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05 September 2008

The Munich Massacre - This Day In History

Munich massacre

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Munich massacre
LocationMunich, West Germany
Target(s)Israeli Olympic team
DateSeptember 5 – 6, 1972
4:30 AM – 12:04 AM (UTC+1)
Attack typemass murder, massacre, hostage-taking
Perpetrator(s)Black September
Claimed motiveIsraeli-Palestinian conflict

The Munich massacre occurred during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany, when members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September, a group with ties to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization.

By the end of the ordeal, the group had murdered eleven Israeli athletes and one German police officer. Five of the eight terrorists were killed by police officers during an aborted rescue attempt. The three surviving terrorists were captured, and were later released by Germany following the hijacking of a Lufthansa airliner.

Israel responded to the massacre with Operation Spring of Youth and Operation Wrath of God, a series of Israeli air strikes and assassinations of the principal terrorist planners.

The Days Before

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Members of the 1972 Israeli Olympic team, photographed just before their departure for Munich. The 11 team members taken hostage and subsequently murdered were: 1) wrestling referee Yossef Gutfreund (inset), age 40; 2) wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg, 33; 3) weightlifter Yossef Romano, 31; 4) weightlifter David Berger, 28; 5) weightlifter Ze'ev Friedman, 28; 6) wrestler Eliezer Halfin, 24; 7) track coach Amitzur Shapira, 40; 8) shooting coach Kehat Shorr, 53; 9) wrestler Mark Slavin, 18; 10) fencing coach Andre Spitzer, 27; and 11) weightlifting judge Yakov Springer, 51.

Prior to the hostage-taking, the 1972 Munich Olympic Games were well into their 2nd 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 fact that there were no armed security guards had worried Shmuel Lalkin, the head of the Israeli delegation, even before his team had 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 look after the Israeli team, but Lalkin doubts that these additional measures were ever taken. A 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 September 5, but it was dismissed by the security specialists as preposterous. [1]

The participation of an Israel team in an Olympic Games held in Germany was particularly significant, in that only 27 years had passed since the end of World War II, and the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust were still fresh in people's minds. Many of the members of the Israeli team had lost relatives in the Holocaust, but those interviewed prior to the event looked on the Games as a way of making a statement of defiance to the Nazi murderers of the past by showing the resilience of the Jewish people. There was, in addition, a point of particular poignance and symbolic resonance with the past in the fact that the Olympic facilities were less than ten miles (16 km) from the site of the Dachau concentration camp. Indeed, the Israeli team visited Dachau just prior to the opening of the Games, and fencing coach Andre Spitzer was chosen to lay a wreath at the concentration camp.

The hostage-taking

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The building where the hostage-taking took place is almost unchanged today. The window of Apartment 1 is to the left of and below the balcony.
On the evening of September 4, the Israeli athletes enjoyed a night out, watching a performance of Fiddler on the Roof before returning to the Olympic Village.[2] On the return trip in the team bus, Lalkin denied his 13-year-old son permission to spend the night in the weightlifters' apartment - in the light of later events, a rather fortunate decision. At 4:30 A.M. local time on September 5, as the athletes slept, eight tracksuit-clad Black September members carrying duffel bags loaded with AK-47 assault rifles, Tokarev pistols, and grenades scaled a two-metre chain-link fence with the assistance of unsuspecting American 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 to try 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 back against 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.

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.[3] 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 living hostages. 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 tied at the wrists and ankles, and then to each other. Romano's bullet-riddled corpse was left at the feet of his bound comrades as a warning.

Of the other members of Israel's team, racewalker Dr. 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 garden of the building. The other four residents of Apartment 2 (marksmen Henry Hershkowitz and Zelig Stroch and fencers Dan Alon and Moshe Yehuda Weinstain), plus 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 Shachamarov 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 an official, were housed in Kiel, 500 miles (0 km) from Munich.

Black September's demands

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Of all the images taken by the media covering the event, this picture of one of the masked terrorists overlooking the balcony of the Israeli team quarters has stood the test of time. Many articles on the Internet and in print use this photograph as the only image in the story.[4][5]
The attackers were subsequently reported to be members 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 fedayeen demanded the release and safe passage to Egypt of 234 Palestinians and non-Arabs jailed in Israel, along with two German terrorists 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. Some claim 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[6]. 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.[7] 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 terrorists refused both offers.[8]

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, an Egyptian advisor 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 International Olympic Committee forced a suspension of activities some 12 hours after the first athlete had been murdered.

