that he found Nazzal actually inside 31 Connollystraße less than 24 hours before the attack, but since he was recognized as a worker in the Village, nothing was thought of it at the time. The other members of the hostage-taking group entered Munich via train and plane in the days before the attack. All of the members of the Uruguay and Hong Kong Olympic teams, which also shared the building with the Israelis, were released unharmed during the crisis.
The terrorists demanded the release and safe passage to Egypt of 234 Palestinians and non-Arabs jailed in Israel, along with two German radicals held by the German penitentiary system, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, who were founders of the German Red Army Faction. The hostage-takers threw the body of Weinberg out the front door of the residence to demonstrate their resolve. Israel's response was immediate and absolute: there would be no negotiation. It has been claimed that the German authorities, under the leadership of Chancellor Willy Brandt and Minister for the Interior Hans-Dietrich Genscher, rejected Israel's offer to send an Israeli special forces unit to Germany. The Bavarian interior minister Bruno Merk, who headed the crisis centre jointly with Genscher and Munich's police chief Manfred Schreiber, denies that such an Israeli offer ever existed. One consequence was that the German police who took part in the attempted rescue operation, with no special training in hostage crisis operations, were deprived of specialized technical assistance.
According to journalist John K. Cooley, the hostage situation presented an extremely difficult political situation for the Germans because the hostages were Jewish. Cooley reported that the Germans offered the Palestinians an unlimited amount of money for the release of the athletes, as well as the substitution of high-ranking Germans. However, the kidnappers refused both offers.
Munich police chief Manfred Schreiber and Bruno Merk, interior minister for the Free State of Bavaria, negotiated directly with the kidnappers, repeating the offer of an unlimited amount of money. According to Cooley, the reply was that "money means nothing to us; our lives mean nothing to us." Magdi Gohary and Mohammad Khadif, both Egyptian advisers to the Arab League, and A.D. Touny, an Egyptian member of the International Olympic Committee, also helped try to win concessions from the kidnappers, but to no avail. However, the negotiators apparently were able to convince the kidnappers that their demands were being considered, as Issa granted a total of five extensions to their deadlines. Elsewhere in the village, athletes carried on as normal, seemingly oblivious of the events unfolding nearby. The Games continued until mounting pressure on the IOC forced a suspension of activities some 12 hours after the first athlete had been murdered. American marathon runner Frank Shorter, observing the unfolding events from the balcony of his nearby lodging, was quoted as saying, "Imagine those poor guys over there. Every five minutes a psycho with a machine gun says, 'Let's kill 'em now,' and someone else says, 'No, let's wait a while.' How long could you stand that?"
A small squad of German police was dispatched to the Olympic village. Dressed in Olympic sweatsuits and carrying sub-machine guns, these were members of the German border-police, poorly trained, and without specific operational plans in place for the rescue. The police took up positions awaiting orders that never came. In the meantime, camera crews filmed the actions of the police from German apartments, and broadcast the images live on television. The kidnappers were therefore able to watch the police as they prepared to attack. Footage shows the kidnappers leaning over to look at the police who were in hiding on the roof. In the end, after Issa threatened to kill two of the hostages, the police left the premises.
At one point during the crisis, the negotiators demanded direct contact with the hostages to satisfy themselves the Israelis were still alive. Fencing coach Andre Spitzer, who spoke fluent German, and shooting coach Kehat Shorr, the senior member of the Israeli delegation, had a brief conversation with German officials while standing at the second-floor window of the besieged building, with two kidnappers holding guns on them. When Spitzer attempted to answer a question, the coach was clubbed with the butt of an AK-47 in full view of international television cameras and pulled away from the window. A few minutes later, Genscher and Walter Tröger, the mayor of the Olympic Village, were briefly allowed into the apartments and spoke with the hostages. Tröger spoke of being very moved by the dignity with which the Israelis held themselves, and that they seemed resigned to their fate. He also noticed that several of the hostages, especially Gutfreund, showed signs of having suffered physical abuse at the hands of the kidnappers, and that David Berger had been shot in his left shoulder. While being debriefed by the crisis team, Genscher and Tröger told them that they had seen "four or five" terrorists inside the apartment. Crucially, these numbers were accepted as definitive.
