Munich 1972: 50 years later, the memory of “images that cannot be forgotten”

Munich 1972: 50 years later, the memory of "images that cannot be forgotten"

Germany is about to celebrate a painful anniversary. Fifty years ago, on September 5-6, 1972, when the Munich Olympics were in full swing, terror was unleashed. Members of the “Black September” Palestinian commando took hostage and killed eleven members of the Israeli delegation, as well as a German policeman. The horror resurfaced on German soil, despite the fact that the federal government wanted, with these “Games of Peace and Joy”, to make us forget the sad memory of those of 1936, organized by Adolf Hitler in Berlin.

Half a century after the “Munich Massacre”, the pain is still there. The athlete Guy Drut, Olympic runner-up in the 110 meter hurdles in Munich, says that he regularly thinks of these Games, a “double-edged memory” : “The medal on one side, the horror on the other”. Crowned in the track cycling speed test the day before the attack, Daniel Morelon recalls a “Long day of anxious waiting”.

On September 5, 1972, in the early morning of the eleventh day of the Games, around 4:30 am, the attack began. A commando of eight men (nicknamed “Black September”), dressed as athletes, gain access to the pavilion of the Israeli men’s delegation, at 31 Connollystrasse. They enter without great difficulty, since the German authorities, who had to heart to forget the country’s Nazi past, he had put in place a weak security system in the Olympic Village, with no armed police patrols.

The terrorists kill two people when they break into the Israelis’ apartments and take the other nine occupants hostage. One of the bodies is abandoned in the street by the assailants. The organization, named in reference to the bloody crackdown on Palestinian fighters in Jordan in September 1970, makes its demands: the release of some 230 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

Olympism, a symbol of peace and unity, falls into terror. “The modern Olympic Games were supposed to be in the same spirit as the ancient Olympic Games, that there is peace and all violence stops. No one imagined that”Israeli runner Shaul Ladany, who escaped the attack by fleeing through the French window of his bedroom, told the Associated Press in 2020. The event “always occupies the mind” of the current president of the IOC and former fencer, the German Thomas Bach: “Even fifty years later, you can’t talk about one without talking about the other, it was so extreme”he says The magazine team.

Two snipers join their positions in a building in the Olympic Village in Munich on September 5, 1972. (HORST OSSINGER / DPA via AFP)

Then begin long hours of confused discussions, between totally overwhelmed terrorists and policemen. “We saw the Germans conducting negotiations with the terrorists who threatened to kill an athlete every two hours and throw his body from the balcony of his building if the Palestinian prisoners were not released.profiled former Israeli sprinter Esther Roth to AFP in 2012. It was exhausting and scary.”

The trauma of a direct witness, former East German handball player Klaus Langhoff, whose apartment was about twenty Meters from the attack, he stays deep. “I have to say it was a shock”he confesses to AFP 50 years later, still shocked by this face-to-face. When we looked outside, through the window or on the balcony, we saw this dead athlete.”, he says. He lived all that day, and he remembers“a man who permanently had a grenade in his hand in front of the front door. And above, on the balcony and on the roof, there was another terrorist who had a Kalashnikov ready to shoot. It was like a war scene.”

Guy Drut remembers that day very well. The European champion in the 110 meters hurdles, who was playing his first Games, was going to take advantage of a rest day, waiting for his final, scheduled for the following day. When we woke up on September 5, there was great confusion in the Olympic village. The 21-year-old athlete understands “immediately that something was not normal” : “The town was cordoned off. After learning about the hostage taking, we followed everything on the television screens.”

“Information was pouring in. The police surrounded the town, we saw snipers positioning themselves on the roofs.”

Daniel Morelon, track cyclist, triple Olympic champion, crowned in speed in Munich in 1972

on franceinfo: sport

The French athlete assists in organizing the transport of fedayeen and hostages to the military airport. The terrorists are transported there, at their request, with the Israelis to take a plane there, bound for Cairo, where negotiations are to continue. “The medical building where the physiotherapist manipulated me was on the border between the Olympic village and a car park, says the hurdler. We heard propeller noises. We sat on the balcony. Below, there were helicopters and buses, whose windows were covered by blankets. We saw the hostages enter. They are images that cannot be forgotten. Afterwards, everything calmed down for us, even when the ordeal began for the Israelis.”

On the tarmac at the Fürstenfeldbruck military base, the attempt to liberate the ill-prepared and ill-equipped German police turns into a disaster. Shots ring out. The hostage-taking ended at 00:30 on September 6, with the deaths of eleven Israelis (six coaches, five athletes), a German policeman and five terrorists.

A hostage taking with a disastrous fate, whose management will be heavily criticized later. As was the decision to keep the Games. Around the world, protests are demanding that the event end. The Israeli prime minister, Golda Meir, declares that the competitions must continue, that stopping the Games would be equivalent to giving in to the blackmail of the terrorists. For his part, Avery Brundage, then president of the IOC, said: “The Games must go on”. After a day of mourning, the rest of the acts resume on September 7.

Israelis demand an end to the Munich Olympics on September 6, 1972. (AFP)

If the Israeli delegation leaves Bavaria, followed by a few Norwegians and part of the Dutch team, for most of the athletes whose events remain, the sporting question takes precedence. This is the case of Guy Drut. Though “the world of hedges was directly affected” on the death of Amitzur Shapira, coach of her friend Esther Roth (in the 100m hurdles final, initially scheduled for September 6), the French hurdler “put back on (its) athlete bubble”. “Objectively, I no longer thought about what happened to prepare for the final. I was very young, I was not even 22 years old, my political consciousness was not developed. With the other seven finalists, we were obviously affected by what had happened, but we shared the same frame of mind, chases the one who will win the Olympic silver. We were there to win and we all went back to our bubble of top athletes.”

This tragedy continues to haunt witnesses and survivors. Especially since the management of the crisis has traumatized the families of the victims: considered partly responsible for its outcome, the German authorities are struggling to manage the legacy of this tragic event. The latter has never been the subject of a public apology by the authorities and the thorny issue of compensation to the relatives of the victims by the German government was only resolved on August 31, 2022, a few days before the 50th anniversary of the taking of hostages. .

It was not until 2017 that a memorial honoring the victims of the hostage-taking was inaugurated in the Munich Olympic Park. There, in addition to the Fürstenfeldbruck military base, the ceremony in memory of the victims of the attack will take place, in the presence of some 70 relatives of the murdered athletes, as well as the heads of state of Germany and Israel.

A woman meditates at the memorial for the 1972 Munich massacre. (SVEN HOPPE/DPA via AFP)

Commemorations that the families of the victims once declared they were boycotting, demanding in particular financial reparations “single” and a public apology. after decades talks, German authorities have announced that Germany “to fulfill its historical obligation” towards the victims and their families, paying them €28 million. The documents will also be declassified to allow historians to understand the subject. A job that could heal the open wounds left by this terrorist attack.


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