Remember my brother and the other murdered Israeli Olympians
Each time we, the survivors of the fallen Israeli athletes of the Munich Olympic Games, face another rejection of our call for an official minute’s silence at the London Games, we feel the same sting of emotion experienced in the late summer of 1972, but also the resolve to ensure that our sons, husbands, and brothers are never forgotten.
A moment of silence may not seem like much. Indeed, to a grieving parent or sibling or friend, to a nation too often beset by terror, no ceremony can ease the pain of a lost loved one or end the period of mourning for a life cut short. No moment of silent recognition can drown out the terrifying echoes of an unwarranted massacre nor can it erase memories of horror and loss.
For us, for all of the families of the 11 Israeli athletes murdered at the Munich Olympic Games 40 years ago, nothing can fully alleviate our anguish. But with the Olympics just begun anew this year, it seems long past time for the world to offer a single moment of silence, respect, and remembrance to those residents of Munich’s Olympic Village who were murdered on a dark September day four decades ago. And there has never been an official moment of silence to the Munich 11 at any of the Olympics since.
The State of Israel has requested a time for commemoration again and again, only to be rebuffed by the International Olympic Committee, only to be told that a separate, independent, unseen ceremony should suffice. International Olympic Committee chair Jacque Rogge conducted just such a small private ceremony last week but again rejected requests to do something more appropriate.
With each rejected plea, we, the survivors of the fallen Israelis, feel the same sting of emotion experienced in the late summer of 1972. Yet we also feel something more powerful: Resolve, courage, the will to carry on, to ensure that our sons, husbands, and brothers are never forgotten.
In years past, our urgent search for allies and partners in this campaign has come up empty. Just think: At the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah – where the world bore witness to tributes to the victims of 9/11 and a specially-choreographed performance to remember Olympian Florence Griffith Joyner – the Olympic leadership didn’t see it fit to mark the 30th anniversary of Munich in an equally public manner.
How our appeals for commemoration at the Salt Lake City Olympics were rejected made it seem as if the tragedy in Munich never happened. It was an affront to the memory of our loved ones.
Now, times have changed. A once-lonely fight has gained many supporters from across the globe. More than 100,000 people have signed our online petition to demand a moment of silence. A coalition of nations, including this year’s host, the United Kingdom, has joined our cause.
Most significantly, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, declared his support, with the White House stating that it “absolutely supports the campaign for a minute of silence at the Olympics to honor the Israeli athletes killed in Munich.” The President has placed himself on the right side of history in this matter. He has elevated our call to the highest levels of public discourse. For this, all of our families will forever be touched and grateful.
Former Governor Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican nominee for president and Mr. Obama’s opponent this fall, followed suit a few days later, and for this we are also grateful. But Mr. Romney was painfully silent on the issue of a minute of silence when he attended the Games this past weekend and when he subsequently traveled to Israel, just as he was silent to our pleas in 2002 when he oversaw the Olympics in Salt Lake City.
As we embrace the excitement of the Olympics in London, Israelis and Jews worldwide take pride in watching the athletes of Israel march into the Olympic opening ceremonies and compete in so many different sports. Their presence is the ultimate answer to the terrorist acts of Munich. Their courage is a testament to our will as a people. Their heads held high, unafraid to walk beneath or wear the Star of David, is a reminder to the world that we are still here. We will not rest. We must all remember.
A moment of silence, a formal recognition of this horrific tragedy, an official commemoration for the world to see – this would not just be a memorial for Israel; it would be a memorial for all Olympians. Our children and brothers, the Munich 11, were not only children of Israel, but children of the Olympics. They embodied the Olympic spirit of teamwork and community, of honest competition and our common humanity. They were integral embers in the flame of the Olympic torch.
They were killed only because of who they were: Jews, Israelis, champions of the Jewish state.
They were athletes as well, part of the fabric of the Games. Surely, the international community of athletes and their fans can take a moment to remember, to reject the forces of hatred and violence that took the lives of fellow competitors.
A moment of silence may not seem like much. But to us, to the families who lost so much, that silent respect will speak volumes.
Barbara Berger was 22 when her brother David Mark Berger, a weightlifter, left their suburban Cleveland home to compete in the 1972 Munich Olympics as a member of the Israeli team. He was murdered by Palestinian terrorists, along with ten of his coaches and teammates. Barbara Berger lives in Portland, Maine.