Relocation to Fürstenfeldbruck
While Genscher and Tröger were talking with the hostages, shooting coach Kehat Shorr, speaking for his captive teammates, had told the Germans that the Israelis would not object to being flown to an Arab country, provided that strict guarantees for their safety were made by the Germans and whichever nation they landed in. At 6 p.m. Munich time, the terrorists issued a new dictate, demanding transportation to Cairo. The authorities feigned agreement (although Egyptian Prime Minister Aziz Sedki had already told the German authorities that the Egyptians did not wish to become involved in the hostage crisis), and at 10:10 p.m. a bus carried the terrorists and their hostages from 31 Connollystraße to two Bell UH-1 military helicopters, which were to transport them to nearby Fürstenfeldbruck, a NATO airbase. Initially, the terrorists had wanted to go to Riem, the international airport near Munich at that time, but the negotiators convinced them that Fürstenfeldbruck would be more practical. The authorities, who preceded the Black Septemberists and hostages in a third helicopter, had an ulterior motive: they planned an armed assault on the terrorists at the airport.
The five German snipers who were chosen to ambush the kidnappers had been selected because they shot competitively on weekends. During a subsequent German investigation, an officer identified as “Sniper No. 2” stated: “I am of the opinion that I am not a sharpshooter.” The five snipers were deployed around the airport—three on the roof of the control tower, one hidden behind a service truck and one behind a small signal tower at ground level—but none of them had any special training. The members of the crisis team—Schreiber, Genscher, Merk and Schreiber's deputy Georg Wolf—supervised and observed the attempted rescue from the airport control tower. Cooley, Reeve and Groussard all place Mossad chief Zvi Zamir and Victor Cohen, one of Zamir's senior assistants, at the scene as well, but as observers only. Zamir has stated repeatedly in interviews over the years that he was never consulted by the Germans at any time during the rescue attempt and that he thought that his presence actually made the Germans uncomfortable.
A Boeing 727 jet was positioned on the tarmac with five or six armed German police inside dressed as flight crew. It was agreed that Issa and Tony would inspect the plane. The plan was that the Germans would overpower the two terrorists as they boarded, giving the snipers a chance to kill the remaining terrorists at the helicopters. These were believed to number no more than two or three, according to what Genscher and Tröger had seen inside 31 Connollystraße. However, during the transfer from the bus to the helicopters, the crisis team discovered that there were actually eight terrorists.
At the last minute, as the helicopters were arriving at Fürstenfeldbruck, the German police aboard the airplane voted to abandon their mission, without consulting the central command. This left only the five sharpshooters to try to overpower a larger and more heavily armed group of terrorists. At that point, General Ulrich Wegener, Genscher's senior aide and later the founder of the elite German counter-terrorist unit GSG 9, said "I'm sure this will blow the whole affair!"
The helicopters landed just after 10:30 p.m. and the four pilots and six of the kidnappers emerged. While four of the Black September members held the pilots at gunpoint (breaking an earlier promise that they would not take any Germans hostage), Issa and Tony walked over to inspect the jet, only to find it empty. Realizing they had been lured into a trap, the two terrorists sprinted back toward the helicopters. As they ran past the control tower, Sniper 3 took one last opportunity to eliminate Issa, which would have left the terrorists leaderless. However, due to the poor lighting, he struggled to see his target and missed, hitting Tony in the thigh instead. Meanwhile, the German authorities gave the order for snipers positioned nearby to open fire, which occurred around 11:00 p.m.
In the ensuing chaos, two of the kidnappers holding the helicopter pilots (Ahmed Chic Thaa and Afif Ahmed Hamid) were killed, and the remaining terrorists (one or two of whom may have already been wounded) scrambled to safety, returning fire from behind and beneath the helicopters, out of the snipers' line of sight, shooting out many of the airport lights. A German policeman in the control tower, Anton Fliegerbauer, was killed by the gunfire. The helicopter pilots fled; the hostages, tied up inside the craft, could not. During the gun battle, the hostages secretly worked on loosening their bonds and teeth marks were found on some of the ropes after the gunfire had ended.
