From the 1972 Protocols of Munich Massacre: 'Germany Does Not Value Human Life'

Then-Mossad chief Zvi Zamir was highly critical of the way the German security forces operated during the deadly attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. 'They did not make the most minimal effort.'

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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West German police who have swapped their uniforms for anonymous athletes sweatsuits climb on the roof of the Munich Olympic village building where Israeli athletes are held hostage, Sept. 5, 1972.
West German police who have swapped their uniforms for anonymous athletes sweatsuits climb on the roof of the Munich Olympic village building where Israeli athletes are held hostage, Sept. 5, 1972.Credit: AP / Haaretz Archive
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

On his return from Munich on the evening of September 6, 1972, Mossad chief Zvi Zamir met with prime minister Golda Meir and several of her ministers to brief them on the failure of the German rescue effort, which he saw from up-close.

“My impression was that the whole thing unhinged them and they just wanted to finish with it, one way or the other,” said Zamir.

“They wanted to go on with the Olympics and they wanted to finish with this matter in any way possible...they wanted to continue at any price.”

A map of the military airbase near Munich, from the Israeli State Archives.Credit: from the Israeli State Archives

Click here to read the full report dated September 7, 1972

Zamir described the Germans’ treatment of him as “impatient and unwilling” – on the part of both the police and the German interior minister. The latter, he claimed, tried to stop him from joining him on the helicopter that made its way – at the same time as the kidnappers and their hostages – to the airport next to Munich. “He said there was no roombut the helicopter managed to take off, as I suggested, so we took off together with them [the terrorists and their hostages].”

Zamir added: “The relationship between us and the Germans was such that we would have stayed there until morning, because there was no one to take us from that field.” Later, he said that they “disliked our presence there from the moment we arrived...the relations between us and the commander of that operation – our presence there bothered him the whole time."

Zvi ZamirCredit: David Bachar

Zamir ignored this hostile attitude and advised the Germans “to play the game patiently” and tell the kidnappers that Israel had agreed to discuss the release of terrorists detained in Israel.

“I told them to say, for tactical reasons, that the State of Israel had accepted the matter in principle. [Israel] agreesto an exchange, to give them 200 people, but now we have to list the names of the people and to know what is being talked about, because we don’t know who and what,” he said. But his German counterpart said that he had already said this to the kidnappers, to no avail.

Despite this, Zamir was optimistic at the start. “We were very encouraged. Because we saw that there was an operational program here, and that the matter was settled,” he said. “I had the impression that the conditions, relatively speaking, were ideal.”

They soon discovered that there was no place for optimism. “What can I tell you? We could have climbed the walls,” he told the ministers. Referring to the “impotence” of the Germans, Zamir said the snipers were not shooting with rifles, but with pistols; that the armored vehicles arrived only after 40 minutes; and that the Germans did not have the lighting equipment that was needed to locate the terrorists in the dark.

Zamir also told the ministers about his appeal to the commander of the German police on the field. “I told him ‘Listen, there’s a loudspeaker here. Let us speak to them in Arabic. If we don’t give them a way out of this, they’ll fight until the end.’”

But the German interior minister refused the suggestion. “He said they don’t agree to go now ‘to negotiations.’ I told him – ‘What negotiations? Let’s tell them that we’ll let them go to Egypt.’ And then they began to discuss it.”

In the end, a German representative spoke to the terrorists and told them that they were surrounded and “they had no chance.” Zamir’s counterpart, whose name is not revealed in the documents, appealed to the terrorists himself over the loudspeaker. He said: ‘Listen, board the plane and throw away your weapons, and fly to safety,’” said Zamir. But these efforts got nowhere.

“They had no ongoing plan and no immediate means to improvise an alternative program. There was nothing in case something didn’t go according to plan,” said Zamir. “They place no value on human life. Not their own or that of others,” he said, referring to the Germans. “In my opinion – I take full responsibility for my words – they did not make the most minimal effort to save lives, they did not take the most minimal risk to try and save people, not theirs or ours.”

Prime Minister Meir tried to present a softer position toward the Germans and told Zamir: “Look, I wasn't there, and we must be exact in our assessment. When they planned, when they started operating – they wanted to do this. The intention was to save the men.”

Nevertheless, Zamir stuck to his version of events. “They did not take the smallest risk in order to save them. They shot Turkish-style. They lay behind cover and shot, but there was no way of moving any of them out from behind their shelter. I have a position on their attitude to human beings and it is this – according to no standard whatsoever. One of their own was wounded and they had a Jeep; they could have driven by Jeep to rescue a wounded person. He crawled on his belly and it was clear that he would die from loss of blood – and they did nothing to save him.”



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