From 1972

If there was any consolation to be derived from the “Munich Massacre,” it would be that much of the world was outraged and finally understood the forces of evil facing Israel.

It began as a joyous occasion. As the 20th Olympic Games began, the JN editorial on Sept. 1, 1972, captured the excitement with a simple sentence: “Jews were cheered in Munich.” This referred to the cheers for Israeli athletes as they marched into the arena, but this was also a profound idea for Jews: “The Olympic Games of 1972 are a refutation of the horrors of Nazi terror that had its image in Hitler’s presence at the Berlin Olympics in 1936.”

The same issue also reported that American Jewish swimmer, Mark Spitz, had already won three of his seven gold medals. Spitz would be the most successful athlete at the 1972 Olympics.

The joy was not to last. On Sept. 5, 1972, eight Palestinian terrorists, affiliated with Black September, a militant offshoot of the Palestinian Liberation Organization led by Yasser Arafat, climbed the fence and entered the Olympic residential area. Armed with maps and stolen keys, they went directly to where Israeli athletes were living.

As the terrorists entered, Moshe Weinberg, the team’s wrestling coach, and Yosset Gutfreund, wrestling referee, confronted them, but they could not stop them. Weinberg was shot and wounded. Soon, Israeli athletes were hostages.

Already wounded, Weinberg was killed in a later confrontation when he attempted to wrest a gun from a terrorist. Assisting Weinberg, while on crutches, weightlifter Yossaf Romano was also killed. One escaped but nine others remained as hostages.

The terrorists demanded the release of 200 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons and a plane for their escape. At night, thinking they had a deal, the terrorists led the hostages, bound together and blindfolded, to buses that took them to helicopters, which transported terrorists and hostages to an airbase.

West German police were waiting for them. Inside the plane were policemen disguised as aircrew; others were stationed outside. There was, however, one major problem: the police were not trained in counterterrorism. Legally, the better-trained and armed units in the German Army could not help the police. The rescue operation was a recipe for the disaster that resulted.

Upon arrival, after checking the airplane, the terrorists discovered the ruse. They began to shoot up and throw grenades at the helicopters. Although the crews were able to escape, the hostages were trapped. In the aftermath, 11 Israeli athletes, five terrorists and one policeman lay dead.

Shortly after, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir launched “Operation Wrath of God” to punish Black September planners of the crime. Israelis were accused of vengeance, but Zvi Zamir, director of the Mossad, while noting that those who planned the terrorism deserved to die, said: “No … We acted against those who thought that they would continue to perpetrate acts of terror … We were not dealing with the past; we concentrated on the future.”

Despicable acts like this can’t really have positive ramifications. But, if there was any consolation to be derived from this “Munich Massacre,” it would be that much of the world was outraged and finally understood the forces of evil facing Israel. In addition, Western governments began properly training counterterrorist forces.

A moment of silence was held to honor the memory of the 11 Israeli athletes slain in 1972 at the opening ceremony for the current Olympics in Tokyo.

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