Munich massacre

From New World Encyclopedia

Munich massacre

The building where the hostage-taking took place is almost unchanged today. The window of Apartment 1 is to the left of and below the balcony.

LocationMunich, West Germany
DateSeptember 5 – 6, 1972
4:30 A.M. – 12:04 A.M. (UTC+1)
Attack typemass murder, massacre, hostage-taking
Perpetrator(s)Black September
TargetIsraeli Olympic team

The Munich massacre occurred during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany, when members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually murdered by Black September, a militant group with ties to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization.

By the end of the ordeal, the terrorist group had killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches and one German police officer. Five of the eight members of Black September were killed by police officers during an abortive rescue attempt. The three surviving terrorists were captured, and later released by West Germany following the hijacking by Black September of a Lufthansa airliner.

Coming 36 years after Hitler's propaganda Olympic Games of 1936, the murders cast a pall not only on the sporting event, but on the continuing problem of Middle East violence and the cycle of retribution. Israel responded to the massacre with Operation Spring of Youth and Operation Wrath of God, a series of Israeli air strikes and assassinations of those suspected of planning the killings.


The participation of an Israeli team in an Olympic Games held in Germany was a significant event; only 27 years had passed since the end of World War II, and the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust were still fresh in people's minds. Many of the members of the Israeli team had lost relatives in the Holocaust, but those interviewed prior to the event looked on the Games as a way of making a statement of defiance to the Nazi murderers of the past by showing the resilience of the Jewish people. There was an additional point of particular poignancy and symbolic resonance with the past: The Olympic facilities were less than ten miles (16 km) from the site of the Dachau concentration camp. The Israeli team visited Dachau just prior to the opening of the Games, and fencing coach Andre Spitzer was chosen to lay a wreath at the concentration camp.

Prior to the hostage-taking, the 1972 Munich Olympic Games were well into their second week and there was a joyous mood. The West German Olympic Organizing Committee had encouraged an open and friendly atmosphere in the Olympic Village to help erase memories of the militaristic image of wartime Germany, and, specifically, of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which had been exploited by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler for propaganda purposes. 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.

There were no armed security guards anywhere, a fact that had worried Israeli delegation head Shmuel Lalkin even before his team had arrived in Munich. In later interviews with journalists Serge Groussard and Aaron Klein, Lalkin said that he had also expressed concern with the relevant authorities about his team's lodgings. They were housed in a relatively isolated part of the Olympic Village, in a small building close to a gate, which he felt made his team particularly vulnerable to an outside assault. The German authorities apparently assured Lalkin that extra security would look after the Israeli team, but Lalkin doubts that these additional measures were ever taken. A West German forensic psychologist, Dr. Georg Sieber, had been asked by Olympic security experts to come up with 26 "worst-case" scenarios to aid them in planning Olympic security. His Situation 21 predicted with almost eerie accuracy the events of September 5, but it was dismissed by the security specialists as preposterous.[1]

The hostage-taking

On the evening of September 4, the Israeli athletes enjoyed a night out, watching a performance of Fiddler On The Roof and dining with the play's star, Israeli actor Shmuel Rodensky, before returning to the Olympic Village.[2] On the return trip in the team bus, Lalkin denied his 13-year-old son, who had befriended weightlifter Yossef Romano and wrestler Eliezer Halfin, permission to spend the night in their apartment - an innocent refusal that undoubtedly saved the boy's life.[3] At 4:30 a.m. local time on September 5, as the athletes slept, eight tracksuit-clad Black September members carrying duffel bags loaded with AK-47 assault rifles, Tokarev pistols, and grenades scaled a two-meter chain-link fence with the assistance of unsuspecting American athletes who were also sneaking into the Olympic Village. Once inside, they used stolen keys to enter two apartments being used by the Israeli team at 31 Connollystraße.

Yossef Gutfreund, a wrestling referee, was awakened by a faint scratching noise at the door of Apartment 1, which housed the Israeli coaches and officials. When he investigated, he saw the door begin to open and masked men with guns on the other side. He shouted a warning to his sleeping roommates and threw his nearly 300 lb. (135 kg.) weight against the door in a futile attempt to stop the intruders from forcing their way in. Gutfreund's actions gave his roommate, weightlifting coach Tuvia Sokolovsky, enough time to smash a window and escape. Wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg fought back against the intruders, who shot him through his cheek and then forced him to help them find more hostages. Leading the kidnappers past Apartment 2, Weinberg lied to the kidnappers by telling them that the residents of the apartment were not Israelis. Instead, Weinberg led them to Apartment 3, where the terrorists corralled six wrestlers and weightlifters as additional hostages. It is possible that Weinberg thought that the stronger men might have a better chance of fighting off the attackers, but they were all surprised in their sleep.

As the athletes from Apartment 3 were marched back to the coaches’ apartment, the wounded Weinberg again attacked the kidnappers, allowing one of his wrestlers, Gad Tsobari, to escape via the underground parking garage.[4] 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 he was shot and killed.