A small squad of German police was dispatched to the Olympic village. Dressed in Olympic sweatsuits and carrying machine guns, these were members of the German border-police, untrained, 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 terrorists were therefore able to watch the police as they prepared to attack. Footage shows the terrorists 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.

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Israeli hostages Kehat Shorr (left) and Andre Spitzer (right) talk to German officials during the hostage crisis.
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 Schreiber and Genscher 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 regarding the number of hostages and terrorists, the coach was pistol-whipped 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.

Failed rescue

Relocation to Fürstenfeldbruck

After more than half a day of intense negotiations, the terrorists demanded 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)[9], and at 10:10 p.m. a bus carried the terrorists and their hostages from 31 Connollystraße to two 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 Septembrists 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.[10] During a subsequent German investigation, an officer identified as “Sniper No. 2” stated: “I am of the opinion that I am not a sharpshooter.”[11] 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 despite their conviction that there were no more than four or five terrorists holding the Israelis, there were actually eight.

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!" [6]

Gunfire commences

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 fedayeen sprinted back toward the helicopters. Meanwhile, the German authorities gave the order for snipers positioned nearby to open fire, which occurred around 11:00 PM.

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 the helicopters, out of the snipers’ line of sight, and 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, but the hostages, who were 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[13].

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' reply - they fired upon the two Israelis - made it clear that the time for negotiation had long since passed.

Murder 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 panicked at the thought of the imminent failure of their operation. At four minutes past midnight of September 6, one of the terrorists (likely Issa) turned on the hostages in the eastern helicopter and fired at them from point-blank range. Springer, Halfin, and Friedman were killed instantly, but Berger somehow only received two non-lethal wounds in the leg. The terrorist then pulled the pin on a hand grenade and tossed it into the helicopter, causing a tremendous explosion which destroyed the helicopter and incinerated the bound Israelis inside.

Issa then dashed across the tarmac and began firing at the police, who killed the fedayeen 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 helicopter and raked the remaining five hostages with fatal gunfire; Gutfreund, Shorr, Slavin, Spitzer and Shapira were shot an average of four times each. Berger would ultimately be the last hostage to die, succumbing to smoke inhalation. In some cases, the exact cause of death for the hostages in the eastern helicopter was difficult to establish because the corpses were burned almost beyond recognition in the explosion and subsequent fire. Only Ze'ev Friedman’s body was relatively intact; he had been blown clear of the helicopter by the explosion.

Aftermath of failed rescue

Three of the remaining terrorists lay on the ground, two 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.[9] 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. After the botched rescue attempt, he came on the air and stated that "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."[15]

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, and this hard-won awareness led directly to the founding, less than two months later, of GSG 9. In the early 1970s, most Western countries did not have any special anti-terrorist units to deal with this sort of attack.

The authors argue that German authorities made a number of mistakes. First, because of complications in the post-war West German constitution, the army could not (and still would not be able to) 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.[16]

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. (Reeve, pgs. 103 and 107) It is a basic tenet of sniping operations that enough snipers (at least two for each known terrorist, or in this case a minimum of ten) should have been deployed to neutralize as many of the terrorists as possible with the first volley of shots. [17] 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 manoeuvre which would have allowed the snipers clear shots into them. 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 it became clear that a rescue attempt was underway, 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. Meanwhile, the AK-47 assault rifles the terrorists were using had a safety catch that could not be released while holding the weapon in a firing position. Thus, if the terrorists' safety catches were on as they left 31 Connollystraße, there might have been enough time for an assault group to have killed the terrorists before they could even ready their weapons to shoot back. The program claims that this was a basic piece of intelligence which should have been reported. However, while it has been claimed that the AK-47 safety catch is difficult to arm and disarm, others argue that the unusual positioning of the safety on the right rather than the left does not make it any more awkward or time-consuming than a normal safety catch.

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 judgement in the subsequent Olympic hostage crisis. Had the committee been made up of more experienced people, the situation might well have been handled differently.

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. (Reeve, pgs. 115-116) 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. (Reeve, pgs. 106-107)

In addition, the snipers did not have the proper equipment for this anti-terrorism operation. None of them were equipped with steel helmets or bullet-proof vests. (Reeve, pg. 116) As well, 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 barrel; at the distances the snipers were required to shoot, a 27-inch barrel would have ensured far greater accuracy. (Groussard, pgs. 354-355) Additionally, none of the rifles were equipped with telescopic or infrared sights. (Reeve, pg. 116) No armored vehicles were at the scene at Fürstenfeldbruck, and were only called in after the gunfight was well underway. (Reeve, pgs. 118 and 120)

