German History: Munich Massacre

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Ilana Romana had foreseen the worst upon learning about the situation in Munich. Being familiar with her husband’s temperament, she anticipated a non-quiet reaction from him. Sadly, her assumption turned out to be accurate. Yossef, her spouse, and his fellow athletes were suddenly disrupted by Arab terrorists on that fateful day. Consequently, this incident resulted in the devastating loss of eleven Israeli athletes and left an indelible impact on the 1972 Olympics, earning it the infamous title of “Munich Massacre”.

The 1972 Olympics were seen by many Germans as a chance to mend the racial wounds caused by the 1936 Olympics, an event marred by Nazism and Hitler’s attempt to showcase Aryan supremacy. These were the first games held in Germany since that troubling time. As the world grappled with political turmoil, such as the Vietnam War, racial tensions in the United States, and ongoing violence in the Middle East, German president Gustav Heinemann saw the Olympics as a significant step towards achieving peaceful coexistence among nations.

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Despite his efforts, Yossef Gutfreund’s goal of preventing Arab entrance into the apartment where he and other Israeli athletes were staying was ultimately not achieved. This occurred at approximately four o’clock in the morning on September 5, 1972, only six days before the end of the games. Gutfreund, who weighed 275 pounds and served as a wrestling referee, became aware of Arab voices behind the door. The terrorists had managed to enter the building unnoticed by disguising themselves in athletic warm-ups and concealing their weapons in gym bags. Without wasting any time, Gutfreund alerted his roommates about the suspicious situation and immediately placed his body against the door in an attempt to block Arab entry.

Despite his initial success, the Arabs quickly entered the apartment and held five Israelis hostage. In an attempt to save his teammates, Romana grabbed a knife from the kitchen and stabbed one of the gunmen. Shortly after, both Romana and wrestling coach Moshe Weinberger were shot multiple times, becoming the first casualties of the morning.

The terrorists departed about an hour after initiating the attack, resulting in the deaths of two members of the Israeli team and the capturing of nine others. Despite the unexpected disorder and resistance, the terrorists were unable to find eight remaining team members in the nearby apartments. Following this, the Arabs quickly issued a series of demands and disposed of Weinberger’s body publicly.

The Black September Organization, a Palestinian off-shoot group, claimed responsibility for the events that took place at the Israeli athletes’ apartment. Their demands involved the liberation of 234 Arab and German prisoners detained in Israel and West Germany. The terrorists presented a typewritten roster of prisoners that should be freed, which included the leaders and creators of the Baader-Meinhof Gang based in Germany. Additionally, the terrorists requested three airplanes to facilitate their getaway, with one plane designated for transporting the released prisoners to a secure destination.

The Munich police commissioner, chief of Olympic security forces, and others collaborated with the Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir, in order to secure the release of the hostages. Nevertheless, Meir unequivocally stated that the Israeli government would not engage in negotiations with terrorists. The West German police granted extensions to the three initially imposed deadlines by the terrorists, allowing the officials additional time to address the situation. Ultimately, as last-minute negotiations failed and the Black September Organization issued further demands, alongside Meir’s steadfast refusal to negotiate, the police commissioner concluded that a rescue operation was the sole course of action.

After relinquishing hope for negotiation, the terrorists suddenly gathered their hostages and proceeded to the military airport in Munich to board a flight back to the Middle East. At the airport, German sharpshooters initiated gunfire, resulting in the deaths of three Palestinians. This led to a violent exchange, resulting in the fatalities of all nine hostages, as well as one police officer and two more terrorists.

Three of the remaining terrorists were apprehended. Approximately one month later, terrorists hijacked a jet and demanded the release of the Munich killers. Germany yielded to their demands, resulting in the terrorists’ release. However, in response to the Munich Massacre and this hijacking, Israel initiated a targeted assassination campaign against individuals it believed were involved in the crime.

After the Munich events, Israel initiated a new anti-terrorism plan known as The Israeli Response to the 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre and the Development of Independent Covert Action Teams. The objective of this study was to analyze the tactics employed by Prime Minister Golda Meir’s covert action teams in order to locate and eliminate those responsible for the Munich Olympic attack on Israeli athletes in September 1972. The study specifically investigated whether the operational and tactical methods used in this counter-terrorism operation achieved the intended objectives. In July 1973, this campaign concluded with the mistaken assassination of an individual wrongly identified as a key Black September member. Unfortunately, this innocent man was shot in front of his confused pregnant wife. The retaliatory action taken by Israel for the Munich massacre marked the first substantial Israeli response and temporarily disrupted the frequency of terrorist attacks.

Meanwhile, the mastermind of the massacre is still on the loose. In 1999, Abu Daoud confessed his involvement in his autobiography, stating that his commandos did not intend to harm the athletes. He placed the blame for their deaths on the German police and the determination of then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir.

The Munich Massacre tragedy shocked the world and halted the XXth Olympics. The following day, a memorial service was held at the main stadium, attended by over 80,000 people. However, controversially, within 24 hours, the President of the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic committee decided that “the games must go on.” This decision received global criticism. Jim Murray from the Los Angeles Times commented, “Surprisingly, they’re proceeding with it… It’s almost like having a dance at Dachau.” As a result of this decision, many nations were offended and some individual athletes withdrew from the competition as a gesture of respect for Israel, the deceased athletes, and their families. Nevertheless, despite these actions taken by some athletes to show solidarity, the Olympic games continued with flags flying at half mast.

The Munich Massacre aftermath still lingers today, seen as a clash between innocent athletes and political assassins. Israel marked the 25th anniversary of the event by organizing an official memorial ceremony at the Tel Aviv monument dedicated to the victims. The Wingate Sporting Institute held an annual ceremony, where families of the victims would pay respects at their graves together. Many of these families continue to hold the German government responsible for its negligent and ineffective handling of the situation. Consequently, they are collectively pursuing a $25 million lawsuit based on evidence of negligence. This incident’s impact extended even to the Sydney Olympics in Australia when Yasir Arafat’s Palestinian Authority urged Arab countries to boycott the Games due to a moment of silence held in honor of the 11 Israeli athletes – one being a U.S. citizen – who were killed by Arafat’s PLO terrorists during the 1972 Munich Olympics.

During the Olympic games, a significant moment of silence occurred to acknowledge the pain endured by the victims’ families. Notably, Ilana Romana had a premonition about an imminent attack, but her husband disregarded it with laughter and reassured her that everything would be okay.

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German History: Munich Massacre. (2018, Aug 19). Retrieved from

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