Many of us know a little about what happened at the Munich Olympics in 1972.
Eleven Israeli athletes were murdered. That we remember. Clearly it was a bad thing, the curtain raiser for the new age of terror in which we live.
But it happened 44 years ago, the edge of the horror has worn dull, the raw hatred that has fueled it is too uncomfortable to think about much, and we tend to forget about it as the rush of atrocities that have followed seem to have eclipsed it.
If we think that, though, we’re wrong. That act of extraordinary brutality — the athletes were not murdered in some clean, gleaming, Olympic way, but tortured and mutilated by their psychotic captors — was an act of inhumanity that we should face and acknowledge. It was woven with strands of anti-Israeli feeling, anti-Zionist fervor, and plain old anti-Semitism, seemingly one of the most ancient of all loathings, the ur-hatred that has fueled so many other, newer hatreds.
On November 19, as part of its Torch Talk series, the Academies at Gerrard Berman in Oakland will host a panel discussion on Munich at Columbia University’s law school. The discussion, called “Lessons of Munich,” will consider what happened in Germany, as well as the fight to keep its memory, and thus its message, in the public consciousness, by including a moment of silence at an Olympic opening ceremony. The headliner will be Bob Costas, NBC’s star sports reporter, who has won 27 Emmys, and whose insistence on remembering the Munich 11 at all the Olympics he had covered has kept the story alive.
The panel will include eight speakers, each with a connection to the Munich Olympics or with the ongoing fight to memorialize it.
Before we look at some of the speakers, an interview with a woman whose schedule precluded her from being on the panel, but whose work in the 44 years since the massacre has been instrumental in keeping alive the idea of a moment of silence, can set the stage.
Ankie Spitzer, who has a full, throaty voice, laughs frequently, and occasionally stops for an audible draw on a cigarette, talked from her home in Israel, on the Mediterranean coast just outside Tel Aviv. She is the widow of Andre Spitzer, the fencer who coached the team. Although Ms. Spitzer went on to have “a lovely life” as a mother and a grandmother, and also as a successful journalist — and although it is important to her that the world know that she was able to live that normal, even lovely life after the Olympics — those days in Munich marked her and have driven her ever since.
Ms. Spitzer, 70, was born in Holland soon after the end of World War II. Her family was large, prominent, and Catholic. Like many Dutch preteens, “I read Anna Frank” — that, of course, is the “Diary of Anne Frank,” whose story unfolded in Amsterdam, Ms. Spitzer’s city. “Anna Frank was a Dutch girl, about my age, and the book made such an enormous impression on me that then and there I decided that when I was done with high school, I would spend at least a year in Israel,” she said. “I had to know the Israelis’ history. I had to know what made them tick.” Ms. Spitzer was not alone in that desire. “A lot of young people from Western Europe were fascinated by the kibbutz then. We were used to organized countries and laws, with everything fixed, nothing new. Nothing dynamic. Like a lot of other people my age, I was looking for a little more action, more challenges.”
And the fact that Israel was Jewish added to its appeal, she said.
Still she didn’t go to Israel right away. First, Ms. Spitzer, who had skipped a few grades, finished high school in Holland at 15, in 1961, and began a decade of travel and exploration. She went to Youngsville, Pennsylvania, a small town about an hour from Lake Erie, on a high school exchange program, and spent what sounds like an idyllic year there, taking only the classes she wanted to take — English, speech, and band — and forming relationships that still are strong today.
Next she spent a year at the Sorbonne, in Paris, and then she went to a kibbutz, “and I must admit I wasn’t impressed,” she said. “It was not quite what I expected. I wanted to sit on a tractor and pick oranges. Instead, I was sent into the kitchen, and I peeled onions. I did it for two months — until I found out that the onions came from Holland.”
She stayed at the kibbutz for a year anyway, and then traveled through Greece, Turkey, Iran, and India — remember, it was starting to be the ’60s — and then went back home. Stints in other parts of the world yielded such part-time jobs as as stint as hostess in the Dutch Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal, and a two-year stay in South America. “I had been traveling for 10 years, studying in different places, and I ended up with only one meager B.A.,” she said ruefully. “From a Dutch university, in the history of art, mind you. Which I never did anything with, but it was a lovely study. But that was not the point. The point was to be in different places.