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. (Reeve, pg. 116) 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 by one of his fellow policemen, who was unaware that he was shooting at one of his own men. One of the helicopter pilots, Ganner Ebel, was also wounded by what turned out to be “friendly fire.” (Both Ebel and the sniper recovered from their injuries) (Reeve, pgs. 121-122)

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. 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. (Reeve, pgs. 236-237)

Effect on the Games

The Olympic competition was suspended on September 5 for one full day; this had never happened before. The next day, a memorial service attended by 80,000 spectators and 3,000 athletes was held in the Olympic Stadium. IOC President Avery Brundage made no reference to the murdered athletes during a speech praising the strength of the Olympic movement, 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 soccer 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 the offenders from the grounds.[18] 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 order of Willy Brandt. Ten Arab nations and the Soviet Union demanded their flags remain at full-staff, which Brandt accepted.[19]

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”, a decision endorsed by the Israeli government and Olympic team’s chief.[20]

On September 6, 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 September 7, stating they feared reprisals.[21] 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, you go home. That’s what I’m doing.”

The families of some victims have asked the IOC to establish a permanent memorial to the athletes, but 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.[22] 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, and remains there today.[23][24]


On September 5, Golda Meir, then Prime Minister of Israel, appealed to other countries to "save our citizens and condemn the unspeakable criminal acts committed." The attack was widely condemned around the world, with King Hussein of Jordan - the only leader of an Arab country to publicly denounce the Olympic attack - calling it a "savage crime against civilization… perpetrated by sick minds."[8]

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 September 9, Israeli planes bombed Palestinian targets in Syria and Lebanon.[26]

On October 29, hijackers of a 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 Germany, receiving a tumultuous welcome when they touched down in Libya and giving their own firsthand account of their operation at a press conference broadcast worldwide. In both ESPN/ABC's documentary The Tragedy of the Munich Games and in Kevin Macdonald's Academy Award-winning documentary One Day in September, it is claimed that the whole Lufthansa hijacking episode was a sham, concocted by the West Germans and Black September so that the Germans could be rid of the three Munich perpetrators. The view is that the Germans were fearful that their mishandling of the rescue attempt would be exposed to the world if the three Fürstenfeldbruck survivors had ever stood trial.

Operations Wrath of God and Spring of Youth

Golda Meir and the Israeli Defense Committee secretly authorized the Mossad to track down and eliminate those responsible for the Munich massacre.[27] a claim which was disputed by Zvi Zamir, which describes this as “putting an end to the type of terror that was perpetrated” (in Europe).[28] To this end the Mossad set up a number of special teams to locate and eliminate these terrorists, aided by the agency’s stations in Europe.[21]

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 Elohim. 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 complete, a wave of assassinations of suspected Black September operatives began across Europe.

On April 9, 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 July 21, 1973, in the so-called Lillehammer affair, a team of Mossad agents killed 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 January 22, 1979 with a remote-controlled car bomb.

Simon Reeve writes that the Israeli revenge operations continued for more than 20 years. He details the assassination in Paris in 1992 of 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 2003 the families of the Munich victims reached a financial settlement with the German government.

In a 2005 book reviewed by Time magazine, author Aaron J. Klein (who based his book in large part on rare interviews with key Mossad officers involved in the reprisal missions) contends that the Mossad got only one man directly connected to the massacre, Atef Bseiso, who was shot in Paris as late as 1992. The rest of the targets were unconnected or junior operatives. The operation functioned not just to punish the perpetrators of Munich but also to disrupt and deter future acts, writes Klein. “For the second goal, one dead PLO operative was as good as another.” Klein quotes a senior intelligence source: “Our blood was boiling. When there was information implicating someone, we didn’t inspect it with a magnifying glass.”[30]

Surviving hostage-takers

After many years, the fate of the three Fürstenfeldbruck survivors is in dispute. It has long been claimed that both Mohammed Safady and Adnan Al-Gashey were killed by the Mossad as part of Operation Wrath of God. According to the Klein book, Adnan Al-Gashey actually died of heart failure in the 1970s, not as a result of an attack by the Israeli hit squads. Additionally, in the summer of 2004, PLO veteran Tawfiq Tirawi told Klein that his friend Mohammed Safady was "as alive as you are." He did not go beyond that rather cryptic comment. No additional evidence has come to light regarding Safady's survival.

The prevailing belief is that Jamal Al-Gashey is the sole remaining hostage-taker alive today (October 2007), living underground, 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.

