For me, the moment I heard about the hostage situation at the 1972 Munich Olympics is as indelibly imprinted on my memory as the moment I heard the news about the Twin Towers.
In September 1972 my husband Mitch and I had just moved into our Center City Philadelphia apartment after returning in May to the U.S. from being stationed in Munich and Mitch being honorably discharged from the army.
I stood in the living room while unpacking and watching (I presume) the Olympics coverage on our tiny black-and-white TV. Due to the lack of instantaneous international news coverage at that time, the provided information was very scant.
The news was devastating on so many levels.
First, the personal:
We had tickets for the Olympics and had given these away when the army decided to reduce the active duty requirement for all R.O.T.C officers in Mitch’s category. Thus we had returned to the U.S. in May 1972.
Previously, in June 1971 we had flown to Israel from the Munich airport, where the plane had been guarded on the tarmac by Germans in uniform with machine guns. That had been unnerving then because it brought up thoughts of the Nazis killing Jews.
When we first arrived in Munich in September 1970, we were told it was only months after the February 13, 1970, murder by arson of seven residents of the Jewish retirement home located in the Jewish community center next to the synagogue.
And in preparing to write this post, I reviewed the Wikipedia information about the Munich Massacre and learned something I had never known (which perhaps explains the armed Germans guarding our El Al flight in June 1971) that took place three days before the murderous 1970 Jewish retirement home arson:
On 10 February 1970, a bus carrying passengers to an El Al airplane at the Munich-Riem Airport, West Germany was attacked by terrorists. One person was killed and 23 were wounded in the attack. An El Al Boeing 707 jet was preparing to take off for London when three terrorists opened fire with submachine guns and hand grenades on a bus carrying passengers to the plane The attack killed one person and wounded 23 others. The pilot of the plane was slightly wounded when he wrestled one grenade-wielding terrorist to the ground while the other terrorists were shooting. After a brief gunfight with police the terrorists were arrested.
The Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PDFLP), as well as the “Action Organization for the Liberation of Palestine” in Jordan claimed responsibility for the attack. The three terrorists were arrested for the attack were identified as Mohammed Hadidi and Mohammed Hanasi from Jordan, and Abdul Rachman from Egypt. The terrorists were released and deported later the same year in response to the Dawson’s Field hijackings.
Second, of course, the obvious:
Jews being killed in Germany – again!
The attack itself:
Palestinian terrorists from a group calling itself Black September had burst into the quarters of the Israeli delegation, taking hostages. The terrorists demanded the release of 234 Arab terrorists imprisoned in Israel as well as the German-imprisoned founders of the German Red Army Faction – the same group that claimed responsibility for the bombing of the U.S. Army’s Frankfurt Officers Club in May (the same day that Mitch and I flew back to the U.S. from Frankfurt).
Later, as we sat glued to our black-and white TV, we learned that, in a shootout at the Munich airport, the Israeli hostages had been killed.
The announcement came from Jim McKay of ABC, who was reporting the event as Roone Arledge fed the information into McKay’s earpiece. At 3:24 am local time September 6th (still September 5th in the U.S.), McKay received the official confirmation and announced:
We just got the final word. You know, 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
What can one say after hearing such news? Germany was yet again a death trap for Jews.
One of the Israeli delegation survivors from the Munich massacre – Shaul Ladany – had been interned as a child in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, the same concentration camp where Anne Frank had died.
Numerous press reports initially listed Ladany as one of those killed. One headline stated: “Ladany could not escape his fate in Germany for a second time.”
Today, with my current Holocaust and antisemitism education projects — which all can be traced back to the experience of living in Germany only 25 years after the end of WWII — I read the daily news of antisemitic incidents and Holocaust denials.
I know that we Jews – and the world’s other residents who want democracy – must never assume that these incidents and denials are meaningless and can be ignored.
These are very meaningful – and we must all work to address them at a point when they can be stopped. Not when it is too late!
May the memory of the 11 murdered 1972 Israeli Olympics representatives be for a blessing. And a call for all of us not to allow senseless hatred to become murderous rage.