50 years on from the Munich Olympics massacre

On the night of 4 September 1972, the Israeli Olympic delegation returned to their apartment at Connollystrasse 31 in the north of Munich. Just hours later, a group of eight Palestinian militants, dressed in tracksuits and carrying weapons in bags, approached the fences of the Olympic village.

Alongside unsuspecting athletes, they climbed the fence and made their way to the two apartments housing the Israeli delegation. The group was later identified as the “Black September” faction of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

The militants were initially confronted by two members of the Israeli delegation, but quickly overpowered them and forced an injured wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg in an attempt to find more hostages.

Weinburg led the masked attackers to the apartment housing Israeli wrestlers, weightlifters, and other coaches. After fighting the militants, Weinberg and weightlifter Yossef Romano were shot and killed.

The nine remaining hostages were beaten and bound in one room; wrestling referee Yossef Gutfreund, shooting coach Kehat Shorr, track and field coach Amitzur Shapira, fencing coach Andre Spitzer, weightlifting judge Yakov Springer, wrestlers Eliezer Halfin and Mark Slavin, and weightlifters David Berger and Ze’ev Friedman.
Eight other Israelis in the apartment complex managed to hide or escaped during the initial assault and eventually fled. Athletes from Uruguay and Hong Kong that were also housed in the building were released.

The attackers sought the release of over 230 Palestinian prisoners who were being held by Israel, as well as two left-wing extremists in West German jails.
However, Israel refused to negotiate. Germany offered the militants “unlimited” money or replacement hostages but both proposals were rejected.

As the situation drew on, almost 3,000 police officers were stationed in and around the Olympic village, with snipers surrounding the building.
German police officers considered launching an operation to end the hostage-taking. However, they retreated after the attackers threatened to kill the Israelis.

The German authorities finally agreed to transport the attackers and their hostages to Cairo via helicopter. The intention was to take the group to the nearby Fürstenfeldbruck NATO airbase for an armed assault in a bid to end the attack.

Unaware of the true number of assailants and ill-prepared for an assault, the authorities tried to eliminate the militants.

Following a gunfight, the Black September attackers are believed to have opened fire on their hostages and detonated grenades inside the helicopters.
All nine hostages and a West German police officer died during the botched rescue attempt. Five of the attackers also died while the other three were captured.

50 years on from the event and witnesses and survivors continue to be haunted by the massacre. What began as the 1972 Munich Olympic Games fast became a live broadcast of terror that forever changed the world. The coverage that ensued was the first time that TV networks broadcast an act of terrorism to an audience of almost 900 million in real time.

Israel has also criticised Germany. Relatives of the athletes have accused Munich of failing to secure the Olympic Village, despite the funds invested in the Games. Germany has also been accused of ignoring warnings of a possible attack and refusing Israeli help to resolve the hostage-raking.

The decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to continue the Olympics just one day after the massacre was also widely condemned.

The victims of the attack at the 1972 Olympics were finally officially remembered during Tokyo’s opening ceremony last year.

Now, 50 years after the massacre, the victims’ families have finally reached a compensation agreement.

The German government has confirmed the families of the 11 murdered Israeli athletes will receive a total of €28 million.
Relatives of the victims had planned to boycott memorial ceremonies to mark the 50th anniversary of the attack without the deal.

The athletes’ families have long accused Germany of mistakes before, during, and after the events of 5 September 1972.
But an end to the long-disputed compensation claim can not heal all of the wounds.

Image Credit: Kurt Strumpf/AP