Occurring less than three decades after the end of the Second World War, the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich were meant to present a fresh image of Germany to the world and therefore organizers billed the games as “the Smiling Games” or “the Games of Peace and Joy.” However, these games would fall far short of that goal, and come to be known for tragedy and terror.
Early on the morning of September 5th, eight members of a breakaway Palestinian terrorist faction of Fatah known as Black September broke into the fenced Olympic Village on the outskirts of Munich and used stolen keys to enter the dormitories where members of the Israeli delegation slept. Awoken by the noise, wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg and weightlifter Yossef Romano engaged with the attackers and were killed during the initial struggle, while the terrorists, led by Ali Hassan Salameh, took the remaining nine members of the Israeli team hostage.
When German police arrived at the scene, the Black September terrorists demanded the release of more than 230 Palestinian prisoners being held by Israeli authorities, as well as the release of Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, the jailed leaders of the German terrorist group Red Army Faction.
Responding to the terrorists’ demands, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir firmly stated, “If we should give in, then no Israeli anywhere in the world can feel that his life is safe.”
Negotiators reportedly offered “an unlimited amount of money” to secure the Israelis’ release, but their offer was rebuffed. The terrorists eventually demanded to be flown ato Egypt long with their captives. The authorities acquiesced and supplied two helicopters o fly the terrorists to the Munich airport, where an airplane would be waiting for them.
Seeing a potential opportunity, the German authorities organized a rescue mission.
After a gunfight at the airport between the terrorists and German police, a German official mistakenly announced to the media that all the hostages had been freed and all the terrorists had been killed, while in fact, all hostages and five terrorists were dead. The three surviving terrorists were arrested. Upon hearing that all of the Israeli Olympians had been killed, ABC newscaster Jim McKay solemnly uttered: “They’re all gone.”
Many around the world were outraged by the fact that the Olympics were delayed for only a day before the competition resumed. International Olympic Committee Avery Brundag famously announced that “We cannot allow a handful of terrorists to destroy this nucleus of international cooperation and goodwill we have in the Olympic movement,” adding “the games must go on.”
In September 2017, the German government organized an official ceremony honoring the 11 Israelis killed in the tragedy. Marking the occasion, WJC President Lauder declared, “This monument is not just about Jews. It is about all people. No one anywhere has the moral right to inflict terror on anyone.”
“As president of the World Jewish Congress, I have seen the high price of world silence. World silence led to the Holocaust. We can see the results just 40 kilometers from here at Dachau. World silence also played a role here in 1972 when Palestinian terrorists slaughtered 11 Israeli athletes and their trainers. They did not just commit murder. They destroyed the peaceful tradition of the Olympics games. Forty-five years after Munich, we see the world’s silence again, with a resurgence of antisemitism throughout Europe.
“What lessons have we learned since 1972? Lesson number one: Appeasement never works. Terror has only increased throughout Europe since Munich. Lesson number two: Stop repeating the lie that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom-fighter. Terrorists are not freedom fighters. They are terrorists. They kill innocent human beings. And this is lesson number three: We must stop them together.”