“In the end, in 1969, I went back to Israel.” But that attempt to live in the country that kept drawing her didn’t work either. “I was upset by the lack of politeness, by the way people treated each other.” So once again she left; she moved back to her family’s home in Holland while she considered her next move.
“I decided that I come from a very athletic family. We have all done all sorts of sports. I wondered what sport I didn’t know yet. Fencing! So I decided to go to fencing school. One of my coaches there spoke very good Dutch, but with a slight accent. I thought he was from Eastern Europe. Maybe Hungary.
“He was training me, making me run like mad, and at one point I said ‘Maspik!’” (That’s Hebrew for “enough!”) “And he looked at me, and said ‘From where do you know this word?’ And I said ‘I spent some time in Israel.’ He said ‘I am from Israel. I have to finish my coaching here, but maybe then afterward we can meet for a beer.’ And I said ‘Great.’ And we sat there and met and talked, and that is where I fell in love with Andre Spitzer.”
Mr. Spitzer was born in Transylvania, the part of Hungary that often transferred to Romania, right after the war, as his accent revealed. His parents survived the war in labor camps. He made aliyah to Israel, joined the army, and then, once he was out, became a fencing coach. He was sent to Holland by Israel’s fencing federation to further his own training.
When Ankie and Andre fell in love, Andre offered to stay in Holland with her. “I told him that I had been disappointed in Israel because I expected a type of idealism that I didn’t find. He had wanted me to go back with him, but he said ‘Ankie, if you say you don’t want to go back to Israel, I will respect that and stay here with you.’ But I said ‘No. You promised to go back, and I will join you.’”
So they went back to Israel. “Andre was a very gentle person,” Ms. Spitzer said. “He was very kind. He explained to me that those people who were very grouchy — you don’t know. Maybe they had a son at the Lebanese border. Maybe they were worried. He found explanations. He never said that the lack of politeness was okay, but he made me look at Israel through his eyes.”
The fencing federation sent the couple to the Lebanese border. “There was nothing there,” Ms. Spitzer said. “Just an academy for fencing, and for some other sports. Andre was the head of the academy. In Holland, I would go to a concert or a play every week. Here there was nothing. We didn’t even have electricity. We couldn’t even leave the place where we were living after 7 at night, because they would shoot at us from over the border.”
And they were young and in love and alone together, and it was madly romantic. “We were there for a year,” she said. “It was the best year of my life.”
After three months, Ankie and Andre got married. Their first wedding was a civil one, in Holland, because Ankie was not Jewish. “But I said I want to become Jewish. I am living here, with you. I am making my life here with you.’
“So I became the first convert of Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren.
“Rabbi Goren was a very pragmatic person,” Ms. Spitzer said. “He wanted to solve the problem of people who want to convert. Now,” she added, talking parenthetically but with great passion about the controversy about conversion in Israel, “it is a disaster. But I was very lucky. He took me on.”
She converted in 1971, and she and her husband remarried in a Jewish ceremony. “It was a very easy decision for me,” she said “My whole family was very supportive and very loving. They totally accepted it. I was 24. They said, ‘Ankie, you are old enough to make the decision that you want to make.’ They couldn’t stand under the chuppah with me, because they weren’t Jewish, but they totally accepted that. They stood next to me next to the chuppah.” A year later, the Spitzers’ daughter, Anouk, was born.
Soon, the academy up on the Lebanese border became too dangerous, and the Spitzers moved to the center of the country, “and then he heard that he was selected to be the fencing coach for the Olympic Games. Every athlete’s goal is the Olympics. He was elated. Absolutely elated. And I was so happy for him!
“We had just had our baby girl, and I thought, well, I’ll just stay home, but he said ‘There is no way that I’m going alone. You’ll come with me.’ So we decided to bring the baby, who was only two months old. I flew with her to my parents’ house in Holland, and they took care of her. My brother was a pediatrician, and he was there too.
“Today, when I think about that, I think how stupid that was, leaving her. But then I had no clue.”
The Spitzers rented a room in Munich. Andre could have stayed at the Olympic Village, but it was divided into two parts, one for men, one for women. (Now, teams stay together; then, they did not.) “And we were a young married couple,” Ms. Spitzer said.
“Andre never slept in his room in the Olympic Village until the fatal night,” she continued. “But we did go into the village every day.
