When you Google “1972 Olympics Munich” the first few sites that come up have nothing to do with Gold Medals, Mark Spitz or world records. Instead they highlight the coldblooded murdering of eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team by Palestinian terrorists, known as Black September.
Lack of Security
In an effort to create a relaxed environment and distract people from the images of Nazi Germany, the Germans failed to provide the proper security for the Olympics in 1972. Even when a Palestinian informant warned of the attack three weeks before (according to a 2012 article in Der Spiegel) and local authorities in Munich did not respond in a way that could have easily prevented the murders.
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.”[i]
The initial attack was on September 5th in the early hours of the morning. Several of the Israelis resisted the attackers, giving their friends and fellow athletes time to escape. Yossef Gutfreund who saw the masked attackers seeking to enter his dorm ran towards the door shouting, alerting others, and threw his massive 300lb physique against the door.
Another Israeli, Moshe Weinberg, who was captured after being shot in the face, purposely lied about where his fellow countrymen were, providing them time to escape. “As the athletes were marched back to the coaches’ apartment, the wounded Weinberg … attacked the kidnappers, allowing one of his wrestlers, Gad Tsobari, to escape via the underground parking garage. 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.”[ii]
The terrorists had two dead bodies and nine hostages. Then they listed their de
mands. They placed one bullet-ridden body next to the hostages and threw one outside, to illustrate their resolve. They wanted Israel to release over 200 prisoners in exchange for the hostages.
Germans Embarrassed and a Noble Gesture
The Germans were quite embarrassed that only a few decades after the Holocaust, Jews were again being killed on their own soil. To his credit, Munich police chief Manfred Schreiber offered the terrorists a significant amount of cash and himself along with two high-ranking German officials in exchange for the Israelis. The offer was rebuffed. Despite repeated offers of money, the world would soon find out that terrorists by definition are unyielding. They claimed, “money means nothing to us; our lives mean nothing to us.”
German police, dressed as athletes took up positions. However, the media’s filming of their actions, and then broadcasting it on television only aided the terrorists, who demanded that the police leave… which they did.
A Plan Gone Awry
In the end, the Germans feigned agreement to the demands of the terrorists and convinced them to go to a nearby airfield where an ambush was being set. However, when they realized there were more gunmen than they had originally thought, the Germans abandoned the idea. When the Palestinians arrived at the airfield, they discovered an empty airplane—as the ‘crew’, German police—had already fled.
The Palestinian terrorists realized they had been lured there on false pretenses and a gunfight broke out. The Germans had positioned snipers at the airfield, one of which admitted later he was unqualified, and they sought to take out the terrorist leader. Sadly, they missed.
Then chaos broke out. Several of the hostages were killed at point blank range. The leader of the Palestinians, realizing this would be a fight to the death, attacked the police who quickly shot him dead. However, there is much speculation as to what happened to the remaining hostages. A later German investigation revealed the authorities might have not only killed one of their own snipers, but the remaining hostages. However, a Time Magazine reconstruction concluded that a surviving terrorist raked the five remaining hostages with machine gun fire.
“They’re All Dead”
When the dust settled, all of the Israeli athletes were dead and three Palestinian terrorists were captured.
Jim McKay, whose intro the ABC’s Wide World of Sports has become as famous as the man himself, was hosting the Olympics. How ironic—the man who weekly spoke of the “agony of defeat” was the one to share the fate of the Israelis with the world. McKay was on air for fourteen hours without a break and at 3:24 A.M. he reported:
“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.” (See Video)