Abu Daoud

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 be alive, and is believed to be in hiding somewhere in the Middle East or in Africa. On July 27, 1981 he was shot thirteen times from a distance of around two meters in a Warsaw Victoria (now Sofitel) hotel coffee shop, but surprisingly survived the attack, chasing his would-be assassin down to the 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,Sports Illustrated on Abu Daoud Abu Daoud, now in his seventies, writes that funds for Munich were provided by Mahmoud Abbas, Chairman of the PLO since November 11, 2004 and President of the Palestinian National Authority since January 15, 2005.[31][32][33]

Though he claims he didn’t know what the money was being spent for, longtime Fatah official Mahmoud Abbas, aka Abu Mazen, was responsible for the financing of the Munich attack.[34]

Abu Daoud, who lives 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.”[35] Arafat rejected this claim.

On December 27, 2005, Mohammed Odeh (Abu Daoud) said that he had no regrets about his involvement in the Munich attack, and that Steven Spielberg's film about the incident would not deliver reconciliation. Ankie Spitzer, widow of fencing coach Andre, has refused several offers of meetings 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.”[36]

The dead of the Munich massacre

Enlarge picture
Memorial plaque in front of the Israeli athletes' quarters. The inscription, in German and Hebrew, reads: The team of the State of Israel lived 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.

The twelve victims of the Black September terrorists are listed below.


Shot by Black Septembrists during the initial break-in: First shot, then blown up by a Black Septembrist's hand grenade in D-HAQO ("eastern") helicopter: (according to the order in which they were seated, from left to right) Shot by Black Septembrist in D-HADU ("western") helicopter: (according to the order in which they were seated, from left to right)

German police

  • Anton Fliegerbauer


The five Black September terrorists killed during the gun battle with German authorities are listed below.
  • Luttif Afif (known as Issa)
  • Yusuf Nazzal (Tony)
  • Afif Ahmed Hamid (Paolo)
  • Khalid Jawad (Salah)
  • Ahmed Chic Thaa (Abu Halla)


1. ^ TIME article, part 1, August 5 2002
2. ^ Reeve, Klein and Groussard
3. ^ Article on CBC Archives
4. ^ "x.htm Messages from 'Munich'", December 21 2005.2005">
5. ^ "Revisiting the Olympics' Darkest Day", September 12 2000.2000">
6. ^ Reeve, Simon. One Day in September, 2001.
7. ^ "Interview "Uns ging es darum, das Leben der Geiseln zu retten", Süddeutsche Zeitung, January 1 2006.2006">
8. ^ Cooley
9. ^ Groussard
10. ^ TIME article, part 5, August 5 2002
11. ^ CBS News article on 2002 comemoration of the massacre, September 5 2002
12. ^ Reeve, Simon. One Day in September, 2001.
13. ^ Groussard
14. ^ Groussard
15. ^ American Sportscasters Online interview with Jim McKay
16. ^ Interview with Ulrich Wegener in One Day in September
17. ^ Groussard, pg. 349
18. ^ TIME article, part 6, August 5 2002
19. ^ Fleming, David (29 July 1996). Remembering the Munich 11?. Sports Illustrated. Retrieved on 2006-07-22.
20. ^ Encarta article on the Olympic Games
21. ^ Guardian article on the massacre, September 7 1972
22. ^ BBC News article on comemoration at 2004 Olympics, August 20 2004
23. ^ Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs article on Sydney 2000 Olympics and Plaque
24. ^ Simon Reeve’s article in 2000: Munich massacre’s echoes heard amid Sydney’s jubilee
25. ^ Cooley
26. ^ The Jewish Agency for Israel Timeline
27. ^ Morris
28. ^ Melman
29. ^ “Munich: Mossad breaks cover” by Ewen MacAskill and Ian Black, The Guardian, January 26, 2006
30. ^ Dec 2005 TIME article
31. ^ WorldNetDaily on Mahmoud Abbas
32. ^ Israel Law Center on Abu Mazen
33. ^ Jewish Virtual Library on Mahmoud Abbas
34. ^ Daoud
35. ^ Conservative News Services on involvement of PLO in the massacre
36. ^ "Her husband’s killer", New York Daily News, December 25 2005.2005">

See also

Olympics with significant incidents


Further reading

  • 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
  • Groussard, S. (New York, 1975), The Blood of Israel: the massacre of the Israeli athletes, the Olympics, 1972 ISBN 0-688-02910-8
  • Jonas, George. (New York, 2005), ''Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Team.", Simon & Schuster
  • 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
  • Tinnin, David B. & Dag Christensen. (1976), The Hit Team ISBN 0-440-13644-X
  • Yossi Melman (February 17th 2006), Interview with Head of Mossad, "Preventive measures" By Yossi Melman "Haaretz.com"


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