“Those were joyous games. There were not a lot of police or army protecting anything. And I understand the mentality of the Germans. They think that you go in through the entrance and you go out through the exit.” It wouldn’t occur to them that, say, terrorists could go in through the door marked out. That, as it turned out, was stupid.
Ankie checked in with her parents every night, in those way-pre-cellphone days, and soon they told her that baby Anouk, who had not stopped crying, was in the hospital. Nothing seemed to be wrong, but her brother the pediatrician was worried. Ankie worried too, but she kept the news from Andre until after the competition.
Once their games were over, the Israeli delegation celebrated in a Munich beer hall, and then they went to Dachau. Ankie finally told Andre about Anouk, and they went to see her; Andre wanted more time off, but the head of the delegation granted him only a few days. So they went to Holland — Anouk, as it turned out, was fine, but had to stay in the hospital for observation for another few days. Ankie stayed with her. Andre nearly missed his train back to Munich, but Ankie, driving like the wind, got him to the station on time.
So Andre Spitzer — who had not slept in the Olympic Village until that last night, who had wanted to spend that night in Holland, not Munich, and who had almost missed the last train that could have gotten him there on time — was back in his room when the Black September terrorists invaded.
“He should have missed the whole thing,” his widow said. “This is probably what fate is like. He shouldn’t have been there.” But he was. “And I was in Holland, staying with my parents.
“The next morning, my parents came to wake me up at 7,” Ms. Spitzer said. “They said, ‘Ankie, how many people are there in the Israeli delegation?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ I had just woken up. ‘Maybe 20, 25.’ And they said, ‘Who is the boxing coach?’ And I said, ‘There is no boxing coach. Israel didn’t send any boxers. Why are you asking?’ And my father said, ‘Well, you should know that on all the TV programs, and on the radio, they said that terrorists came into the Israeli building and took an unknown number of Israelis hostage.’
“And I said, ‘What happened to the boxing coach?’ And he said ‘They already shot him, and put his body outside the building.’
“I jumped out of bed and said ‘There is no boxing coach.’ So I called the Israeli embassy in Holland.” No one there had any more firm information. “So I had to wait until 9 in the morning on that day, the fifth of September, to get word that Andre was one of the hostages.”
The murdered man was Moshe Weinberg, the wrestling coach, whose son, Guri, is on the panel.
Ms. Spitzer wanted to go back to Munich immediately, but the Israeli ambassador told her not to. “There are thousands of people trying to get in, and you will not get in,” she reports that he told her.
This was the first time that the Olympics had been televised live, so the nightmare played out in public view. The terrorists kept giving ultimatums, Ms. Spitzer said. “They wanted something like 236 Palestinians released; they said they would start systematically killing the Israeli athletes.” At first, the release had to be by 10, then 3, then 5. “Every couple of hours, I would think, now they will kill Andre, and I sat like an idiot, with the baby in the hospital and him there.
“I had one TV on in Dutch, and one in German, and the radio next to me. I was crazy. And all my relatives, my brothers and sisters, were there, and I said ‘Go away from me.’ I just wanted to be alone.
“And then, I was watching, it was about 5:30, and I saw the curtains at the window on the second floor was open, and I suddenly saw Andre in front of the window.
“His hands were tied behind his back. He was the only one who spoke German, so he was the go-between. He had to answer questions from the crisis team, asking him what the situation was. I couldn’t hear him on TV, but I heard that later from the crisis team.
“I could see that he didn’t have his glasses on, and I knew that he couldn’t see anything. He was so humiliated, there with his hands tied behind his back and a terrorist holding him. He said that everyone was okay except for one person, and they asked him who it was, and he said something, and he was pushed back into the room, and I could see him being hit in the back.
“And that was the last time I saw him.”
Later, she learned that the Israeli hostage he’d been talking about was Yossef Romano. “He had tried to grab a Kalashnikov, and as an example they shot him four times.
“And they tortured him.
“They castrated him. In front of all the hostages, sitting there, with their hands and feet tied. They said, ‘If any of you guys have any ideas about doing this, this will be your fate. This is what we will do to you.’ Romano bled to death there, slowly, over a couple of hours.”
Nobody watching television knew that at the time; that news came out much later.
“Then later at night, 10, 10:30, the German authorities brought two helicopters inside the Olympic village. They wanted to take the hostages out, fly them to a nearby airport, and there would be a Lufthansa plane ready to take them to an Arab country.
