munich 1972 olympics

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September 5th 1972: Munich Massacre

On this day in 1972, the Palestinian terrorist group Black September broke into the Olympic Village of the Munich Games and took five Israeli athletes and six coaches hostage. The 1972 Games were already a tense one, as it was the first Olympics held in Germany since 1936 (which took place under Nazi rule). The Israeli athletes were particular nervous but everything went smoothly until early in the morning of September 5th when eight members of Black September broke into the Olympic Village. Two Israelis were killed that night and the remaining nine were taken hostage. The group demanded the release of 234 prisoners in Israeli prisons. A standoff ensued, and by the evening the terrorists realised they would be overwhelmed when they arrived at the airport where they were supposed to leave the country. All nine hostages were then tragically killed and the authorities struck down five of the eight terrorists; the surviving three were arrested. They were later released after other Black September members hijacked a plane and threatened to blow it up unless the Munich terrorists were released. In retaliation to the attack and the release of those responsible, the Israeli government’s intelligence agency Mossad targetted Palestinians with supposed ties to the event; in reality many innocent people were killed for a crime with which they were not involved

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In September 1972, during the Munich olympic games, 8 palestinian terrorists from the group ‘Black September’ attacked 11 members of the Israeli olympic team and took them hostage, demanding the release of over 200 prisoners. This event became known as the ‘Munich Massacre’, as all 11 members were murdered.

Pictured above is the iconic image of one of the terrorists on the balcony of Apartment 1, where the hostages were initially held. Two of the hostages were shot and killed while in the apartment building during the initial attack. The remaining hostages were kept in this blood spattered apartment for less than 24 hours, during which the siege was widely televised and reported, and numerous rescue attempts failed. The terrorists had been specifically instructed not to hold the hostages for more than a day, and should their demands not be met they were to request an airplane to transport them and the hostages to a middle-eastern country of their choice.

During this process the German authorities saw another opportunity to ambush the terrorists at the runway, however the whole operation was poorly orchestrated and resulted in a fire fight that lasted over an hour. During this fight the hostages were bound together in two helicopters that had transported both them and the 8 terrorists to the air strip. In the middle of the gun fight the terrorists took the opportunity to throw a live grenade into one of these helicopters, while another terrorist emptied a machine gun into the remaining helicopter, killing all 9 of the surviving hostages.

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At 4:30 am on 5 September 1972, 8 members of a faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) scaled the fence of the Olympic Village with duffel bags full of weapons.

The terrorists broke into the rooms of Israeli athletes, shooting wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg in the face and forcing him to lead them to other Israeli Olympic athletes. The gunmen took wrestlers and weightlifters as additional hostages.

As they were marched back to the coach’s quarters, Weinberg and weightlifter Yossef Romano attacked the captors, allowing Gad Tsobari to escape before Weinberg and Romano were shot and killed. There were now 9 hostages.

Racewalker Shaul Lanady had been awakened during the break-in and jumped from his 2nd-story room and spread news of the attack.

The terrorists demanded the release of 234 Palestinians and non-Arabs jailed in Israel, as well as 2 German terrorists jailed in Germany. They threw Weinberg’s body outside the dormitory to demonstrate their resolve. Israel’s response was immediate and absolute: there would be no negotiation.

At 4:30 pm, 38 German police officers arrived on the scene. Their plan was to crawl down from the ventilation shafts and kill the terrorists. Camera crews filmed the actions of the officers from the German apartments, and broadcast the images live on television. The terrorists watched the police prepare to attack, and threatened to kill the hostages if the police proceeded. The German police officers were ordered to stop the mission.

At 6 pm the terrorists issued a new demand: transportation to Cairo.

Police accepted the demand and prepared to assault the terrorists at the airport. 5 German soldiers were deployed around the airport as snipers (though none had sniper training or experience ) —3 on the roof of the control tower, 1 hidden behind a service truck and 1 behind a small signal tower at ground level. German police were dressed as flight crew on board the plane.

The German officials on board the plane assumed there were no more than 2 or 3 terrorists holding the hostages, when they discovered there were 8 they cancelled their plan and left the plane, without notifying anyone else.

When the terrorists entered an empty plane, they realized they had been set up and German officials realized their plan was blown. Chaos ensued, and gunfire erupted from all sides. By 1:30 am on 6 September, it was all over.

Initial news reports, published all over the world, indicated that all the hostages were alive, and that all the attackers had been killed. 2 hours later, the actual facts were reported. 5 of the 8 terrorists had been killed, with 3 captured. All of the hostages had been murdered.

The bodies of the 5 Palestinian attackers were delivered to Libya, where they received heroes’ funerals and were buried with full military honors.

The 3 surviving terrorists were awaiting trial but were released when a Lufthansa passenger plane was hijacked on 29 October and threatened to be blown up if the 3 were not immediately released.

2 days after the “Munich Massacre” Israeli planes bombed PLO bases in Syria and Lebanon, killing more than 200 people.

The President of the Olympic Organizing Committee wanted to cancel the rest of the Games, but International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage (who had helped Hitler secure the 1936 Olympics) insisted that the Games continue.

The Israeli team withdrew immediately after the memorial service on 6 Sept. The Egyptian team left the following day, as did the Phillipines, Algerians and members of the Dutch and Norwegian teams.

The IOC resisted any memorial for the victims after the service held on 6 Sept., even refusing to have a moment of silence on the 40th anniversary. In 2014, the IOC agreed to contribute $250,000 towards a memorial to the murdered Israeli athletes, and commemorated the victims of the Munich massacre for the first time at the Rio Olympic Games on 4 August 2016.

Today (Sept. 6) marks the 42nd anniversary of the murders of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. הי״ד 

Eliezer Halfin, 24 - Wrestler

Ze'ev Friedman, 28 - Weightlifter

Yossef Romano, 31 - Weightlifter

Mark Slavin, 18 - Wrestler

David Berger, 28 - Weightlifter

Yossef Gutfreund, 40 - Wrestling Referee 

Andre Spitzer, 27 - Fencing Referee

Moshe Weinberg, 33 - Wrestling Referee

Kahat Shor, 53 - Shooting Coach

Amitzur Shapira, 40 - Track Coach

Yaakov Springer, 51 - Weightlifting Coach