Frustrated at the Germans' seeming indifference to the gravity of the situation, Zamir and Cohen went up on the roof of the control tower with a megaphone and tried to talk the kidnappers into surrendering. The terrorists replied by firing upon the two Israelis, making it clear that the time for negotiation had long since passed.
Death of hostages
The Germans had not arranged for armored personnel carriers ahead of time and only at this point were they called in to break the deadlock. Since the roads to the airport had not been cleared, the carriers became stuck in traffic and finally arrived around midnight. With their appearance, the terrorists felt the shift in the status quo, and possibly panicked at the thought of the failure of their operation. At four minutes past midnight of 6 September, one of the terrorists (likely Issa) turned on the hostages in the eastern helicopter and fired at them with a Kalashnikov assault rifle from point-blank range. Springer, Halfin and Friedman were killed instantly; Berger, shot twice in the leg, is believed to have survived the initial onslaught (as his autopsy later found he had succumbed to smoke inhalation). The terrorist then pulled the pin on a hand grenade and tossed it into the cockpit; the ensuing explosion destroyed the helicopter and incinerated the bound Israelis inside.
Issa then dashed across the tarmac and began firing at the police, who killed the terrorist leader with return fire. Another terrorist, Khalid Jawad, attempted to escape and was gunned down by one of the snipers. What happened to the remaining hostages is still a matter of dispute. A German police investigation indicated that one of their snipers and a few of the hostages may have been shot inadvertently by the police. However, a Time Magazine reconstruction of the long-suppressed Bavarian prosecutor's report indicates that a third kidnapper (Reeve identifies Adnan Al-Gashey) stood at the door of the western helicopter and raked the remaining five hostages with machine gun fire; Gutfreund, Shorr, Slavin, Spitzer and Shapira were shot an average of four times each. Of the four hostages in the eastern helicopter, only Ze'ev Friedman's body was relatively intact; he had been blown clear of the helicopter by the explosion. In some cases, the exact cause of death for the hostages in the eastern helicopter was difficult to establish because the rest of the corpses were burned almost beyond recognition in the explosion and subsequent fire.
Aftermath of unsuccessful rescue
Three of the remaining terrorists lay on the ground, one of them feigning death, and were captured by police. Jamal Al-Gashey had been shot through his right wrist, and Mohammed Safady had sustained a flesh wound to his leg. Adnan Al-Gashey had escaped injury completely. Tony, the final terrorist, escaped the scene, but was tracked down with police dogs 40 minutes later in an airbase parking lot. Cornered and bombarded with tear gas, he was shot dead after a brief gunfight. By around 1:30 a.m., the battle was over.
Initial news reports, published all over the world, indicated that all the hostages were alive, and that all the terrorists had been killed. Only later did a representative for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suggest that "initial reports were overly optimistic." Jim McKay, who was covering the Olympics that year for ABC, had taken on the job of reporting the events as Roone Arledge fed them into his earpiece. At 3:24 a.m., McKay received the official confirmation:
“ When I was a kid, my father used to say "Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized." Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They've now said that there were eleven hostages. Two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They're all gone. ”
The massacre prompted many European countries to establish permanent, professional, and immediately available counter-terrorism forces, or reorganize already existing units to such purpose. The massacre also prompted prominent arms designers and manufacturers to produce new types of weapons more suitable for counter-terrorists.
Criticisms of West German rescue attempt
Author Simon Reeve, among others, writes that the shootout with the well-trained Black September members showed an egregious lack of preparation on the part of the German authorities. They were not prepared to deal with this sort of situation. This costly lesson led directly to the founding, less than two months later, of GSG 9.