“I will never forget sitting there in front of the TV, watching the two helicopters going up from the Olympic village, and I remember my mother saying ‘Maybe now they have a chance. Maybe they will negotiate. Maybe it will take a year, but at least we know that they will not be shot.’ And I said, ‘No, Mother. This will be over.
“‘The Germans just want this whole show over, out of the Olympic village. They just want them out of the country. They want them somewhere else.’
“The helicopter ride took only six minutes. They arrived at the airport, and the terrorists immediately shot the lights out so it was pitch dark. Then I heard an enormous amount of shooting, and then it was quiet. And then, after about half an hour, enormous bursts of machine-gun fire and then suddenly one of the helicopters just went up in flames. And then it was dark and quiet again.
“And then, after that, at midnight, the German government’s official spokesman came on and said, ‘Well, we have had a very difficult day, but I am very happy to announce that all the Israelis have been saved, and all the terrorists have been killed. So it’s a very happy ending to a very difficult day.’
“So at my house, everyone who had been waiting, from the early morning until midnight, was very happy. My father took out the champagne bottle, and everybody started to dance around. But I said ‘Nobody should say mazal tov to me, because I don’t understand how everybody got saved.’ We heard the shooting and we saw the explosion.
“And no matter what state he was in, if he was alive, Andre would call me.”
That call never came.
Ankie kept calling the Israeli ambassador. “I waited and waited and waited, and called every hour, but nobody could give me an answer.
“And then finally, at 3:10 in the morning, Jim McKay, the sportscaster who was doing all the TV commentary for ABC, said: ‘There were 11 hostages taken by Palestinian terrorists, and they all were killed. They are all gone.’
“So pandemonium broke out in my house, and I said ‘I have to go.’”
The Israeli ambassador organized her trip to Munich at 4 in the morning, and she got there quickly. “There was a big memorial service in the stadium, with 80,000 people. I still remember running in the Olympic village to get to the ceremony, and on both sides of the path there were athletic fields, and athletes were running and jumping and training. I thought, ‘They murdered my husband and his friends, and right here life is still just going on.’ It was surreal.”
The surviving team members — the ones who were in other rooms or other parts of the village — were asked to go into the room where the hostages had been held; the idea was that they’d lived with each other so long that they could easily identify whose belongings were whose. “I said okay, I’m going to pick up Andre’s stuff,” Ankie said. “They said that I cannot go there, but I said why not? I hadn’t been hysterical, I’d been there every day, and I know Andre’s stuff.” She went.
She recalls that she walked to the building with Dan Alon, a fencer who survived — and who will be on the panel — and they opened the door “and you could see the staircase, and the blood of Romano just came running down the stairs.” Mr. Alon told her not to go up, she said, “but I said ‘I have to see where Andre spent the last minutes of his life.’
“I went up the stairs and I looked at the room, and chaos — you could not believe it. The four shots were from a machine gun and they went into the wall. And all the blood of Romano. The room was just full of blood. They” — the crisis team — “had gotten them food but no one ate any of it, so it was there, and they” — the terrorists — “didn’t let them” — the hostages — “go to the bathroom, and the room was total chaos.
“And I looked there, and I thought that if someone did this to Andre, who was such a gentle and peace-loving guy, who did no wrong to anybody — if he had to go through this, in pure fear for his life and the lives of his friends — if he had to witness this whole thing — then I will never stop talking about it.”
Ankie Spitzer took only two of her husband’s belongings from that terrible room. “He had bought a mascot, a dachshund, for Anoukie, and he bought a little bear.” Those she took. “And I said that I will never shut up about this for the rest of my life.
“If people can do this to each other — and in the Olympic village, which symbolizes peace and brotherhood and friendship and fair play — then I cannot stop talking about it.”
The next day, she and the other Israeli families flew back to Israel with the coffins of 10 of the murdered Israeli athletes; the body of David Berger, an Israeli American, was flown back to the United States. All the athletes whose bodies were returned to Israel were buried the next day except for Mr. Spitzer; his funeral was held the next day, giving his widowed mother time to get there from Transylvania.
Mr. Berger, who was not only an Olympic weightlifter but also a lawyer, earned his law degree at Columbia; he will be honored at the panel at his alma mater.
