Commemoration of the 1972 Olympic assassination: “How do you live on?”

Israelis and Germans commemorate the victims of the Olympic attack. Federal President Steinmeier asks for forgiveness, the relatives seem reconciled.

Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and relatives of the terrorist attack in 1972, Ankie Spitzer

Reconciliation in Fürstenfeldbruck: Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Ankie Spitzer

FUERSTENFELDBRUCK taz | David Berger, Anton Fliegerbauer, Ze’ev Friedman, Yossef Gutfreund, Eliezer Halfin, Yossef Romano, Amitzur Shapira, Kehat Shor, Mark Slavin, Andrei Spitzer, Yakov Springer and Moshe Weinberg: These are the names of the victims who Frank-Walter Steinmeier read out first when he steps up to the lectern. The names of the 12 men who died in the 1972 Palestinian terrorist attack on the Israeli Olympic team in Munich.

Exactly 50 years later, representatives of the Israeli and German states, the Jewish community in Germany, survivors and representatives of the Olympic Committee are coming together at the Fürstenfeldbruck air base to commemorate them. Where most of them were killed. It is a worthy, harmonious event. And only a few weeks after there was still talk of a boycott and scandalafter it was unclear whether this event would be able to take place in a dignified setting.

“Without all of you, without the relatives and without the presence of the State of Israel, I could not imagine a dignified commemoration,” says the Federal President during his speech in the event tent on the former military airfield. Only a few days ago, an agreement was reached between the bereaved and the federal government: At 28 million euros, the federal government, the Free State of Bavaria and the city of Munich are now paying significantly more than the last offer.

“We didn’t live up to the trust”

In the early morning hours of September 5, 1972, eight Palestinian assassins had no problem getting into the Olympic Village. There they shot dead two members of the Israeli team and took nine others hostage. With them they wanted to free more than 200 Palestinian prisoners in Israel, but also other prisoners such as the RAF terrorists Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof. Around midnight, an amateurish attempt to free the hostages and a policeman at the Fürstenfeldbruck airfield ended fatally. Five terrorists also died.

While Steinmeier is speaking, police snipers are positioned outside on the buildings to ensure the safety of the guests. Images that mix in the mind in a strange way with images from the night of the assassination. “We wanted to be good hosts,” says Steinmeier, “but we didn’t live up to the trust that the Israeli athletes and their families placed in Germany. You weren’t sure. They weren’t protected. They were tortured and killed by terrorists in our country.”

Steinmeier, but also the other speakers, such as the Israeli President Izchak Herzog, the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, and the Federal Minister of the Interior, Nancy Faeser, commemorate the night of the Olympic terror. One can only guess what the loss of their relatives meant for the bereaved. “How do you live on as a young woman who has just had her first child whose father will not return?” asks Steinmeier.

“How do you live on when you receive two postcards from Munich in which your son, who has since been murdered, wrote that everything was wonderful and that he was looking forward to coming home?”

Triple failure

However, it is not the words of sympathy that make Steinmeier’s speech “bold and historic”, as his Israeli colleague Herzog will later describe it, and that give the whole event its importance, but rather the clear and unmistakable commitment to responsibility Germany, which Steinmeier, but also Faeser or previously Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder and Munich’s Mayor Dieter Reiter express on this day. They all ask the bereaved for forgiveness, for forgiveness.

It was, as Steinmeier put it, “a triple failure” for which one should apologize. The first failure was the inadequate security concept of the games, the second was the failure of the authorities during the attack. The third failure began the day after the attack: “The silence, the suppression, the forgetting.”

Herzog speaks of the assassination as “the moment when the Olympic torch went out,” and also refers to the lack of commemoration on the part of the International Olympic Committee. “This was not an Israeli tragedy, it was a global tragedy.” The decision of the past few days was an “important moral step”.

“They murdered our hopes, our dreams”

The other speakers are also happy that it to an agreement between the Federal Government and the bereaved came, which also includes the establishment of an Israeli-German commission of historians, which is to deal with the processing of the assassination. General tenor: Late, but still.

The woman who recently found the clearest words against the federal government and announced the boycott of the event is Ankie Spitzer, the widow of fencing coach André Spitzer. The spokeswoman for the victims’ families addressed her speech directly to her murdered husband, telling him how proud he would have been of the woman their baby had grown into. “When they killed you, they also killed a part of me and the people who loved you,” says Spitzer.

“They murdered our hopes, our dreams, our future, but not my love for you.” But even Spitzer now seems reconciled. “You can rest in peace now,” she tells her husband. “And now I can too. Until we meet again.”

Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, also gave a short speech at the air base, speaking of shame, sadness and deep respect for the victims. Bach’s predecessor in office at the time was Avery Brundage, who after the assassination attempt “The games must go on” had given out that the “cheerful games” had to go on. A dignified mourning for the murdered athletes was obviously secondary to Brundage. Bach’s speech on Monday was also remarkable: it was the only one that did not contain a word of apology.

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