The terrorists were left with nine living hostages. Gutfreund, physically the largest of the hostages, was bound to a chair (Groussard describes him as being tied up like a mummy). The rest were lined up four apiece on the two beds in Springer and Shapira's room and tied at the wrists and ankles, and then to each other. Romano's bullet-riddled corpse was left at the feet of his bound comrades as a warning.

Of the other members of Israel's team, racewalker Prof. Shaul Ladany had been jolted awake in Apartment 2 by Gutfreund’s screams and escaped by jumping off a balcony and running through the rear garden of the building. The other four residents of Apartment 2 (marksmen Henry Hershkowitz and Zelig Stroch and fencers Dan Alon and Moshe Yehuda Weinstain), plus Lalkin and the two team doctors, managed to hide and later fled the besieged building. The two female members of Israel's Olympic team, sprinter and hurdler Esther Shachamarov and swimmer Shlomit Nir, were housed in a separate part of the Olympic Village inaccessible to the terrorists. Three more members of Israel's Olympic team, two sailors and an official, were housed in Kiel, 500 miles (800 km) from Munich.

Black September's demands

The attackers were subsequently reported to be part of the Palestinian fedayeen from refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. They were identified as Luttif Afif (Issa), the leader (three of Issa's brothers were also reportedly members of Black September, two of them in Israeli jails), his deputy Yusuf Nazzal (Tony), and junior members Afif Ahmed Hamid (Paolo), Khalid Jawad (Salah), Ahmed Chic Thaa (Abu Halla), Mohammed Safady (Badran), Adnan Al-Gashey (Denawi), and his cousin Jamal Al-Gashey (Samir). According to Simon Reeve, Afif, Nazzal and one of their confederates had all worked in various capacities in the Olympic Village, and had spent a couple of weeks scouting out their potential target. A member of the Uruguayan Olympic delegation, which shared housing with the Israelis, claims that he found Nazzal actually inside 31 Connollystraße less than 24 hours before the attack, but since he was recognised as a worker in the Village, nothing was thought of it at the time. The other members of the hostage-taking group entered Munich via train and plane in the days before the attack. All of the members of the Uruguay and Hong Kong Olympic teams, which also shared the building with the Israelis, were released unharmed during the crisis.

The attackers demanded the release and safe passage to Egypt of 234 Palestinians and non-Arabs jailed in Israel, along with two German terrorists held by the German penitentiary system, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, who were founders of the German Red Army Faction. The hostage-takers threw the body of Weinberg out the front door of the residence to demonstrate their resolve. Israel's response was immediate and absolute: There would be no negotiation. It has been claimed that the German authorities, under the leadership of Chancellor Willy Brandt and Minister for the Interior Hans-Dietrich Genscher, rejected Israel’s offer to send an Israeli special forces unit to Germany.[5] The Bavarian interior minister Bruno Merk, who headed the crisis center jointly with Genscher and Munich's police chief Manfred Schreiber, denies that such an Israeli offer ever existed. One consequence was that the German police who took part in the attempted rescue operation, with no special training in hostage crisis operations, were deprived of specialized technical assistance.

According to journalist John K. Cooley, the hostage situation presented an extremely difficult political situation for the Germans because the hostages were Jewish. Cooley reported that the Germans offered the Palestinians an unlimited amount of money for the release of the athletes, as well as the substitution of high-ranking Germans. However, the terrorists refused both offers.[6]

Munich police chief Manfred Schreiber and Bruno Merk, interior minister for the Free State of Bavaria, negotiated directly with the kidnappers, repeating the offer of an unlimited amount of money. According to Cooley, the reply was that "money means nothing to us; our lives mean nothing to us." Magdi Gohary and Mohammad Khadif, both Egyptian advisors to the Arab League, and A.D. Touny, an Egyptian member of the International Olympic Committee, also helped try to win concessions from the kidnappers, but to no avail. However, the negotiators apparently were able to convince the kidnappers that their demands were being considered, as Issa granted a total of five extensions to their deadlines. Elsewhere in the village, athletes carried on as normal, seemingly oblivious of the events unfolding nearby. The Games continued until mounting pressure on the IOC forced a suspension of activities some 12 hours after the first athlete had been murdered. American athlete Frank Shorter, observing the unfolding events from the balcony of his nearby lodging, was quoted as saying, "Imagine those poor guys over there. Every five minutes a psycho with a machine gun says, 'Let's kill 'em now,' and someone else says, 'No, let's wait a while.' How long could you stand that?"[7]

A small squad of German police was dispatched to the Olympic village. Dressed in Olympic sweatsuits and carrying submachine guns, these were members of the German border-police, poorly-trained, and without specific operational plans in place for the rescue. The police took up positions awaiting orders that never came. In the meantime, camera crews filmed the actions of the police from German apartments, and broadcast the images live on television. The terrorists were therefore able to watch the police as they prepared to attack. Footage shows the terrorists leaning over to look at the police who were in hiding on the roof. In the end, after Issa threatened to kill two of the hostages, the police left the premises.