The authors argue that German authorities made a number of mistakes. First, because of restrictions in the post-war West German constitution, the army could not participate in the attempted rescue, as the German armed forces are not allowed to operate inside Germany during peacetime. The responsibility was entirely in the hands of the Munich police and the Bavarian authorities.
It was known a full half-hour before the terrorists and hostages had even arrived at Fürstenfeldbruck that the number of terrorists was larger than first believed. Despite this new information, Schreiber stubbornly decided to continue with the rescue operation as originally planned and the new information could not reach the snipers since they had no radios. It is a basic tenet of sniping operations that there are enough snipers (at least two for each known target, or in this case a minimum of ten) deployed to neutralize as many of the terrorists as possible with the first volley of shots. It was this most basic failure of experience and technical foresight that led to the subsequent disaster.
The 2006 National Geographic Channel's Seconds From Disaster profile on the massacre stated that the helicopters were supposed to land sideways and to the west of the control tower, a maneuver which would have allowed the snipers clear shots into them as the kidnappers threw open the helicopter doors. Instead, the helicopters were landed facing the control tower and at the centre of the airstrip. This not only gave the terrorists a place to hide after the gunfight began, but put Snipers 1 and 2 in the line of fire of the other three snipers on the control tower. The snipers were denied valuable shooting opportunities as a result of the positioning of the helicopters, as well as the fact that the fight effectively became a clearly untenable one of three snipers versus eight heavily armed terrorists.
According to the same program, the crisis committee delegated to make decisions on how to deal with the incident consisted of Bruno Merk (the Bavarian interior minister), Hans-Dietrich Genscher (the West German interior minister) and Manfred Schreiber (Munich's Chief of Police); in other words, two politicians and only one tactician. The program mentioned that a year before the Games, Schreiber had participated in another hostage crisis (a failed bank robbery) in which he ordered a marksman to shoot one of the perpetrators, who was only wounded. As a result, the robbers shot dead an innocent woman and Schreiber had been charged with involuntary manslaughter. An investigation ultimately cleared him of any wrongdoing, but the program suggested that the prior incident affected his judgment in the subsequent Olympic hostage crisis. Had the committee been made up of more experienced people, the situation might well have been handled differently.
As mentioned earlier, the five German snipers at Fürstenfeldbruck did not have radio contact with one another (nor with the German authorities conducting the rescue operation) and therefore were unable to coordinate their fire. The only contact the snipers had with the operational leadership was with Georg Wolf, who was lying next to the three snipers on the control tower giving orders directly to them. The two snipers at ground level had been given vague instructions to shoot when the other snipers began shooting, and were basically left to fend for themselves.
In addition, the snipers did not have the proper equipment for this anti-terrorism operation. The Heckler & Koch G3 battle rifles used were considered by several experts to be inadequate for the distance at which the snipers were trying to shoot the terrorists. The G3, the standard service rifle of the Bundeswehr at that time, had a 20-inch (510 mm) barrel; at the distances the snipers were required to shoot, a 27-inch (690 mm) barrel would have ensured far greater accuracy. None of the rifles were equipped with telescopic or infrared sights. Additionally, none of the snipers were equipped with steel helmets or bullet-proof vests. No armored vehicles were at the scene at Fürstenfeldbruck, and were only called in after the gunfight was well underway.
There were also numerous tactical errors. As mentioned earlier, "Sniper 2," stationed behind the signal tower, wound up directly in the line of fire of his fellow snipers on the control tower, without any protective gear and without any other police being aware of his location. Because of this, "Sniper 2" didn't fire a single shot until late in the gunfight, when hostage-taker Khalid Jawad attempted to escape on foot and ran right at the exposed sniper. "Sniper 2" killed the fleeing terrorist but was in turn wounded heavily by a fellow police officer, who was unaware that he was shooting at one of his own men. One of the helicopter pilots, Ganner Ebel, was lying near "Sniper 2" and was also wounded by friendly fire. Both Ebel and the sniper recovered from their injuries.
