TDIH: The Munich Massacre--Terror and Tragedy at the 1972 Olympic Games
On this day in history, Palestinian terrorists took Israeli team members hostage during the 1972 Summer Olympics
in Munich. The 1972 Summer Olympics had been publicized as the “Games of Peace and Joy.”
West Germans were eager to erase the memory of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which Adolf Hitler exploited to promote Nazi propaganda. The Munich organizers opted for lax security to avoid comparisons to the Nazi regime, a fateful decision that would have tragic consequences.
In the early hours of Sept. 5, 1972
, eight assailants from the group known as Black September
breached the Olympic Village by scaling a surrounding fence. They broke into the apartments housing the Israeli athletes and coaches at Connollystrasse 31
. The terrorists were confronted by Israeli wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg
as they tried to enter apartment one. Weinberg resisted the terrorists and was shot in the mouth. The terrorists forced him at gunpoint to lead them to the rest of the Israeli team.
It has been speculated that the reason Weinberg led the terrorists past apartment two—which also housed members of the Israeli team—is because he thought the weightlifters and wrestlers in apartment three had a better chance to overtake the terrorists, but they were totally unprepared. They were forced back into apartment one. One of the hostages, Gad Zabari, was able to escape, with Weinberg’s assistance. Weinberg was shot again and killed. Yossef Romano, a weightlifter, was killed when he attempted to disarm one of the attackers. The terrorists had nine remaining hostages
. They were wrestling referee Yossef Gutfreund, wrestlers Eliezer Halfin and Mark Slavin, weightlifter Ze'ev Friedman, American-born weightlifter David Berger, weightlifting judge Yakov Springer, fencing coach Andre Spitzer, shooting coach Kehat Shorr, and track coach Amitzur Shapira.
demanded the release of over 200 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, along with the release of German terrorists Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof in exchange for the hostages. After unsuccessful negotiations to free the hostages, the terrorists demanded to be flown with their captives to Cairo. Authorities pretended to comply with the terrorists’ demands while they planned a doomed rescue attempt
. The West German police mistakenly believed that there were five terrorists, not eight. They didn’t deploy enough police snipers--and the ones they had chosen didn’t have sharpshooting experience. They lacked the necessary gear to effectively carry out such an ambush, including bulletproof vests and walkie-talkies.
The terrorists and hostages arrived at Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base
—where an aircraft was waiting--around 10:30 p.m. Once there, a shootout ensued. The hostage crisis that began on Sept. 5 ended in horror on Sept. 6. The nine Israeli hostages, five terrorists, and one West German policeman were killed during the disastrous failed rescue operation. Three terrorists were captured alive. Initial media reports prematurely indicated that all the terrorists had been killed and all the Israeli hostages had been freed. The world would soon learn the truth about the Munich massacre.
On Sept. 6, a little after 3 a.m., American sportscaster Jim McKay
broke the heartbreaking news with three chilling words: “They’re all gone.”
On the same day, more than 80,000 mourners attended a memorial service
for the slain Israelis at Olympic Stadium. After temporarily suspending the Olympics, Avery Brundage
, the president of the International Olympic Committee made the controversial decision that despite the tragedy, the Munich Olympic Games would continue. On Sept. 6, 2017, 45 years after the terrorist attack, the Munich 1972 Massacre Memorial
opened in Munich’s Olympic Park.
Learn more about the tragic events that unfolded at the 1972 Summer Olympics through these websites available in SIRS Issues Researcher
and ProQuest Research Topics available in eLibrary
International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame
Munich Olympics Massacre (1972) Research Topic
Munich Research Topic
Olympic.org--Official Website of the Olympic Movement
Olympics (Historical) Research Topic
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