At one point during the crisis, the negotiators demanded direct contact with the hostages to satisfy themselves the Israelis were still alive. Fencing coach Andre Spitzer, who spoke fluent German, and shooting coach Kehat Shorr, the senior member of the Israeli delegation, had a brief conversation with German officials while standing at the second-floor window of the besieged building, with two kidnappers holding guns on them. When Spitzer attempted to answer a question, the coach was clubbed with the butt of an AK-47 in full view of international television cameras and pulled away from the window. A few minutes later, Genscher and Walter Tröger, the mayor of the Olympic Village, were briefly allowed into the apartments and spoke with the hostages. Tröger spoke of being very moved by the dignity with which the Israelis held themselves, and that they seemed resigned to their fate.[5] He also noticed that several of the hostages, especially Gutfreund, showed signs of having suffered physical abuse at the hands of the kidnappers, and that David Berger had been shot in his left shoulder. During a debriefing by the crisis team, Genscher and Tröger told them that they had seen "four or five" terrorists inside the apartment. Crucially, these numbers were accepted as definitive.

Unsuccessful rescue

Relocation to Fürstenfeldbruck

While Genscher and Tröger were talking with the hostages, shooting coach Kehat Shorr, speaking for his captive teammates, had told the Germans that the Israelis would not object to being flown to an Arab country, provided that strict guarantees for their safety were made by the Germans and whichever nation they landed in. At 6 p.m. Munich time, the terrorists issued a new dictate, demanding transportation to Cairo. The authorities feigned agreement (although Egyptian Prime Minister Aziz Sidki had already told the German authorities that the Egyptians did not wish to become involved in the hostage crisis),[8] and at 10:10 p.m. a bus carried the terrorists and their hostages from 31 Connollystraße to two military helicopters, which were to transport them to nearby Fürstenfeldbruck, a NATO airbase. Initially, the terrorists had wanted to go to Riem, the international airport near Munich at that time, but the negotiators convinced them that Fürstenfeldbruck would be more practical. The authorities, who preceded the Black Septemberists and hostages in a third helicopter, had an ulterior motive: They planned an armed assault on the terrorists at the airport.

The five German snipers who were chosen to ambush the kidnappers had been selected because they shot competitively on weekends.[9] During a subsequent German investigation, an officer identified as “Sniper No. 2” stated: “I am of the opinion that I am not a sharpshooter.”[10] The five snipers were deployed around the airport—three on the roof of the control tower, one hidden behind a service truck and one behind a small signal tower at ground level. None of them had any special training. The members of the crisis team—Schreiber, Genscher, Merk and Schreiber's deputy Georg Wolf—supervised and observed the attempted rescue from the airport control tower. Cooley, Reeve, and Groussard all place Mossad chief Zvi Zamir and Victor Cohen, one of Zamir's senior assistants, at the scene as well, but as observers only. Zamir has stated repeatedly in interviews over the years that he was never consulted by the Germans at any time during the rescue attempt, and that he thought that his presence actually made the Germans uncomfortable.

A Boeing 727 jet was positioned on the tarmac, with five or six armed German police inside, dressed as flight crew. It was agreed that Issa and Tony would inspect the plane. The plan called for the Germans to overpower the two terrorists as they boarded, giving the snipers a chance to kill the remaining terrorists at the helicopters. These were believed to number no more than two or three, according to what Genscher and Tröger had seen inside 31 Connollystraße. However, during the transfer from the bus to the helicopters, the crisis team discovered that there were actually eight terrorists.

At the last minute, as the helicopters were arriving at Fürstenfeldbruck, the German police aboard the airplane voted to abandon their mission, without consulting the central command. This left only the five sharpshooters to try to overpower a larger and more heavily armed group of terrorists. At that point, General Ulrich Wegener, Genscher's senior aide and later the founder of the elite German counter-terrorist unit GSG 9, said, "I'm sure this will blow the whole affair!"[5]

Gunfire commences

The helicopters landed just after 10:30 p.m., and the four pilots and six of the kidnappers emerged. While four of the Black September members held the pilots at gunpoint (breaking an earlier promise that they would not take any Germans hostage), Issa and Tony walked over to inspect the jet, only to find it empty. Realizing they had been lured into a trap, the two fedayeen sprinted back toward the helicopters. As they ran past the control tower, Sniper 3 took one last opportunity to eliminate Issa, which would have left the terrorists leaderless. However, due to the poor lighting, he struggled to see his target and missed, hitting Tony in the thigh instead. Meanwhile, the German authorities gave the order for snipers positioned nearby to open fire, which occurred around 11:00 p.m.

In the ensuing chaos, two of the kidnappers holding the helicopter pilots (Ahmed Chic Thaa and Afif Ahmed Hamid) were killed, and the remaining terrorists (one or two of whom may have already been wounded) scrambled to safety, returning fire from behind and beneath the helicopters, out of the snipers’ line of sight, and shooting out many of the airport lights. A German policeman in the control tower, Anton Fliegerbauer, was killed by the gunfire. The helicopter pilots fled, but the hostages, tied up inside the craft, could not. During the gun battle, the hostages secretly worked on loosening their bonds, and teeth marks were found on some of the ropes after the gunfire had ended[8].