None of the police officers posing as the fake crew on the Boeing 727 were prosecuted or reprimanded for abandoning their posts. Many of the police officers and border guards who were approached for interviews by the One Day in September production team were threatened with the loss of their pension rights if they talked for the film. Some authors argue that this suggests an attempt at cover-up by the German authorities. Many of the errors made by the Germans during the rescue attempt were ultimately detailed by Heinz Hohensinn, who had participated in the operation, but had taken early retirement and had no pension to lose.
Effect on the Games
In the wake of the hostage-taking, competition was suspended for the first time in modern Olympic history. On 6 September, a memorial service attended by 80,000 spectators and 3,000 athletes was held in the Olympic Stadium. IOC President Avery Brundage made little reference to the murdered athletes during a speech praising the strength of the Olympic movement and equating the attack on the Israeli sportsmen with the recent arguments about encroaching professionalism and disallowing Rhodesia's participation in the Games, which outraged many listeners. The victims' families were represented by Andre Spitzer's widow Ankie, Moshe Weinberg's mother, and a cousin of Weinberg's, Carmel Eliash. During the memorial service, Eliash collapsed and died of a heart attack.
Many of the 80,000 people who filled the Olympic Stadium for West Germany's football match with Hungary carried noisemakers and waved flags, but when several spectators unfurled a banner reading “17 dead, already forgotten?” security officers removed the sign and expelled those responsible from the grounds. During the memorial service, the Olympic Flag was flown at half-staff, along with the flags of most of the other competing nations at the request of Willy Brandt. Ten Arab nations objected to their flags being lowered to honor murdered Israelis; their flags were restored to the tops of their flagpoles almost immediately.
Willi Daume, president of the Munich organizing committee, initially sought to cancel the remainder of the Games, but in the afternoon Brundage and others who wished to continue the Games prevailed, stating that they could not let the incident halt the Games. Brundage stated "The games must go on, and we must... and we must continue our efforts to keep them clean, pure and honest." The decision was endorsed by the Israeli government and Israeli Olympic team chef de mission Shmuel Lalkin.
On 6 September, after the memorial service, the remaining members of the Israeli team withdrew from the Games and left Munich. All Jewish sportsmen were placed under guard. Mark Spitz, the American swimming star who had already completed his competitions, left Munich during the hostage crisis (it was feared that as a prominent Jew, Spitz might now be a kidnapping target). The Egyptian team left the Games on 7 September, stating they feared reprisals. The Philippine and Algerian teams also left the Games, as did some members of the Dutch and Norwegian teams. American marathon runner Kenny Moore, who wrote about the incident for Sports Illustrated, quoted Dutch distance runner Jos Hermens as saying, “You give a party, and someone is killed at the party, you don't continue the party. I'm going home.” Many athletes, dazed by the tragedy, similarly felt that their desire to compete had been destroyed, although they stayed at the Games.
Four years later at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, the public was curious to see if Israel would make any gesture to commemorate the massacre. When the Israeli team entered the stadium at the Opening Ceremonies, Jim McKay noted that their national flag was adorned with a black ribbon.
The families of some victims have asked the IOC to establish a permanent memorial to the athletes. The IOC has declined, saying that to introduce a specific reference to the victims could "alienate other members of the Olympic community," according to the BBC. Alex Gilady, an Israeli IOC official, told the BBC: "We must consider what this could do to other members of the delegations that are hostile to Israel."
There is, however, a memorial outside the Olympic stadium in Munich in the form of a stone tablet at the bridge linking the stadium to the former Olympic village. There is also a memorial tablet to the slain Israelis outside the front door of their former lodging at 31 Connollystraße. On 15 October 1999 (almost a year before the Sydney 2000 Games), a memorial plaque was unveiled in one of the large light towers (Tower 14) outside the Sydney Olympic Stadium.
On 5 September, Golda Meir, then-Prime Minister of Israel, appealed to other countries to "save our citizens and condemn the unspeakable criminal acts committed." King Hussein of Jordan—the only leader of an Arab country to publicly denounce the Olympic attack—called it a "savage crime against civilization… perpetrated by sick minds."