Ankie Spitzer remarried 10 years later; she is now divorced, but she had three more children and is a deeply-in-love grandmother. As a journalist, she covers the Middle East for Dutch and Belgian television and radio, and has had an impressive career. And as an advocate, she has been tireless.
She and Ilana Romano, Yossef’s widow — “I found a tremendous partner in Ilana,” she said — decided that “If you forget history, you will repeat it,” so they went to Olympic Games after Olympic Games, pushing to have the story acknowledged and the deaths honored. They wanted a minute of silence at an opening ceremony. The request seems innocuous, but the International Olympics Committee does not see it that way.
There always was a reason why nothing could be done, Ms. Spitzer said. “At the first Olympics after Munich, in Montreal, we were told that there were 21 Arab countries participating, and they’d walk out if there were a moment of silence. “I said ‘Wonderful! If they do not understand the meaning of the Olympic Games, let them go.’” Her approach did not succeed.
“In 1992, in Barcelona, they told me that I am bringing politics into the Olympic Games. I said ‘I am bringing politics? That’s ridiculous! What is your problem? That they were Israelis or that they were Jews? Just say that there were 11 members of the Olympic family who were murdered.’”
The answer again was no.
Ms. Spitzer and Ms. Romano kept fighting and kept losing. And then something changed.
In 2012, the Olympics were held in London. And the JCC of Rockland — which, to be straightforward, is not a huge institution; nobody will mistake it for the 92nd Street Y — decided to begin a campaign for a moment of silence.
David Kirschtel, its CEO, who will speak on the panel, recalls that the push began as a community service project as it hosted the Maccabi Games. Those games, for Jewish teenagers in North America, “always has some kind of remembrance, and it was 40 years since the Munich massacre, so we thought that we would dedicate the games to the athletes’ memories.”
He drafted a plan, and took advantage of an already planned trip to Israel to meet Ankie Spitzer. Her energy, intensity, and drive, combined with the JCC’s growing understanding of the real symbolic importance of what could be seen as a mere gesture, proved combustible. And the increasing importance of social media and online petitions added structure and reach to the effort.
All of a sudden, the online petitions gathered 5,000 signatures, 10,000 signatures, from 160 countries, and large Jewish organizations like Hadassah and non-Jewish organizations like Catholic University joined the effort, Mr. Kirschtel said. And then governments took notice; President Barack Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, both supported it. Even Israel, which oddly enough had not yet had a minute of silence in the Knesset, did so. “It was a huge steamroller,” Mr. Kirschtel said.
There was not a moment of silence at the London Games. The IOC still could not bring itself to do it. There was a small ceremony at the Olympic village instead.
That outraged Bob Costas.
Mr. Costas first covered the Olympics in 1992. “We did an hour-long documentary looking back on the events of 20 years prior,” he said. “I narrated it. And then, 20 years later, in 2012, knowing that the 50th anniversary of the events would not be an Olympic year and that therefore the 40th anniversary became even more important, I thought that there should be a commemoration for the widows and children of the Israeli athletes and coaches who died.
“They asked the IOC for some official recognition, and the logical place would have been at the opening ceremony. And the IOC — in my mind callously — said no. They fell back on their old thing — we can’t recognize political factions or political demonstrations, etcetera. And my feeling is that this was completely different. This happened within the Olympics.”
And, he added, because the 2002 Olympics were in Salt Lake City, the opening ceremonies at those games included an acknowledgment of the September 11 attacks that targeted the United States, the host country.
“No one is asking the IOC to take a position on every single controversy or tragedy,” Mr. Costas continued. “This was different. It took place in the context of the Olympic Games. And it was murder. But they wouldn’t do it.
“They just had a small ceremony, not on television, and it didn’t have anything like the impact it should have. So I felt that I should make mention of these circumstances, and I did the only thing that made sense when the delegation came in.”
What Bob Costas did moved a great many people very deeply. When the Israeli delegation marched in at the opening ceremony in London, he said, on the air:
“These games mark the 40th anniversary of the 1972 tragedy in Munich, when 11 Israeli coaches and athletes were murdered by Palestinian terrorists. There have been calls from a number of quarters for the IOC to acknowledge that, with a moment of silence at some point in tonight’s ceremony. The IOC denied that request, noting it had honored the victims on other occasions. And, in fact, this week, Jacques Rogge” — then the IOC’s president — “led a moment of silence before about 100 people in the athlete’s village.