Frustrated at the Germans’ seeming indifference to the gravity of the situation, Zamir and Cohen went up on the roof of the control tower with a megaphone and tried to talk the kidnappers into surrendering. The terrorists' replied by firing upon the two Israelis, making it clear that the time for negotiation had long since passed.

Death of hostages

The Germans had not arranged for armored personnel carriers ahead of time, and only at this point were they called in to break the deadlock. Since the roads to the airport had not been cleared, the carriers became stuck in traffic, finally arriving around midnight. With their appearance, the terrorists felt the shift in the status quo, and possibly panicked at the thought of the failure of their operation. At four minutes past midnight of September 6, one of the terrorists (likely Issa) turned on the hostages in the eastern helicopter and fired at them from point-blank range. Springer, Halfin, and Friedman were killed instantly, but Berger somehow only received two non-lethal wounds in the leg. The terrorist then pulled the pin on a hand grenade and tossed it into the cockpit, causing an explosion which destroyed the helicopter and incinerated the bound Israelis inside.

Issa then dashed across the tarmac and began firing at the police, who killed the fedayeen leader with return fire. Another terrorist, Khalid Jawad, attempted to escape and was gunned down by one of the snipers. What happened to the remaining hostages is still a matter of dispute. A German police investigation indicated that one of their snipers and a few of the hostages may have been shot inadvertently by the police. However, a TIME magazine reconstruction of the long-suppressed Bavarian prosecutor’s report indicates that a third kidnapper (Reeve identifies Adnan Al-Gashey) stood at the door of the helicopter and raked the remaining five hostages with fatal gunfire; Gutfreund, Shorr, Slavin, Spitzer, and Shapira were shot an average of four times each.[9][8] Berger would ultimately be the last hostage to die, succumbing to smoke inhalation. In some cases, the exact cause of death for the hostages in the eastern helicopter was difficult to establish because the corpses were burned almost beyond recognition in the explosion and subsequent fire. Of the four hostages in the eastern helicopter, only Ze'ev Friedman’s body was relatively intact; he had been blown clear of the helicopter by the explosion.

Aftermath of unsuccessful rescue

Three of the remaining terrorists lay on the ground, two of them feigning death, and were captured by police. Jamal Al-Gashey had been shot through his right wrist,[5] and Mohammed Safady had sustained a flesh wound to his leg.[8] Adnan Al-Gashey had escaped injury completely. Tony, the final terrorist, escaped the scene, but was tracked down with police dogs 40 minutes later in an airbase parking lot. Cornered and bombarded with tear gas, he was shot dead after a brief gunfight. By around 1:30 a.m. (German time), the battle was over.

Initial news reports, published all over the world, indicated that all the hostages were alive, and that all the terrorists had been killed. Only later did a representative for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suggest that "initial reports were overly optimistic." Sportscaster Jim McKay, who was covering the Olympics that year for ABC, had taken on the job of reporting the events as his boss, Roone Arledge, fed them into his earpiece. At 3:24 a.m. (German Time), McKay received the official confirmation:[11]

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.

Criticisms of West German rescue attempt

Author Simon Reeve, among others, writes that the shootout with the well-trained Black September members showed an egregious lack of preparation on the part of the German authorities. They were not prepared to deal with this sort of situation, and this hard-won awareness led directly to the founding, less than two months later, of GSG 9. In the early 1970s, most Western countries did not have any special anti-terrorist units to deal with this sort of attack.

The authors argue that German authorities made a number of mistakes. First, because of complications in the post-war West German constitution, the army could not participate in the attempted rescue, as the German armed forces are not allowed to operate inside Germany during peacetime. The responsibility was entirely in the hands of the Munich police and the Bavarian authorities.[12]

It was known a full half-hour before the terrorists and hostages had even arrived at Fürstenfeldbruck that the number of terrorists was larger than first believed. Despite this new information, Schreiber stubbornly decided to continue with the rescue operation as originally planned, and the new information could not reach the snipers since they had no radios.[13] It is a basic tenet of sniping operations that enough snipers (at least two for each known target, or in this case a minimum of ten) should have been deployed to neutralize as many of the terrorists as possible with the first volley of shots. [8] It was this most basic failure of experience and technical foresight that led to the subsequent disaster.

The 2006 National Geographic Channel's Seconds From Disaster profile on the massacre stated that the helicopters were supposed to land sideways and to the west of the control tower, a maneuver which would have allowed the snipers clear shots into them as the kidnappers threw open the helicopter doors. Instead, the helicopters were landed facing the control tower and at the center of the airstrip. This not only gave the terrorists a place to hide after the gunfight began, but put Snipers 1 and 2 in the line of fire of the other three snipers on the control tower. The snipers were denied valuable shooting opportunities as a result of the positioning of the helicopters, as well as the fact that the fight effectively became a clearly untenable three snipers versus eight heavily armed terrorists.