The bodies of the five Palestinians—Afif, Nazzal, Chic Thaa, Hamid and Jawad—killed during the Fürstenfeldbruck gun battle were delivered to Libya, where they received heroes' funerals and were buried with full military honors. On 8 September, Israeli planes bombed ten PLO bases in Syria and Lebanon, killing 200 PLO fighters in response to the massacre.
On 29 October, hijackers of a West German Lufthansa passenger jet demanded the release of the three surviving terrorists, who had been arrested after the Fürstenfeldbruck gunfight and were being held for trial. Safady and the Al-Gasheys were immediately released by West Germany, receiving a tumultuous welcome when they touched down in Libya and (as seen in One Day in September) giving their own firsthand account of their operation at a press conference broadcast worldwide.
Operations Wrath of God and Spring of Youth
Golda Meir and the Israeli Defense Committee secretly authorized the Mossad to track down and kill those allegedly responsible for the Munich massacre, a claim which was disputed by Zvi Zamir, who described the mission as “putting an end to the type of terror that was perpetrated” (in Europe). To this end the Mossad set up a number of special teams to locate and kill these terrorists, aided by the agency's stations in Europe.
In a February 2006 interview, former Mossad chief Zvi Zamir is answering a direct question:Was there no element of vengeance in the decision to take action against the terrorists?
"No. We were not engaged in vengeance. We are accused of having been guided by a desire for vengeance. That is nonsense. What we did was to concretely prevent in the future. We acted against those who thought that they would continue to perpetrate acts of terror. I am not saying that those who were involved in Munich were not marked for death. They definitely deserved to die. But we were not dealing with the past; we concentrated on the future."
Did you not receive a directive from Golda Meir along the lines of 'take revenge on those responsible for Munich'?
"Golda abhorred the necessity that was imposed on us to carry out the operations. Golda never told me to ‘take revenge on those who were responsible for Munich.’ No one told me that."
The Israeli mission later became known as Operation Wrath of God or Mivtza Za'am Ha'El. Reeve quotes General Aharon Yariv—who, he writes, was the general overseer of the operation—as stating that after Munich the Israeli government felt it had no alternative but to exact justice.We had no choice. We had to make them stop, and there was no other way… we are not very proud about it. But it was a question of sheer necessity. We went back to the old biblical rule of an eye for an eye… I approach these problems not from a moral point of view, but, hard as it may sound, from a cost-benefit point of view. If I'm very hard-headed, I can say, what is the political benefit in killing this person? Will it bring us nearer to peace? Will it bring us nearer to an understanding with the Palestinians or not? In most cases I don't think it will. But in the case of Black September we had no other choice and it worked. Is it morally acceptable? One can debate that question. Is it politically vital? It was.
Benny Morris writes that a target list was created using information from “turned” PLO personnel and friendly European intelligence services. Once completed, a wave of assassinations of suspected Black September operatives began across Europe.
On 9 April 1973, Israel launched Operation Spring of Youth, a joint Mossad-IDF operation in Beirut. The targets were Mohammad Yusuf al-Najjar (Abu Yusuf), head of Fatah's intelligence arm, which ran Black September, according to Morris; Kamal Adwan, who headed the PLO's so-called Western Sector, which controlled PLO action inside Israel; and Kamal Nassir, the PLO spokesman. A group of Sayeret commandos were taken in nine missile boats and a small fleet of patrol boats to a deserted Lebanese beach, before driving in two cars to downtown Beirut, where they killed Najjar, Adwan and Nassir. Two further detachments of commandos blew up the PFLP's headquarters in Beirut and a Fatah explosives plant. The leader of the commando team that conducted the operations was Ehud Barak.
