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The Katzwer’s Out of the Bag: High time for the Olympics to honor murdered Israeli athletes

Published: April 27, 2012
Section: Opinions


The Olympic Games have served since the late 1800s as a meeting ground for countries, a place where they can put aside conflict, differences and all the other things that drive wedges between nations. Rather than use the competition at the Olympics as an excuse for hatred and intolerance, the athletes, coaches, trainers and so on come together in brotherhood. For example, in 2008, when Nino Salukvadze of Georgia won the bronze medal in the 10-meter air pistol competition, she embraced silver-winner Natalia Paderina on the medal podium, despite the fighting between their countries.

The Olympics rarely let politics interfere with the games, although sometimes the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had to make concessions. Most notably, the 1916 games were canceled due to World War I and the 1940 and 1944 games were canceled due to World War II. The IOC, not wanting to disrupt the games, even continued the 1972 Munich games after 11 Israeli competitors were murdered. They held a short memorial service and then refused to mention it again.

While we cannot go back in time and yell at the IOC for continuing the games so quickly, we can hold them responsible for their refusal to hold a minute of silence in memory of those 11 Israeli athletes and coaches who were murdered. Ankie Spitzer, the wife of murdered fencing coach Andrei Spitzer, has been trying for the past 40 years to get the IOC to hold a minute of silence in memory of those who died. The IOC has done nothing, not even deigning to respond to her.

For those of you unfamiliar with the “Munich massacre” (or who have never seen the Eric Bana movie “Munich”), at 4:30 a.m. on Sept. 5, 1972, eight men with the Palestinian terrorist group Black September entered the Olympic Village, went to the Israeli team’s lodgings and took hostages. When it had all ended on Sept. 6, six terrorists were dead and all 11 Israelis taken hostage were dead.

The response from the IOC was dismal. They held a memorial ceremony on Sept. 6 during which IOC President Avery Brundage said little about the murdered athletes and instead chose to discuss the strength of the games and defend the IOC’s decision not to allow Rhodesia to compete. The remaining Israeli team members who had not been taken hostage returned home. The teams from Egypt, the Philippines and Algeria left as well as did some members of the Dutch and Norwegian teams. Nevertheless, the games continued with startling alacrity. Dutch distance runner Jos Hermens said, “You give a party, and someone is killed at the party, you don’t continue the party. I’m going home.”

Continuing their trend of trying to sweep the Munich massacre under the carpet, the IOC has been ignoring Ankie Spitzer for the past 40 years as she has tried to get the IOC to hold a minute of silence. Spitzer, with help from the Rockland JCC in New York, has created a petition on change.org to send to the IOC asking for a minute of silence at the Olympics in London this summer, which marks the attack’s 40-year anniversary.

In the petition, Spitzer reminds people that “these men were sons; fathers; uncles; brothers; friends; teammates; athletes. They came to Munich in 1972 to play as athletes in the Olympics; they came in peace and went home in coffins.”

Spitzer is not asking for the IOC to take the blame for what happened or to force the IOC to make a broad statement denouncing the movement responsible for the deaths. All she wants is one minute of silence to honor those who died, one minute of acknowledgement. “Silence is a fitting tribute for athletes who lost their lives on the Olympic stage. Silence contains no statements, assumptions or beliefs and requires no understanding of language to interpret,” Spitzer wrote in the petition.

As beautiful as this sentiment is, the IOC has yet to respond. As of press time, the petition had reached 16,000 signatures. That is a lot but it is not enough. It is shameful that the Olympic Games have never held a moment of silence for Munich 11.

It does not matter what your political ideology is: Any reasonable person knows that these attacks were brutal, immoral and unforgivable. King Hussein of Jordan spoke out against the actions of Black September, calling their actions a “savage crime against civilization … perpetrated by sick minds.” Even if you believe that the Israelis have greatly mistreated the Palestinians, that does not excuse the murder of innocent men. These men went to Munich to show their pride in their country and themselves and to join with other athletes in peace. They went to Munich to engage in an international tournament and to put aside differences. They did not go there to make a political statement or to harm anyone. They did not go there to be murdered.

And yet, the IOC has never fully recognized the brutality of this attack and it is time they did. They may be 40 years late but late is better than never.

The men who died at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich deserve their minute of silence and deserve to be remembered—not as the murder victims of Black September—but as decent men who engaged in an international competition to show brotherhood with their fellow man.