According to the same program, the crisis committee delegated to make decisions on how to deal with the incident consisted of Bruno Merk (the Bavarian interior minister), Hans-Dietrich Genscher (the West German interior minister), and Manfred Schreiber (Munich's Chief of Police); in other words, two politicians and only one tactician. The program mentioned that a year before the Games, Schreiber had participated in another hostage crisis (a failed bank robbery) in which he ordered a marksman to shoot one of the perpetrators, who was only wounded. As a result, the robbers killed an innocent woman and Schreiber had been charged with involuntary manslaughter. An investigation ultimately cleared him of any wrongdoing, but the program suggested that the prior incident affected his judgment in the subsequent Olympic hostage crisis. Had the committee been made up of more experienced people, the situation might well have been handled differently.

The five German snipers at Fürstenfeldbruck did not have radio contact with one another (nor with the German authorities conducting the rescue operation) and therefore were unable to coordinate their fire. The only contact the snipers had with the operational leadership was with Georg Wolf, who was lying next to the three snipers on the control tower giving orders directly to them.[14] The two snipers at ground level had been given vague instructions to shoot when the other snipers began shooting, and were basically left to fend for themselves.[15]

In addition, the snipers did not have the proper equipment for this anti-terrorism operation. None of them was equipped with steel helmets or bullet-proof vests.[16] As well, the Heckler & Koch G3 battle rifles used were considered by several experts to be inadequate for the distance at which the snipers were trying to shoot the terrorists. The G3, the standard service rifle of the Bundeswehr at that time, had a 20-inch barrel; at the distances the snipers were required to shoot, a 27-inch barrel would have ensured far greater accuracy.[8] Additionally, none of the rifles were equipped with telescopic or infrared sights.[16] No armored vehicles were at the scene at Fürstenfeldbruckm and were only called in after the gunfight was well underway.[17]

There were also numerous tactical errors. As mentioned earlier, "Sniper 2," stationed behind the signal tower, wound up directly in the line of fire of his fellow snipers on the control tower, without any protective gear and without any other police being aware of his location.[16] Because of this, "Sniper 2" didn't fire a single shot until late in the gunfight, when hostage-taker Khalid Jawad attempted to escape on foot and ran right at the exposed sniper. "Sniper 2" killed the fleeing terrorist but was in turn wounded heavily by one of his fellow policemen, who was unaware that he was shooting at one of his own men. One of the helicopter pilots, Ganner Ebel, was lying near "Sniper 2" and was also wounded by friendly fire. Both Ebel and the sniper recovered from their injuries.[18]

None of the police officers posing as the fake crew on the Boeing 727 were prosecuted or reprimanded for abandoning their posts. Many of the police officers and border guards who were approached for interviews by the One Day in September production team were threatened with the loss of their pension rights if they talked for the film. Some authors argue that this suggests an attempt at cover-up by the German authorities. Many of the errors made by the Germans during the rescue attempt were ultimately detailed by Heinz Hohensinn, who had participated in the operation, but had taken early retirement and had no pension to lose.[19]

Effect on the Games

For the first time in modern Olympic history, competition was suspended in the wake of the hostage-taking. On September 6, a memorial service attended by 80,000 spectators and 3000 athletes was held in the Olympic Stadium. IOC President Avery Brundage made little reference to the murdered athletes during a speech praising the strength of the Olympic movement and equating the attack on the Israeli sportsmen with the recent arguments about encroaching professionalism and disallowing Rhodesia's participation in the Games, which outraged many listeners.[10] The victims' families were represented by Andre Spitzer's widow Ankie, Moshe Weinberg's mother, and a cousin of Weinberg's, Carmel Eliash. During the memorial service, Eliash collapsed and died of a heart attack.[20]

Many of the 80,000 people who filled the Olympic Stadium for West Germany’s football match with Hungary carried noisemakers and waved flags, but when several spectators unfurled a banner reading “17 dead, already forgotten?” security officers removed the sign and expelled the offenders from the grounds.[21] During the memorial service, the Olympic Flag was flown at half-staff, along with the flags of most of the other competing nations at the order of German Chancellor Willy Brandt. Ten Arab nations demanded their flags remain at full-staff, which Brandt accepted.[22]

Willi Daume, president of the Munich organizing committee, initially sought to cancel the remainder of the Games, but in the afternoon Brundage and others who wished to continue the Games prevailed, stating that they could not let the incident halt the games.[21] Brundage stated “the Games must go on,” a decision endorsed by the Israeli government and Israeli Olympic team chef de mission, Shmuel Lalkin.[23]

On September 6, after the memorial service, the remaining members of the Israeli team withdrew from the Games and left Munich. All Jewish sportsmen were placed under guard. Mark Spitz, the American swimming star who had already completed his competitions, left Munich during the hostage crisis (it was feared that as a prominent Jew, Spitz might now be a kidnapping target). The Egyptian team left the Games on September 7, stating they feared reprisals.[24] The Philippine and Algerian teams also left the Games, as did some members of the Dutch and Norwegian teams. American marathon runner Kenny Moore, who wrote about the incident for Sports Illustrated, quoted Dutch distance runner Jos Hermens as saying, “You give a party, and someone is killed at the party, you don’t continue the party. I'm going home.” Many athletes, dazed by the tragedy, similarly felt that their desire to compete had been destroyed, although they stayed at the Games.