“Still, for many, tonight, with the world watching, is the true time and place to remember those who were lost, and how and why they died.”
And then he paused for 12 seconds — which feels like a much longer time than it sounds — waiting until the whole Israeli delegation had entered before cutting away to a commercial.
“Apparently a good many Jewish Americans appreciated the gesture,” Mr. Costas said.
Did it take courage for him to do it? “It may take a dollop of nerve, compared to what you usually find in broadcast TV sports, but when you look around and see examples of real courage I wouldn’t put that adjective next to what I did,” he said.
Why does he think that the IOC did what it did? “I can’t make this charge with certainty, but there were people who speculated that the IOC was afraid of negative reactions from Arab nations,” Mr. Costas said. “My thought is that no one is taking a political stand, and that if it offends you that the IOC commemorates the victims of coldblooded wanton murder, that should be your problem, not the IOC’s.”
About a week after the London games, “we had our own memorial service,” Ms. Spitzer said. “We Israelis and Jews organize one in every town, and we always invite the president and members of the IOCs. And all those anti-Semites — they came.
“And I have always talked to them very nicely — it is the way that I was raised — but this time I decided to take my gloves off.
“There were 1,000 people in this beautiful hall in London, the mayor and the American ambassador to London and a representative of Prince Charles. And I said, ‘Shame on you, International Olympic Committee, for having forsaken 11 members of your Olympic family. And you did it only because they were Jews and Israelis. I have never taken the word discrimination in my mouth before, but now I am going to use that word.
“‘You are discriminating against the 11 Israeli sportsmen who were brutally murdered because they were Israelis and Jews. Shame on you. Are you, IOC, only about power and money and politics, or are you about the Olympic ideas of peace and brotherhood and fair play? I still believe in the Olympic ideal — but I don’t think you do.’”
That speech earned her the enmity of the IOC’s president — but she has a far better relationship with the new one, Thomas Bach, who led a moment of silence at the Olympic village at the Rio games this summer. She thinks — she hopes — that there might be a moment of silence at the next games, in Japan.
Just as Ms. Spitzer and Ms. Romano were able to continue with their lives, and live them well, but also to understand that they had changed irrevocably and now pain and longing would be inescapable, so too were the lives of the dead athletes’ teammates and their children.
Dan Alon was a fencer because his father, Meir Ufalvi, had been one too. “He was a junior champion in Hungary,” Mr. Alon said. “Before the Second World War, he went to play in a competition in Yugoslavia, and he got a telegram from a friend, telling him to come back. He tried to get a visa to America or to Australia, but he couldn’t, so he decided to join the Jabotinsky group in Yugoslavia.” Those groups, better known as Betar, formed a militant Jewish youth movement. “They took him directly to Palestine. All he brought with him was his fencing equipment. That was in 1943. He met my mother, Blanca, who was from Austria, they got married in 1943, and I was born in 1945.”
So of course he fenced. “My father was my fencing coach when I was zero years old. I fenced all the way through. My dream was to be in the Olympics — and it became my nightmare.”
After the massacre, which he survived through the simple luck of being in another room and therefore not having been taken hostage, “at first, it was very hard,” he said. “I had to recover. I was sick, physically and mentally sick, and for a few months I had to take medicine to calm myself. I had to quit fencing completely and start a new life.
“I was 27 years old, and I decided to take life more seriously. I started a big industrial company in Israel, doing plastics, and I managed it for 40 years, until 10 years ago, when I made an exit.
“I got married, I had three children, and now I have a grandchild, but I’m still not recovered. I have a lot of problems with my stomach. And I have a lot of paranoia about going to the airport.
“I only feel safe in Israel. With all the problems we have here, it is still more safe than outside.
“I am still schlepping all my problems with me,” he said.
Guri Weinberg, another panelist, is an actor who was a month old when his father, Moshe Weinberg, the wrestling coach who was the terrorists’ first Olympic victim, was killed. He is haunted by the games and is another ardent advocate of the moment of silence. He also has many questions about what happened. How was it funded? How were the terrorists recruited and trained?