On 21 July 1973, in the so-called Lillehammer affair, a team of Mossad agents murdered Ahmed Bouchiki, a Moroccan man unrelated to the Munich attack, in Lillehammer, Norway, after an informant mistakenly said Bouchiki was Ali Hassan Salameh, the head of Force 17 and a Black September operative. Five Mossad agents, including two women, were captured by the Norwegian authorities, while others managed to slip away. The five were convicted of the killing and imprisoned, but were released and returned to Israel in 1975. The Mossad later found Ali Hassan Salameh in Beirut and killed him on 22 January 1979 with a remote-controlled car bomb. According to CIA officer Duane "Dewey" Claridge, chief of operations of the CIA Near East Division from 1975 to 1978, in mid-1976, Salameh offered Americans assistance and protection with Arafat's blessings during the American embassy pull-out from Beirut during the down-spiraling chaos of the Lebanese Civil War. There was a general feeling that Americans could be trusted. However, the scene of cooperation came to an end abruptly after the assassination of Salameh. Americans were generally blamed as Israel's principal benefactors.
Simon Reeve writes that the Israeli operations continued for more than 20 years. He details the assassination in Paris in 1992 of Atef Bseiso, the PLO's head of intelligence, and says that an Israeli general confirmed there was a link back to Munich. Reeve also writes that while Israeli officials have stated Operation Wrath of God was intended to exact vengeance for the families of the athletes killed in Munich, “few relatives wanted such a violent reckoning with the Palestinians”. Reeve states the families were instead desperate to know the truth of the events surrounding the Munich massacre. Reeve outlines what he sees as a lengthy cover-up by German authorities to hide the truth. After 20 years of fighting the German government, the families, led by Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano (widows of fencing coach Andre and weightlifter Yossef, respectively), acquired official documentation proving the depth of the cover-up. After a lengthy court fight, in 2004 the families of the Munich victims reached a financial settlement with the German government.
Two of the three surviving terrorists, Mohammed Safady and Adnan Al-Gashey, were apparently killed by the Mossad as part of Operation Wrath of God. Al-Gashey was allegedly located after making contact with a cousin in a Gulf State, and Safady was found by remaining in touch with family in Lebanon. This account was challenged in a book by Aaron Klein, who claims that Al-Gashey died of heart failure in the 1970s, and that Safady was either killed by Christian Phalangists in Lebanon in the early 1980s, or, according to a PLO operative friendly with Safady, is still alive (as of 2010).
The prevailing belief is that Jamal Al-Gashey is the sole remaining terrorist alive, as of October 2011, hiding in Northern Africa or in Syria, claiming to still fear retribution from Israeli authorities. He is the only one of the surviving terrorists to consent to interviews since 1972, having granted an interview in 1992 to a Palestinian newspaper, and having briefly emerged from hiding in 1999 to participate in an interview for the film One Day in September, during which he was disguised and his face shown only in blurry shadow.
Of those believed to have planned the Munich massacre, only Abu Daoud, the man who claims that the attack was his idea, is known to have died of natural causes. In January 1977, Daoud was intercepted by French police in Paris while traveling from Beirut under an assumed name. Under protest from the PLO, Iraq, and Libya, who claimed that because Daoud was traveling to a PLO comrade's funeral he should receive diplomatic immunity, the French government refused a West German extradition request on grounds that forms had not been filled in properly, and put him on a plane to Algeria before Germany could submit another request. On 27 July 1981, he was shot 13 times from a distance of around two meters in a Warsaw Victoria (now Sofitel) hotel coffee shop, but survived the attack, chasing his would-be assassin down to the coffee shop's front entrance before collapsing.
Abu Daoud was allowed safe passage through Israel in 1996 so he could attend a PLO meeting convened in the Gaza Strip for the purpose of rescinding an article in its charter that called for Israel's eradication. In his autobiography, From Jerusalem to Munich, first published in France in 1999, and later in a written interview with Sports Illustrated, Abu Daoud wrote that funds for Munich were provided by Mahmoud Abbas, Chairman of the PLO since 11 November 2004 and President of the Palestinian National Authority since 15 January 2005.
Abu Daoud, who lived with his wife on a pension provided by the Palestinian Authority, has said that “the [Munich] operation had the endorsement of Arafat,” although Arafat was not involved in conceiving or implementing the attack. In his autobiography, Daoud writes that Arafat saw the team off on the mission with the words “Allah protect you.” Arafat rejected this claim.