The families of some victims have asked the IOC to establish a permanent memorial to the athletes, but the IOC has declined, saying that to introduce a specific reference to the victims could “alienate other members of the Olympic community,” according to the BBC.[25] Alex Gilady, an Israeli IOC official, told the BBC: “We must consider what this could do to other members of the delegations that are hostile to Israel.”

There is, however, a memorial outside the Olympic stadium in Munich, in the form of a stone tablet at the bridge linking the stadium to the former Olympic village. There is also a memorial tablet to the slain Israelis outside the front door of their former lodging at 31 Connollystraße. On October 15, 1999 (almost a year before the Sydney 2000 Games) a memorial plaque was unveiled in one of the large light towers (Tower 14) outside the Sydney Olympic Stadium, and remains there today.[26]


On September 5, Golda Meir, then Prime Minister of Israel, appealed to other countries to "save our citizens and condemn the unspeakable criminal acts committed." King Hussein of Jordan—the only leader of an Arab country to publicly denounce the Olympic attack—called it a "savage crime against civilization… perpetrated by sick minds."[6]

The bodies of the five Palestinians—Afif, Nazzal, Chic Thaa, Hamid and Jawad—killed during the Fürstenfeldbruck gun battle were delivered to Libya, where they received heroes’ funerals and were buried with full military honors. On September 9, Israeli planes bombed Palestinian targets in Syria and Lebanon.[27]

On October 29, hijackers of a German Lufthansa passenger jet demanded the release of the three surviving terrorists, who had been arrested after the Fürstenfeldbruck gunfight and were being held for trial. Safady and the Al-Gasheys were immediately released by Germany, receiving a tumultuous welcome when they touched down in Libya and giving their own firsthand account of their operation at a press conference broadcast worldwide. In both ESPN/ABC's documentary The Tragedy of the Munich Games and in Kevin Macdonald's Academy Award-winning documentary One Day in September, it is claimed that the whole Lufthansa hijacking episode was a sham, concocted by the West Germans and Black September so that the Germans could be rid of the three Munich perpetrators. The view is that the Germans were fearful that their mishandling of the rescue attempt would be exposed to the world if the three Fürstenfeldbruck survivors had ever stood trial.[28]

Horst Mahler, one of the founders of the RAF (Baader Meinhof gang), published a document from prison expressing support for the massacre.[29] Years later Mahler crossed the lines to the far right and became a militant Holocaust denier.

Operations Wrath of God and Spring of Youth

Main articles: Operation Wrath of God and Operation Spring of Youth

Golda Meir and the Israeli Defense Committee secretly authorized the Mossad to track down and eliminate those allegedly responsible for the Munich massacre,[30] a claim which was disputed by Zvi Zamir, which describes this as “putting an end to the type of terror that was perpetrated” (in Europe).[31] To this end the Mossad set up a number of special teams to locate and eliminate these terrorists, aided by the agency’s stations in Europe.[32]

In a February 2006 interview,[31] former Mossad chief Zvi Zamir denied that they were motivated by vengeance:

Was there no element of vengeance in the decision to take action against the terrorists?

No. We were not engaged in vengeance. We are accused of having been guided by a desire for vengeance. That is nonsense. What we did was to concretely prevent in the future. We acted against those who thought that they would continue to perpetrate acts of terror. I am not saying that those who were involved in Munich were not marked for death. They definitely deserved to die. But we were not dealing with the past; we concentrated on the future.

Did you not receive a directive from Golda Meir along the lines of “take revenge on those responsible for Munich”?

Golda abhorred the necessity that was imposed on us to carry out the operations. Golda never told me to "take revenge on those who were responsible for Munich." No one told me that.[31]

The Israeli mission later became known as Operation Wrath of God or Mivtza Za'am Ha'El.[5] General Aharon Yariv—the general overseer of the operation—stated that after Munich the Israeli government felt it had no alternative but to exact justice.

We had no choice. We had to make them stop, and there was no other way… we are not very proud about it. But it was a question of sheer necessity. We went back to the old biblical rule of an eye for an eye… I approach these problems not from a moral point of view, but, hard as it may sound, from a cost-benefit point of view. If I’m very hard-headed, I can say, what is the political benefit in killing this person? Will it bring us nearer to peace? Will it bring us nearer to an understanding with the Palestinians or not? In most cases I don’t think it will. But in the case of Black September we had no other choice and it worked. Is it morally acceptable? One can debate that question. Is it politically vital? It was.[5]

Benny Morris writes that a target list was created using information from “turned” PLO personnel and friendly European intelligence services. Once complete, a wave of assassinations of suspected Black September operatives began across Europe.

On April 9, 1973, Israel launched Operation Spring of Youth, a joint Mossad-IDF operation in Beirut. The targets were Mohammad Yusuf al-Najjar (Abu Yusuf), head of Fatah’s intelligence arm, which ran Black September, according to Morris; Kamal Adwan, who headed the PLO's so-called Western Sector, which controlled PLO action inside Israel; and Kamal Nassir, the PLO spokesman. A group of Sayeret commandos were taken in nine missile boats and a small fleet of patrol boats to a deserted Lebanese beach, before driving in two cars to downtown Beirut, where they killed Najjar, Adwan and Nassir. Two further detachments of commandos blew up the PFLP’s headquarters in Beirut and a Fatah explosives plant. The leader of the commando team that conducted the operations was Ehud Barak, who later became Israeli prime minister.

