In Munich, Germany 44 years ago, Palestinian terrorists from an organization called Black September murdered a group of Israeli Olympians. The Munich Massacre happened five years after the Six Day War and one year prior to the Yom Kippur War. There were 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Black September. Their names were Moshe Weinberg, Yossef Romano, Ze’ev Friedman, David Mark Berger, Yakov Springer, Eliezer Halfin, Yossef Gutfreund, Kehat Shorr, Mark Slavin, Andre Spitzer, and Amitzur Shapira. Why were these men murdered? The answer is simple. It's because they were Jewish. At the time that this happened, the world’s view of Israel and the Palestinian territories was very different. There has constantly been violence between Israel and Palestine which has resulted in civilian casualties on both sides.
For thousands of years, Jews have been slaughtered based on the fact that they are Jewish. This includes several atrocities throughout history such as Jews being blamed for the death of Christ, the Spanish Inquisition and the pogroms during the Russian Empire. The genocide of Jews is well known as the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of over 6 million Jews and many other civilians throughout Europe. As someone who proudly practices the Jewish faith, the long history of my fellow Jews being massacred is heartbreaking. Tragically, the murders in Munich were no different.
After more than 40 years of friends and families of the victims requesting for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to memorialize the athletes, it finally happened this year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The nightmare started in the morning of September 5, 1972 as members of the Israeli delegation slept. The first to notice something was wrong was Israeli wrestling referee, Yossef Gutfreund, but the terrorists had already made their way into the Olympic village. As the terrorists forced their way into the room, weightlifter Joseph Romero tried to stop one of attackers by grabbing his gun which tragically resulted in Romero being shot and killed. As the hostages were being moved, wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg tried to save his teammates by attacking one of the terrorists with a fruit knife, but he was killed in his brave attempt to try and save them.
As the nightmare continued, the terrorists made demands for the release of 200 Palestinian prisoners and two well-known German terrorists jailed in Israel. After a day of failed negotiations with German authorities, the hostages were taken to a military airport intended for a flight back to the Middle East. The next challenge was how the German authorities were going to rescue the hostages. The first attempt was by German snipers. The second was by the crew who volunteered to take down the terrorists as they arrived to the airport. These officers fled their posts as two helicopters carrying the terrorists and their hostages arrived. Shortly after, something similar to a Wild West shootout started between the terrorists and the police. German shooters opened fire and killed three Palestinian terrorists. As people around the world were told by the news media that the hostages were still alive, two more hostages were killed when one of the terrorists opened fire into one of the helicopters. As the remaining hostages were bound in the helicopter, the pilots manning the helicopters fled for their lives. Caught in the crossfire, a German police officer in the airport’s control tower was killed. The remaining Israeli hostages were killed when one of the terrorists threw a grenade into one of the helicopters causing it to explode. In the end, seventeen people were killed, including the eleven members of the Israeli delegation (including Shaker Heights native David Mark Berger), one German police officer and five of the Black September terrorists. After the attack was over, what was left of the Israeli delegation went home to Israel and the games continued.
Ankie Spitzer, whose late husband Andre was a fencer on the Israeli delegation, finally got her wish when he and his fellow athletes were finally given a memorial 44 years later. There was supposed to be an additional remembrance at the closing ceremony because the IOC was urged by the victims’ families to read each of their names so that the billions of people watching the Olympics around the world knew just what happened. To my disappointment, and likely to the friends and families of the Munich 11, no such addition took place. I felt surprised and saddened that the memory of the Munich 11 was somewhat brushed off.
The Olympic Games are supposed to unify people from around the world to compete for their countries in peace and it should not be a place of hate. During this year’s games in Rio, the Israeli delegation was subject to several incidents of anti-Semitism. The first reported incident was right before the opening ceremony. The Lebanese delegation refused to let the Israeli delegation board the bus to the ceremony they were supposed to share . Another incident occurred after a Judo match. An Israeli judoka had defeated an Egyptian judoka. In the spirit of sportsmanship, the Israeli competitor bowed to his opponent and then approached to shake his hand. The Egyptian judoka refused to shake the Israeli judoka’s hand and he was booed as he exited for his lack of sportsmanship and for bringing intolerance into the Olympics. I had certainly hoped that everyone there would have the decency to give the well-deserved respect to the Israeli delegation who brought home two bronze medals and to the families of the Munich 11. Starting with the 2016 Games, the Israeli athletes murdered by Black September will be remembered at every upcoming Summer Games.
We live in a world where there is suffering everywhere and where innocent lives are taken every day. The massacre in Munich 44 years ago was a prime example. When giving remembrance for someone who has died, a common phrase that is used is “May they rest in peace.” But in Judaism, we do not focus on a person’s death. But to preserve their memory. So, we say “May their memory forever be a blessing.”