The Munich Massacre

51 years since the massacre of the athletes at the Munich Olympics

On September 5 and 6, 1972, the massacre of athletes at the Munich Olympics took place, when 11 members of the Israeli delegation were murdered by members of the "Black September" terrorist organization

Moshe Weinberg on his wedding day a year earlier (photo: from Wikimedia)

We usually write about great athletes and exciting stories, but today 51 years ago the most difficult event in the history of Israeli and Olympic sports occurred: the massacre of the Israeli delegation at the Munich Olympics that took place on September 5-6, 1972.

The Olympics were held in Munich, West Germany 36 years after Hitler's Olympics, and the organizers were determined to show that they were the new Germany, a country of peace and freedom. To show this, the security forces were as small as possible, despite warnings of terrorist attacks only 4,000 police officers secured the games and they were also in civilian clothes.

Shmuel Lalkin, the director of the Israeli delegation, warned about the security problems and the location of the delegation near a simple fence, but nothing helped. At the Paralympic Games held a month before the regular games, the West German authorities allowed Shin Bet personnel to secure the Israeli delegation, claiming that some of the athletes who were wounded by the IDF could be targets for attacks, but at the games themselves, they did not agree.

Moshe Weinberg saved the members of the middle apartment

Israel sent 15 athletes, five coaches, two international judges, and 10 other officials to the Olympics. On September 5, the 12th day of the Olympics, most of the delegation's members finished their parts of the Olympic Games and went the previous evening to the performance of "Fiddler on the Roof" in the city, so they returned late to their rooms and were tired.

At 4:10 in the morning, the terrorists from the "Black September" organization, some of whom worked in the Olympic Village, infiltrated the delegation compound. At the entrance to the building, the terrorists met the wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg and shot him while he tried to resist. Wrestling referee Youssef Gutfreund tried to prevent them from entering one of the apartments where the delegation was staying, he shouted to his friends to escape.

The building of the Israeli delegation in Munich (photo: ProhibitOnions from Wikimedia)

Only one of them, Tuvia Sokolovsky, succeeded. At the same time, the other six, Amitzur Shapira, Esther Roth-Shahmorov's coach, shooting coach Kehat Shorr, fencing coach Andre Spitzer, and weightlifting judge Yakov Springer fell to the terrorists along with the wounded Weinberg and Sokolovsky. The terrorists ordered Weinberg to lead them to the other apartments of the Israeli athletes, he skipped the adjacent apartment and led them to the apartment of the wrestlers and weight lifters.

Yosef Romano's heroic struggle experience

He thought that the strong athletes would be able to handle them, but they were fast asleep, and the terrorists quickly overpowered them as well. Weinberg once again fought the terrorists and managed to defeat one of them. Thanks to the commotion, the wrestler Gad Tsobari managed to escape, when later, he said he thought he ran faster than the winner in the 100-meter race.

The terrorists shot him to death and threw his body outside the building, The swordsman Dan Alon, who was in the middle room that the terrorists jumped thanks to Weinberg, saw the mirror and heard the terrorists threatening the police that if Israel does not release 200 terrorists they will kill the hostages. He woke up his flatmates and they managed to escape the compound by jumping from the balcony.

Ilana Romano, the widow of Yosef Romano, at the ceremony in memory of the murdered (photo: Dr. Avishai Teicher from Wikimedia)

The terrorists held ten hostages, the weight lifter Yosef Romano attacked one of the terrorists in the face and took most of him. He was shot by another terrorist and the terrorists let him bleed to death. In Israel, they refused to negotiate with the terrorists but conveyed to them that they were ready to cooperate, in trying to rescue them.

A series of security failures resulted in the massacre of athletes at the Munich Olympics

German police officers dressed as sportsmen advanced towards the building, but the terrorists saw them on television and ordered them to evacuate. At the same time, the games continued despite the murder and kidnapping, until they were stopped at 4:00 PM. The terrorists demanded that they be allowed to fly to Egypt with the abductees, The Germans approved but planned to hit the terrorists at the airport, and they announced that from the moment the terrorists left Germany, as far as they were concerned, the event was over.

At the airport on the afternoon of September 6, the police managed to kill two terrorists, with the help of snipers, but poor estimates and a mistake in the number of terrorists had to wait for reinforcements. While they were waiting, the terrorists who realized that their fate was sealed, murdered the nine hostages. It later became clear that, beyond defective equipment, the snipers were snipers who only specialized in sports shooting.

Miri Regev at the memorial service for the murdered (Photo: Flash90)

"Israel will not be deterred by terrorism"

The Olympic Committee decided to continue the competitions despite the murder, which prompted the retirement of several Jewish athletes in protest. A memorial ceremony was held, in which the head of the delegation, Shmuel Lalkin, said: "Israel will not be deterred by terrorism and will continue to participate in the Olympics and international sports competitions." At the ceremony, the flags of all the world's countries were lowered to half-mast, except for Arab countries excluding Jordan. The other members of the delegation flew back to Israel.

Those murdered in the massacre of the athletes at the Munich Olympics Were: David Berger (28-year-old weightlifter), Yossef Gutfreund (40-year-old wrestling referee), Moshe Weinberg (33-year-old wrestling coach), Eliezer Halfin (24-year-old wrestler), Mark Slavin (18-year-old wrestler), Ze'ev Friedman (28-year-old weightlifter), Yossef Romano (32-year-old weightlifter), Kehat Shorr (53-year-old shooting coach), Andre Spitzer (27-year-old fencing coach), Amitzur Shapira (40-year-old athletics coach), Yakov Springer (weightlifting referee) 51 years old)

Prime Minister Golda Meir with the President of the United States Richard Nixon and his wife Pat (photo: from Wikimedia)

The Israeli government led by Golda Meir decided to launch the "Wrath of God" operation in order to eliminate the members of "Black September", during which eight of the leaders of the organization were eliminated. Throughout the country, the murdered athletes were commemorated in dozens of different ways, with the most prominent among them being the stadium in Ashdod that changed its name to the 11th Stadium and an international youth wrestling tournament named after them. Only at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 did the Olympic Committee agree to dedicate a minute of silence in the opening ceremony to the memory of the murdered.


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