On July 21, 1973, in the so-called Lillehammer affair, a team of Mossad agents killed Ahmed Bouchiki, a Moroccan man unrelated to the Munich attack, in Lillehammer, Norway, after an informant mistakenly said Bouchiki was Ali Hassan Salameh, the head of Force 17 and a Black September operative. Five Mossad agents, including two women, were captured by the Norwegian authorities, while others managed to slip away.[30] The five were convicted of the killing and imprisoned, but were released and returned to Israel in 1975. The Mossad later found Ali Hassan Salameh in Beirut and killed him on January 22, 1979, with a remote-controlled car bomb.

The Israeli operations purportedly continued for more than 20 years, and included the assassination in Paris in 1992 of the PLO’s head of intelligence.[5]

Surviving hostage-takers

After many years, the fate of the three Fürstenfeldbruck survivors is in dispute. It has long been claimed that both Mohammed Safady and Adnan Al-Gashey were killed by the Mossad as part of Operation Wrath of God. According to the Klein book, Adnan Al-Gashey actually died of heart failure in the 1970s, not as a result of an attack by the Israeli hit squads. Additionally, in the summer of 2004, PLO veteran Tawfiq Tirawi told Klein that his friend Mohammed Safady was "as alive as you are."[9] He did not go beyond that rather cryptic comment. No additional evidence has come to light regarding Safady's survival.

Jamal Al-Gashey is the sole remaining hostage-taker to consent to interviews since 1972, having granted an interview in 1992 to a Palestinian newspaper, and having briefly emerged from hiding in 1999 to participate in an interview for the film One Day in September, during which he was disguised and his face shown only in blurry shadow.

Abu Daoud

Of those believed to have planned the Munich massacre, only Abu Daoud, the man who claims that the attack was his idea, is believed to be in hiding somewhere in the Middle East or in Africa. On July 27, 1981, he was shot 13 times from a distance of around two meters in a Warsaw Victoria (now Sofitel) hotel coffee shop, but surprisingly survived the attack, chasing his would-be assassin down to the front entrance before collapsing.

Abu Daoud was allowed safe passage through Israel in 1996, so he could attend a PLO meeting convened in the Gaza Strip for the purpose of rescinding an article in its charter that called for Israel’s eradication.[9]Abu Daoud, From Jerusalem to Munich. (France, 1999).[33] Abu Daoud, now in his seventies, writes that funds for Munich were provided by Mahmoud Abbas, Chairman of the PLO since 11 November 2004 and President of the Palestinian National Authority since 15 January 2005.[34][35]

Though he claims he didn’t know what the money was being spent for, longtime Fatah official Mahmoud Abbas, aka Abu Mazen, was responsible for the financing of the Munich attack.[36]

Abu Daoud, who lives with his wife on a pension provided by the Palestinian Authority, has said that “the [Munich] operation had the endorsement of Arafat,” although Arafat was not involved in conceiving or implementing the attack. In his autobiography, Daoud writes that Arafat saw the team off on the mission with the words “Allah protect you.” Arafat rejected this claim.

Ankie Spitzer, widow of fencing coach Andre, has refused several offers of meetings with Abu Daoud, saying that the only place she wants to meet him is in a courtroom. According to Spitzer, “He [Abu Daoud] didn’t pay the price for what he did.”

The dead of the Munich massacre

Memorial plaque in front of the Israeli athletes' quarters. The inscription, in German and Hebrew, reads: 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.
Memorial panel for the victims of the attack on the site of the Munich Olympic Park.
Shot during the initial break-in
  • Moshe Weinberg (wrestling coach)
  • Yossef Romano (weightlifter)
Shot and blown up by grenade in D-HAQO (eastern) helicopter
(according to the order in which they were seated, from left to right)
  • Ze'ev Friedman (weightlifter)
  • David Berger (weightlifter)
  • Yakov Springer (weightlifting judge)
  • Eliezer Halfin (wrestler)
Shot in D-HADU (western) helicopter
(according to the order in which they were seated, from left to right)
  • Yossef Gutfreund (wrestling referee)
  • Kehat Shorr (shooting coach)
  • Mark Slavin (wrestler)
  • Andre Spitzer (fencing coach)
  • Amitzur Shapira (track coach)
Shot on airstrip
  • Anton Fliegerbauer (German counter-terrorist police officer)
Terrorists shot dead by German police
  • Luttif Afif (known as Issa)
  • Yusuf Nazzal (Tony)
  • Afif Ahmed Hamid (Paolo)
  • Khalid Jawad (Salah)
  • Ahmed Chic Thaa (Abu Halla)


All links retrieved January 17, 2009.


