One of my earliest memories was the 1972 Olympic Games. American swimmer Mark Spitz’s Olympic record 7 gold medals in the games electrified the world — a feat only surpassed in recent days. But just days after Spitz’s amazing performance, the world was shocked again as the most horrific incident in the entire history of the Olympic games unfolded on September 5, 1972 in Munich.
In the early morning hours of that dreadful day, a band of Palestinian terrorists gained access to the 31 Connollystraße building housing the Israeli team in the Olympic village. Two Olympians were killed as the terrorists seized the hostages. Nine others were taken hostage. As the drama continued throughout the day and into the night, the Palestinian terrorists and their nine Israeli hostages were taken to the Fürstenfeldbruck airfield where two military helicopters awaited them. At 11pm that day, German police snipers opened fire before the helicopters could take off. The counterattack was unsuccessful, and the Palestinian terrorists shot and killed all of the Israeli hostages in one helicopter, and threw a hand grenade into the other, killing the rest of the hostages.
It was left to ABC newscaster Jim McKay to tell the world the awful news, who announced the deaths of the Israeli athletes at 3:24am German time on September 6:
“When I was a kid, my father used to say ‘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."These are the Israeli Olympic team victims of the Palestinian terrorist attack:
- Moshe Weinberg (wrestling coach)
- Yossef Romano (weightlifter)
- Ze’ev Friedman (weightlifter)
- David Berger (weightlifter)
- Yakov Springer (weightlifting judge)
- Eliezer Halfin (wrestler)
- Yossef Gutfreund (wrestling referee)
- Kehat Shorr (shooting coach)
- Mark Slavin (wrestler)
- Andre Spitzer (fencing coach)
- Amitzur Shapira (track coach)
- Anton Fliegerbauer (German counter-terrorist police officer)
A 2002 article by Los Angeles Times reporter Alan Abrahamson recounts the tragedy.
The frontpage of the New York Times, September 6, 1972:
A memorial plaque in front of the former Israeli Olympic team apartments in Munich, which reads in both German and Hebrew:
The team of the State of Israel stayed 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.
We will not forget.
Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.
May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.
Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.
May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.