Munich Massacre Ended Innocence of Olympic Games

Some Germans were still dreaming of gold medals when Palestinian terrorists brutally ended the innocence of the Olympic Games and post-war Germany in the early hours of September 5, 1972.

MUNICH - Some Germans were still dreaming of gold medals when Palestinian terrorists brutally ended the innocence of the Olympic Games and post-war Germany in the early hours of September 5, 1972.

Ulrike Meyfarth's surprise high jump gold the previous night was still fresh in the minds of her countrymen, who had been basking in international praise for their warmth and fairness.

But the Games, which featured such stars as seven-times swimming gold medalist Mark Spitz of the U.S. and Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut, failed to restore Germany's image after Adolf Hitler's Nazi Games in 1936 and World War II.

It was Israelis who the eight-strong Palestinian squad targeted when they forced their way into the team's quarters in the Olympic Village.

Two Israelis were killed instantly and nine others died alongside five of the gunmen and one German policeman when a rescue operation by German police went terribly wrong later.

Palestinian terrorists had hijacked airplanes in the past to gain attention in their fight against Israel but the Olympic massacre led to a new dimension for which Germany was unprepared. "We wanted a happy Games, no police Games," said Munich's police chief Manfred Schreiber when explaining the low-key security measures at the time.

Schreiber, German interior minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Bavarian interior minister Bruno Merk held fruitless negotiations with the Palestinians, who demanded the release of 200 Arab prisoners in Israeli jails and an escape plane for themselves.

The gunmen and their hostages were finally helicoptered to the nearby airfield of Fuerstenfeldbruck before the still highly controversial late-night police operation using sharpshooters ended in a bloodbath.

"The German authorities did nothing. The rescue operation was incompetent and stupid," said Ankie Spitzer at a service at the memorial opposite Munich's Olympic stadium on August 11 this year.

"We are here not to forget and not to forgive," added Spitzer, whose husband, Olympic judge Andreas Spitzer, died in one of the helicopters at Fuerstenfeldbruck. She also attacked the International Olympic Committee for never having properly commemorated the victims.

Then IOC chief Avery Brundage also came under fire from Israel when he declared "The Games must go on", the day after the tragedy, at a memorial service at the Olympic stadium. The Israeli team flew home but the Games were eventually completed a day late after a 34-hour interruption.

However, the remaining events took place under a cloud and the images of the tragedy remain alive until now.

"One can not forget. The memory is still vivid," said German Olympic Committee president Walter Troeger, who was a major at the Olympic Village 30 years ago.

Troeger was present at the August 11 commemoration organized by relatives and Israel's athletics federation at the European championships. He was at a memorial service held last night in Tel Aviv and will attend Friday's commemoration in Fuerstenfeldbruck, which will also feature relatives of the victims as well as German Interior Minister Otto Schily and Israel's ambassador to Germany, Shimon Stein.

"The wounds may scar over but the scar will always remain," said Stein on August 11.

The relatives of the victims received 1 million marks (510,000 euros) from the German government. Another compensation claim was turned down by a court in 1994.

But Israel got a huge moral boost on the eve of the August 11 ceremony from pole vaulter Alex Averbukh, who won the Jewish state's first ever European championship gold medal ahead of Germans Lars Borgeling and Tim Lobinger.

"No scriptwriter could have done it better," said Israeli 10,000-meter runner Nili Avramski. "There was Alex with a German to his left and one to his right and all the Germans in the stadium standing up for the Israeli anthem. We were standing there and crying. It was amazing. We will never have a moment like this again."