  1. Alexander Wolff, Special Report, TIME article, part 1, August 5, 2002 Retrieved January 20, 2009.
  2. Reeve, Klein and Groussard.
  3. A. J. Klein, Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel's Deadly Response (New York: Random House, 2005. ISBN 1920769803), 35-36.
  4. CBC Archives, Munich Olympics. Retrieved January 20, 2009.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Simon Reeve, One Day in September: the full story of the 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre and Israeli Revenge Operation "Wrath of God" (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2001, ISBN 1559705477).
  6. 6.0 6.1 John K. Cooley, Green March Black September: The Story of the Palestinian Arabs (London: Cass, 1973, ISBN 0714629871).
  7. Kenny Moore, Shootings In The Night, Sports Illustrated, September 18, 1972. Retrieved January 20, 2009.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Serge Groussard, The Blood of Israel: The Massacre of the Israeli Athletes, the Olympics, 1972 (New York: Morrow, 1975, ISBN 0688029108).
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Time, Munich, part 5. Retrieved January 20, 2009.
  10. 10.0 10.1 CBS, CBS News article on 2002 commemoration of the massacre, September 5, 2002.
  11. American Sportscasters Online, Interview with Jim McKay. Retrieved January 20, 2009.
  12. Interview with Ulrich Wegener, in One Day in September.
  13. Reeve, 103 and 107.
  14. Reeve, 115-116.
  15. Reeve, 106-107.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Reeve, 116
  17. Reeve, 118 and 120.
  18. Reeve, 121-122.
  19. Reeve, 236-237.
  20. Brendan Gallagher, August 6, 2002, Athletics: Memories stirred of Olympic hostage horror, Telegraph (UK). Retrieved January 20, 2009.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Time, TIME article, part 6, August 5, 2002. Retrieved January 20, 2009.
  22. David Fleming, July 29, 1996, Remembering the Munich 11? Sports Illustrated. Retrieved January 20, 2009.
  23. Encarta, The Olympic Games. Retrieved January 20, 2009.
  24. The Guardian, Munich massacre, September 7, 1972. Retrieved January 20, 2009.
  25. BBC, BBC Commemoration at 2004 Olympics, August 20, 2004. Retrieved January 20, 2009.
  26. Ministry of Foreign Affairs , Sydney 2000 Olympics and Plaque. Retrieved January 20, 2009.
  27. The Jewish Agency for Israel, Timeline. Retrieved January 20, 2009.
  28. Reeve, 157-158.
  29. Tel Aviv University, Antisemitism and Racism, Stephen Roth Institute. Retrieved January 20, 2009.
  30. 30.0 30.1 Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist–Arab Conflict, 1881–2000 (New York: Vintage Books, 2001, ISBN 0679744754).
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 Yossi Melman, February 17, 2006, "Preventive measures." Retrieved January 17, 2009.
  32. Ewen MacAskill and Ian Black, “Munich: Mossad breaks cover,” The Guardian (UK), January 26, 2006. Retrieved January 20, 2009.
  33. Alexander Wolff, Sports Illustrated on Abu Daoud: The Mastermind: Thirty years after he helped plan the terror strike, Abu Daoud remains in hiding - and unrepentant, Sports Illustrated, Sept. 20, 2002. Retrieved January 20, 2009.
  34. World Net Daily, Mahmoud Abbas. Retrieved January 20, 2009.
  35. Jewish Virtual Library, Mahmoud Abbas. Retrieved January 20, 2009.
  36. M. Daoud (Abu Daoud), Palestine: A History of the Resistance Movement by the Sole Survivor of Black September (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2002, ISBN 1559704292).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Calahan, A. B. (1995 Thesis) "The Israeli Response to the 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre and the Development of Independent Covert Action Teams." Federation of American Retrieved January 17, 2009.
  • Cooley, John K. Green March Black September: The Story of the Palestinian Arabs. London: Cass, 1973. ISBN 0714629871.
  • Dahlke, Matthias. Der Anschlag auf Olympia '72. Die politischen Reaktionen auf den internationalen in Deutschland. Munich: Martin Meidenbauer, 2006. ISBN 3899755839.
  • Daoud, M. (Abu Daoud). Palestine: A History of the Resistance Movement by the Sole Survivor of Black September. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2002. ISBN 1559704292.
  • Groussard, Serge. The Blood of Israel: The Massacre of the Israeli Athletes, the Olympics, 1972. New York: Morrow, 1975. ISBN 0688029108.
  • Jonas, George. Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Team. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. ISBN 9780671506117.
  • Khalaf, Salah (Abu Iyad). Without a Homeland: Conversations with Eric Rouleau. Tel Aviv: 1983.
  • Klein, A. J. Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel's Deadly Response. New York: Random House, 2005. ISBN 1920769803.
  • Melman, Yossi. "Preventive measures." Retrieved January 17, 2009.
  • Morris, Benny. Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist–Arab conflict, 1881–2000. New York: Vintage Books, 2001. ISBN 0679744754.
  • Reeve, Simon. One Day in September: The Full Story of the 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre and Israeli Revenge Operation "Wrath of God". New York: Arcade Publishing, 2001. ISBN 1559705477.
  • Tinnin, David B., & Dag Christensen. The Hit Team. Dell, 1976. ISBN 044013644X.

External links

All links retrieved November 10, 2022.


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