As the world was amazed by the superhuman achievements of the proud Jewish swimmer Mark Spitz at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Muslim terrorists aligned with the Black September organization shocked Western civilization and threw it into chaos and turmoil by murdering 11 Israeli athletes. The Olympics, which were supposed to bring all nations together, had been hijacked by evil incarnate.
At the time, I thought the Munich Olympics should have been canceled. Munich was not far from the Dachau concentration camp. Memories of the Holocaust were still fresh in everyone’s minds. It was only 36 years after Hitler tried to use the Berlin Olympics to fool the world about his intentions.
Spitz was the highlight of the Munich Games. I was certain at the time that Black September, aligned with Yasser Arafat’s PLO, which had been forcibly expelled from Jordan by King Hussein in 1970-1971, targeted the Munich Olympics precisely because of Spitz. After the Games resumed, Spitz had to be heavily guarded. The Black September terrorists had joined with the German neo-Nazi Baader–Meinhof Group, a.k.a. the Red Army Faction, to carry out their barbaric and nefarious deeds.
After 50 years, Germany has finally apologized for its actions. Its mistakes were numerous: Failure to protect the Olympic Village and specifically the Israelis, as well as a bungled rescue attempt. They were made even more galling because Germany had been responsible for the worst genocide ever perpetrated by man against the Jewish people.
Germany should have insisted on canceling the Games. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) should have stopped them then and there.
The IOC had a responsibility to at least commemorate and memorialize the 11 Israelis and one German who had been killed. But it took them 44 years before they did so in 2016 and held a moment of silence before the 2020 games. These were steps in the right direction, but not nearly enough. I propose that just as the names of the victims of 9/11 are read every year in a very public display, so should the names of the 12 killed in 1972 be read before and during the Games. Kaddish should be recited by a family member. The memorialization has to be sincere, so that the terrorists never feel as though they won.
In his movie “Munich,” Steven Spielberg tried to capture the range of emotions and actions that the massacre and its aftermath caused. Unfortunately, the movie went too far towards a moral equivalency that I do not think was helpful.
The world has never fully recovered from the Munich massacre. Track runner Frank Shorter, who won the Olympic marathon in 1972 and inspired me to become a marathon runner, was quoted recently saying, “After they killed the athletes, we thought we were going home. The marathon got delayed a day. I told [runner] Kenny Moore, who ended up coming in fourth, that I was not going to think about terrorists as I ran because, if I did that, then they win.”
I would have liked Frank Shorter to have said that he won the marathon to honor his murdered fellow athletes. Perhaps that is what he meant when he said “then they win.” He did not want to give the terrorists any kind of victory.
In any case, the Munich massacre will always be on the minds of every Israeli athlete who competes in the Olympics. Many lessons have been learned after 50 years and many more will be learned. “Never again” is the goal.
Dr. Joseph Frager is a lifelong activist and physician. He is chairman of Israel advocacy for the Rabbinical Alliance of America, chairman of the executive committee of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim and executive vice president of the Israel Heritage Foundation.
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