Why London must honour the victims of the Munich Olympic massacre

The International Olympic Committee must act to commemorate the lives of the innocent victims of the Munich Massacre

The Olympic flag at half-mast
Bob Blackman MP
On 23 May 2012 18:06

At 4.30am on September 5th1972, the Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany, was the scene for a devastatingly violent and anti-Semitic attack against members of the Israeli Olympic team.

A group of eight Palestinian members of the terrorist group Black September broke into the Olympic grounds and systematically hunted down the Israeli athletes, officials and coaches. Forcing their way into bedrooms in the early morning, the assassins killed on sight and took a number of hostages. The Black September members were demanding the release of 234 prisoners held in Israeli jails and their safe passage to Egypt.

After a failed rescue attempt, undertaken by the ill-equipped and ill-prepared German authorities, eleven Israelis and one German police officer were murdered by the attackers. It is imperative that we do not forget those innocent men that died and I feel a duty to name them:

Moshe Weinberg

Yossef Romano

Ze'ev Friedman

David Berger

Yakov Springer

Eliezer Halfin

Yossef Gutfreund

Kehat Shorr

Mark Slavin

Andre Spitzer

Amitzur Shapira

Anton Fliegerbauer

Five of the eight assassins were killed by the German security forces. The three surviving assassins were captured but were later released by West Germany following the hijacking by Black September of a Lufthansa airliner.  In a deplorable move, the bodies of the five Palestinian assassins were delivered to Libya where they received heroes’ funerals and were buried with full military honours. The two prisoners that were released by the West German government received a heroes’ welcome when they returned and gave a first-hand account of the massacre at a press conference that was broadcast worldwide. Such acceptance and glorification of acts of terrorism must never be accepted.

The massacre prompted the suspension of the Olympics for the first time in modern Olympic history and, whilst the Israeli government and Olympic team endorsed the decision allowing the games to continue, it became very clear, very quickly, that the remaining athletes no longer felt comfortable competing and groups began to withdraw from the competition.

A memorial service in remembrance of those that had died was held on 6th September and was attended by 80,000 spectators and 3,000 athletes. During the memorial service the Olympic flag was flown at half mast. This overwhelming attendance and mass mourning was echoed in the 1976 Olympics where, during the Opening Ceremonies, the Israeli national flag was adorned with a black ribbon.

This year will mark the 40th anniversary of the Munich Massacre. Yet, in a remarkable state of apathy, there has been no further commemoration. In 2004, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer, Mrs Ankie Spitzer, spoke to a room of more than 200 at the Israeli Ambassador’s residence to denounce this fact and call for a permanent mark of remembrance. Her words are still as salient now as they were then: "more than 30 years have passed, but for, the families of the innocent victims, it seems like only yesterday... why are we standing here, we should have this memorial in front of all the athletes... this is not an Israeli issue, this concerns the whole Olympic family."

I am appalled by the lack of response to such calls from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) who have stated that to introduce such a specific reference could alienate and offend other members of the Olympic community. Indeed, Alex Gilady, an Israeli IOC official, told BBC News Online: "We must consider what this could do to other members of the delegations that are hostile to Israel."

Quite frankly, this is a disgrace. It is my firm conviction that we must not allow the memory of this tragedy to fade and that the International Olympic Committee has an obligation to mark this loss with a permanent form of remembrance.

I am not alone in this sentiment.

Mrs Spitzer has since tabled an online petition calling for one minutes silence at the next Olympics. This petition can be found at www.change.org and I encourage you to read, sign and share this cause. I have now tabled an Early Day Motion calling for a minute's silence at the 2012 London Summer Olympics and at every Olympic Games to promote peace and to honour the memory of those murdered. I urge you to contact your elected representatives to call upon them to sign EDM 100 and show their support for the victims and their families.

We must now work together to put consistent pressure upon the International Olympic Committee. It is vital that we do not allow another anniversary to pass without an appropriate and permanent form of remembrance. The families and friends of those who died have worked tirelessly for four decades for the recognition they deserve and I am now asking you to add your voice to that struggle. 

Bob Blackman is the Member of Parliament for Harrow East

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