Ankie Spitzer, widow of fencing coach Andre, declined several offers to meet with Abu Daoud, saying that the only place she wants to meet him is in a courtroom. According to Spitzer, “He [Abu Daoud] didn't pay the price for what he did.” In 2006 during the release of Steven Spielberg's film, Munich, Der Spiegel interviewed Daoud regarding the Munich massacre. He was quoted as saying: "I regret nothing. You can only dream that I would apologize."
He died on 3 July 2010 in Syria of kidney failure at the age of 73.
List of fatalities
Shot during the initial break-in
Shot and killed by grenade in helicopter D-HAQO
- D-HAQO was the eastern helicopter.
- According to the order in which they were seated, from left to right:
- Ze'ev Friedman (weightlifter)
- David Berger (weightlifter)
- Yakov Springer (weightlifting judge)
- Eliezer Halfin (wrestler)
Shot in helicopter D-HAQU
- D-HAQU was the western helicopter.
- According to the order in which they were seated, from left to right:
- Yossef Gutfreund (wrestling referee)
- Kehat Shorr (shooting coach)
- Mark Slavin (wrestler)
- Andre Spitzer (fencing coach)
- Amitzur Shapira (track coach)
Shot on airstrip
- Anton Fliegerbauer (German police officer)
Palestinians shot dead by German police
- Luttif Afif (known as Issa)
- Yusuf Nazzal (Tony)
- Afif Ahmed Hamid (Paolo)
- Khalid Jawad (Salah)
- Ahmed Chic Thaa (Abu Halla)
Munich massacre memorials gallery
Memorial plaque in front of the Israeli athletes' quarters. The inscription, in German and Hebrew, reads: The team of the State of Israel stayed in this building during the 20th Olympic Summer Games from 21 August to 5 September 1972. On 5 September, [list of victims] died a violent death. Honor to their memory.
Memorial panel for the victims of the attack on the site of the Munich Olympic Park
Memorial for the dead athletes in front of the airport in Fürstenfeldbruck. The names of the victims are engraved.
- Munich (film)
- 21 Hours at Munich
- One Day in September
- Sword of Gideon
- National Geographic Seconds From Disaster episodes
- 1972, by Sarah Morris
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- Calahan, A. B. (1995 Thesis) "The Israeli Response to the 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre and the Development of Independent Covert Action Teams"
- Cooley, John K. (London 1973), Green March Black September: The Story of the Palestinian Arabs ISBN 0-7146-2987-1
- Dahlke, Matthias (Munich 2006), Der Anschlag auf Olympia '72. Die politischen Reaktionen auf den internationalen in Deutschland Martin Meidenbauer ISBN 3-89975-583-9 (German text)
- Daoud, M. (Abu Daoud) (New York, 2002) ISBN 1-55970-429-2
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- Khalaf, Salah (Abu Iyad) (Tel Aviv, 1983) Without a Homeland: Conversations with Eric Rouleau
- Klein, A. J. (New York, 2005), Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel's Deadly Response, Random House ISBN 1-920769-80-3
- Morris, Benny. (New York, 1999 and 2001), Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist–Arab conflict, 1881–2000, Vintage Books edition ISBN 0-679-74475-4
- Reeve, Simon. (New York, 2001), One Day in September: the full story of the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre and Israeli revenge operation "Wrath of God" ISBN 1-55970-547-7
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- 21 Hours at Munich at the Internet Movie Database
- Munich at the Internet Movie Database
- One Day in September at the Internet Movie Database
- Sword of Gideon at the Internet Movie Database
- “Munich: Mossad’s Revenge”,
- The Israeli Response to the 1972 Munich Massacre – Includes an extensive overview of the Munich massacre
- A Tribute to the 1972 Israeli Olympic Athletes – Includes biographies and photographs for each of the 11 Israeli athletes killed
- Time Magazine, 4 December 2005
- Ankie Spitzer speech
- Overview of Israeli retaliation actions
- NY Times articles on the massacre
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