No Minute, but No Silence Either

Families of Munich massacre victims raise ante in fight for minute of silence.

LONDON - A minute of silence for the 11 Israelis killed at the 1972 Munich Olympics will not be held at today's Olympic opening ceremonies, just as it wasn't done at the openings of the past nine Olympiads. The International Olympic Committee fears a boycott or withdrawal by Arab countries, and vice president Thomas Bach admits as much. At least he had courage to say so; Jacques Rogge, the IOC chief, only said "it wasn't appropriate."

Yet the struggle to memorialize the victims reached new heights this year. People are remembering the massacre all over the globe or protesting that there is no official observance at the opening.

The fight for a minute of silence returned to the headlines because the families of the victimes ratcheted up their efforts. Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, two of the most active among the Munich widows, took off the gloves. They felt that if it didn't happen this time, it never would. Spitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer, is fed up with years of diplomacy and Rogge. "It's discrimination," she says. "The murdered ones came from the wrong country and from the wrong religion."

Romano, widow of weightlifter Yossef Romano, stresses that Rogge competed as an athlete in Munich. "He heard the reverberations of the explosions and decided to stay and compete and not surrender to terror," she says. "But his opposition to a minute of silence is surrender to terror."

U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed support for the gesture. Elected officials in Manhattan held a special meeting last week to urge the IOC to include it in the opening ceremony. Even London Mayor Boris Johnson, no fan of Israel, called for a minute of silence, as did German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

Several ceremonies will be held to mark the massacre. One was held this week in the Olympic Athletes' Village, and Rogge will attend one on August 6 organized by the Olympic Committee of Israel.

Perhaps these ceremonies are not a substitute for a minute of silence at the opening ceremony, but even if the families of the victims have yet to win what is so important to them, their cause has made a clear impact in important sectors of Western public opinion.