The families of the 11 Israeli athletes who were murdered in the 1972 Munich Olympics feel like participants in the theater of the absurd. They announced that they would boycott the memorial ceremony at the monument built in memory of their loved ones at the city’s Olympic village, but the German government, which failed to protect the athletes and botched the rescue operation, insists on holding the event regardless.
It will take place on September 5, the day on which PLO terrorists abducted the victims and took them hostage. This won’t be a simple ceremony but a full-on “festival,” marking 50 years to the incident. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder, cabinet ministers, the Munich mayor and some 1,000 others are supposed to attend. In solidarity with the families, Yael Arad, the Olympic Committee of Israel’s chairperson, announced that she won’t attend. She also canceled the charter jet that was to bring 200 attendees and the athletes’ families.
The German government has treated the families despicably and abusively for 50 years. It refused to take responsibility for its failures. It prevented them from reviewing documents on the incident, claiming they were top secret and that revealing them would endanger national security. It didn’t want to compensate them. Only in the wake of the families’ determined, unrelenting and inspiring struggle, headed by the widows Anki Spitzer and Ilana Romano, did the government partially relent. It agreed to publicly admit Germany’s responsibility for the massacre and to allow access to archive material.
(The time has come, by the way, for the Shin Bet and the Mossad to release their documents shedding light on Israel’s failures as well, such as ignoring intelligence received about PLO intentions to carry out a major terror attack at an international event and the failure to provide security to the athletes.)
And now, the government of Olaf Scholz has also agreed to pay the families $5.5 million – $240,000 per family. Each family has already received $85,000. Spitzer described Germany’s compensation offer as a “horrible joke” and an “insult.” All the families announced their rejection of the financial compensation. In a letter to the Bavarian premier, Spitzer mentioned that the Munich police chief during the Olympics, Manfred Schreiber, blamed the families for bringing terror to German soil. She added: “After 50 years of abuse, lies and insults, our patience has run out. Enough. No more.”
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Speaking of suffering, a number of weeks after the Munich massacre, the German government struck a deal that even the devil wouldn’t have made. In order to remove the threat of Palestinian revenge attacks, Germany collaborated with the PLO by staging a Lufthansa hijacking to release the three surviving Munich terrorists, and paid the PLO $9 million.
The families demand compensation from the German government in line with international precedents. Families of American and British victims of terror committed by Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi received around $10 million each. Billions of dollars of Gadhafi government assets are frozen in German banks, but Germany refuses to release them for the benefit of the Munich victims’ families, claiming the funds are held in trust by the United Nations.
The families however, have not directed their anger at Germany alone. Successive Israeli governments have not lifted a finger over the years to help the Munich victims’ families receive proper and fair treatment from German administrations. This apathy has continued through today. Former Prime Ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett have not taken an interest in the matter, and neither has Yair Lapid now.
President Isaac Herzog hasn’t done the little expected of him either. He may have tried in closed-door meetings to speak to Steinmeier’s heart, to move him to properly compensate the families, but he also tried until the last moment to convince the families not to boycott the ceremony. Left with no choice, Herzog finally announced that he, too, wouldn’t attend the ceremony in Munich. However, he does not intend to cancel his visit to Germany slated for the same time. Herzog is scheduled to deliver a speech to the Bundestag and meet with German leaders. If Herzog had a little national pride, he would have announced that he would not tread on German soil during this period in solidarity with the families hurt by German cynicism.
It’s not really surprising. Herzog and Lapid continue the line that has always characterized Israeli governments. They didn’t hesitate to manipulate the memory of the Holocaust to receive payments from Germany for the sake of its security needs – funding the nuclear facility in Dimona, subsidizing submarines and intelligence collaboration. However, when the situation demanded a moral stand, they became present-absentee cabinet ministers and prime ministers.
Even after the despicable and stupid declaration by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the presence of Scholz, which compared the Holocaust to Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israeli occupiers, my advice to the families remains the same: As a final act of protest in the theater of the absurd, into which you have been forced against your will, pay your own way to the ceremony and hold up signs proclaiming the words of the Prophet Elijah: “Have you murdered and also inherited?”