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Germany sets up panel to review 1972 Munich Massacre

The commission will “rigorously examine the period before and after” the attack, says Germany's interior minister.

The bodies of Israeli sportsmen killed at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich arrive in Israel. Photo by Eldan David/GPO via Wikimedia Commons.
The bodies of Israeli sportsmen killed at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich arrive in Israel. Photo by Eldan David/GPO via Wikimedia Commons.

Germany has set up an international commission of experts to review events surrounding the 1972 Munich Olympics attack, its government said Friday.

The panel was part of an agreement reached last year with relatives of the 11 Israeli team members who were killed by Palestinian terrorists.

The eight-member panel of historians, most of them based in Israel or Germany, is part of Berlin’s commitment to “a thorough reappraisal of what happened,” said Interior Minister Nancy Faeser.

The commission will “rigorously examine the period before and after” the attack, Faeser said in a statement. “It is particularly important to me for their work to also thoroughly address the treatment of the family members after the attack.”

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in September apologized that it took Berlin five decades to reach a compensation agreement with the families of the Israeli victims of the attack.

Speaking alongside Israeli President Isaac Herzog at a ceremony in Munich marking the 50th anniversary, Steinmeier said, “That it took 50 years to reach this agreement in the last [few] days is indeed shameful.”

Disagreement over an offer by the German government to the victims’ relatives threatened to derail the memorial ceremony, with the families warning that they would boycott the event if the offer stood.

However, a settlement was reached on Aug. 31, with compensation totaling €28 million.

“Part of our responsibility as Germans is to shed light on the many unresolved issues, the blind spots of the attack in Munich—and also the blind spots in how we have dealt with the attack since then,” Steinmeier said.

“For far too long, we did not want to acknowledge the pain of the bereaved families. And for far too long, we did not want to acknowledge that we, too, had to shoulder some of the responsibility: it was our job to ensure the safety of the Israeli athletes,” he added.

On Sept. 5, 1972, eight gunmen from the Palestinian terrorist group Black September burst into the Israeli team’s Olympic village quarters, killing two Israelis and kidnapping nine. West German neo-Nazis gave the group logistical assistance.

All nine hostages, as well as eight terrorists and a German police officer, died during a botched rescue effort by West German police. The three surviving perpetrators were arrested and then released the next month in a hostage exchange that followed the hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 615.

Over the years, victims’ relatives have worked hard to obtain an official apology from Germany, access to official papers and greater compensation than the €4.5 million offered to the families of the 11 slain Olympians.

“I came home with the coffins after the massacre,” Ankie Spitzer, whose husband, fencing coach Andre Spitzer, was killed after being taken hostage, told AFP. “You don’t know what we’ve gone through for the past 50 years.”

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