As the world was marveling and amazed by the superhuman achievements of proud Jewish swimmer Mark Spitz at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Muslim terrorists aligned with the Black September organization shocked and threw Western Civilization into chaos and turmoil.
The Olympics, which were supposed to try to bring all nations together, had been hijacked by pure evil incarnate. At the time, I thought the Olympics should have been canceled. Eleven Israelis had been killed and brutalized and one German policeman caught in crossfire. Munich was not far from the Dachau Concentration Camp. Memories of the Holocaust were still fresh in everyone’s mind. It was only 36 years after Hitler tried to use the Berlin Olympics to fool the world of his intentions.
The highlight of the 1972 Games was the Jewish American, Mark Spitz. I thought for sure at the time that the Black September Group, aligned with Yasser Arafat’s PLO, which had been forcibly kicked out of Jordan by King Hussein bin Talal in 1970-1971, was targeting these Olympics precisely because of Spitz. Spitz had to be heavily guarded after the Games resumed. The Black September terrorists joined with the neo-Nazi German Meinhof Gang aka Red Army Faction to carry out their barbaric and nefarious deeds.
After 50 years, Germany has finally apologized for its actions. The mistakes were numerous. Failure to protect the Olympic Village, and specifically the Israelis, and a bungled rescue attempt were the glaring errors. This was made even more so since Germany had been responsible for the worst genocide ever perpetrated by man against the Jewish People.
Germany should have insisted on calling the Games off. The International Olympic Committee should have ended it then and there.
The IOC had a responsibility to at least commemorate and memorialize the 11 Israelis and 1 German who had been killed. It took the IOC 44 years before they did so in 2016, and held a moment of silence before the 2020 Games. These are 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 out loud before and during the Games. It should never happen again. 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. 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 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 Shorter to have said that he won the marathon to honor his co-athletes who had been killed. 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. Joe Frager is Chairman of the Israel Advocacy Commission for the Rabbinical Alliance of America; Chairman of the Executive Committee of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim; Dean at Kollel Ayshel Avraham; Executive Vice President of the Israel Heritage Foundation; and a physician in practice for 41 years.