“I have done a lot of research, because there were a lot of missing pieces, and what we knew just didn’t make sense,” Mr. Weinberg said. “The story is that the PLO decided to do it because they were upset that Palestine wasn’t accepted at the Olympics as a country. But that would have given them about a month to prepare; the attack was too sophisticated for that to make sense.
“About four years ago, it came out in the German newspaper Der Spiegel that a group of Nazis helped the PLO get fake documents, get the weapons, get places to stay, and scouted the village.” The paper had been able to pressure the government to release some documents about the massacre.
“A bunch of high Nazis officers fled to Egypt after the war, and Nasser, the president then, was very friendly with them. He introduced them to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Amin al-Husseini” — a notorious anti-Semite whose connections to the Nazis went way back — “and they helped the PLO learn guerilla fighting.
“The connection between the PLO and Nazis goes way back, and it is very convoluted,” he said.
Remember, Mr. Weinberg added, that in 1972 Germany was still divided. Munich was in West Germany, and East Germany still was in the Soviet sphere. “There were a lot of Nazi politicians in East Germany who weren’t hiding it, and were supporting the PLO,” Mr. Weinberg said. He thinks that once the two Germanys were reunited, the government continued to shield those people who were complicit in abetting terrorism because it was easier that way. “I believe that the German government still has more information that it will not release,” he said.
The ties between the Nazis and the Olympic movement are deep and fairly well known. Even the Olympic torch, the movement’s symbol, was “a Nazi symbol. The first time they did it was at the Olympics in Berlin in 1936, and they continue it to this day.”
Avery Brundage, the American who was the IOC’s president from 1936 to 1972, “was a Nazi sympathizer and a friend of Hitler. And then another president, Juan Antonio Samaranch,” who held that office from 1980 to 2001, “was a fascist, and a close friend of Francisco Franco. He also was a Nazi sympathizer. They both worked very hard to stand with the Palestinians and against Israel, and that’s why the Israeli athletes were never given the proper respect or justice.
“In memory of my father, I want justice,” Mr. Weinberg said. His father and the other Israelis “were murdered in such a horrendous way, and then the Olympic world body has really done its best to muddy up the story, and to say no no no, it’s an Israeli-Palestinian issue, and that’s that.”
Dr. Lee Igel of Haworth, who teaches about sports and society, among other things, at NYU and at NYU’s Tisch Institute, is another panelist. “This is an opportunity to get out the call to action never to forget what happened in Munich,” he said. “Details keep coming out. There were a number of actors behind the scenes. If people, some of them fairly high up, didn’t know exactly what was going on, they certainly should have had a fairly good clue.” And in today’s highly wired world, where WikiLeaks eventually spits everything out on all of our screens, we can expect details that have been hidden for 44 years to start to trickle out.
Was what happened in Munich anti-Semitic? “It depends on where you draw the line on the relationship between being anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, or anti-Semitic,” Dr. Igel said. “It’s undeniable that it was anti-Israel, and that dumps into the next question, was it anti-Zionist, and then to the next, about being anti-Semitic. But I’m not sure that the Black September terrorists who did the job made much of a distinction between these three dimensions.”
How did the brains behind the terrorists, whoever they might have been, recruit and train such brutal assassins? “It’s a really sick story,” Dr. Igel said. “They weren’t only murdered, they also were mutilated. It’s not just garden variety terrorism. To the extent that terrorism is sick, this is even sicker. So how do you raise someone sick enough to do that? Give them enough early enough. When people are taught things early enough, whether good or evil, it taps into their values and their consciousness. Terrorists are primed over a long period of time, and they have a mission in mind.
“That’s how you raise a terrorist. In a way, it’s the same way that you raise an athlete.
“You need an environment — for good or evil — that gets them to that level. And they need the sharpness of mind to convert it to action. These terrorists were psychopaths, and then some.”
As for the IOC’s refusal to allow a minute of silence, “How dare they?” Dr. Igel said. “Olympic athletes were murdered. The IOC says, still says now, almost 50 years later, that it’s too political for them to touch? No, thank you. How dare they?”
The other panelists will be Danny Ayalon, the Israeli politician who has been instrumental in the fight for a moment of silence; Emanuel Rotstein, the filmmaker who directed a documentary on the massacre; Carla Stockton, who worked with Dan Alon on his book, and Karol Stonger, a sportswriter who was in Munich covering the Olympics in 1972.