With the one-year delay of the 2020 Olympics due to COVID-19, the Tokyo Games of 2021 are one year closer to the 50th anniversary of the Munich Massacre by the Palestinian terror group Black September. In 1972, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) promised to remember, even declaring, "We will never forget." But that message, too commonly repeated since the Holocaust, never seems to sink in.
Days before the opening of the Tokyo Olympics, the IOC maintains its history of rejecting any "moment of silence" for the Munich 11, which arguably introduced the free world to international terrorism. The lobbying effort by victims' families, at least in the past decade, has been rejected or ignored by the IOC. In contrast, the IOC allowed American athletes in 2002 to enter the stadium with a flag from the recently torpedoed and collapsed World Trade Center. The IOC maintains that, under Avery Brundage's leadership, it memorialized the 11 murdered Israelis with a service a day after the September 5, 1972 murders.
In place of a moment of silence every four years, host countries today spend fortunes—600 million pounds at the 2012 Games in London and $895 million at the Rio Games of 2016—to ensure the safety of more than 200 national athletic delegations. The Olympic Games, founded in the spirit of international harmony, were once considered bulletproof from a hostage-taking episode.
War was reserved for military battlefields—not the well-kept apartments of an Olympic village. American distance runner Kenny Moore, then 28, recalled in 2012: "I had believed the Olympics immune somehow to the threats of the larger world. It was an illusion, but it had been a hell of a strong illusion and it rocked me personally to have that shattered."
The 1972 games were supposed to be the games of peace—an example of German redemption from the 1936 Games in Berlin, which coincided with the heinous Nazi era that led to the systemic extermination of 11 million innocents, including at least 6 million Jews. In Munich, Germany wanted to show the world that it had reformed its image; that these Olympics could be peacefully policed without the menacing muscle of German force. They were unprepared and were barely armed.
Today, following 9/11, all major sporting events—not just the Olympics—prepare for the possibility of terrorism.
Just as the Nazis introduced the world to gas chambers and the reduction of atrophied bodies to dust through crematoria, so too did the Palestinians introduce the world to international terrorism at the Munich Games.
Almost 50 years later, many still remember the image of a white ski-masked gunman standing on a balcony of the Olympic Village, brandishing a machine gun. In what today is just part of a history of hostage-taking and hijacking for the purposes of trading Israeli Jews for hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinian captives, the Munich mission sought 200 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 11 Israeli Olympians.
Two Jews were shot initially to underline the threat. Negotiations led to an attempt to facilitate the release of the hostages, but the Palestinians took advantage of a bungled rescue attempt by German police, allowing one fleeting moment for a terrorist leader to toss a grenade into a helicopter, killing the remaining nine Israelis. Five of the terrorists were killed during a failed attempt to rescue the hostages, as was a West German police officer. The three Palestinian survivors were arrested and released by West German officials less than two months later.
Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan directed Mossad to lead a retaliation effort. With the assistance of European intelligence agencies, 10 Palestine Liberation Organization bases in Syria and Lebanon were bombed. This was part of a broader Israeli assassination campaign, dubbed Operation Wrath of God, that eliminated all perpetrators and planners of the Munich raid by 1979.
Forty-five years after the massacre, a memorial at Munich's Olympic Park was unveiled with families of the victims in attendance. Reuven Rivlin, then-president of Israel, proclaimed the Munich Games as "the blood Olympics." Then-German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, "It should never have happened."
The IOC insists that Olympics opening ceremonies are inappropriate moments for remembering the Munich victims. But, if not every four years, when?
The IOC executive board agreed in 2015 that the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016 would offer "a mourning place" to remember "all those who have lost their lives at the Olympic Games." The monument included two stones from ancient Olympia and a memorial for Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died in a luge track crash the day before the 2010 Vancouver Games began. The IOC acknowledged that the moment of reflection could include the murdered Israelis in Munich. An engraved base with the interlocking Olympic rings reads: "We will always remember you forever in our hearts."
Remember who, for what, and why?
The IOC must put forward a gold-medal effort after almost 50 years to remind the world of the Munich Massacre.
Read President Kaufman's analysis in Newsweek.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
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