September 26, 2018

45 years after the Munich Massacre, murdered Israeli Olympians get a memorial

Forty-five years after the murderous PLO attack on Israeli Olympic team members at the 1972 games, a memorial dedicated to the victims is to open in Munich on Wednesday.

The memorial features the biographies of the 11 Israelis — athletes and coaches — and a German police officer killed in the attack on panels with texts in German, Hebrew and English.

“We wanted to give the victims their identity back in the eyes of the public,” Bavarian Minister of Culture Ludwig Spaenle told the media on Monday during a preview of the site, which is cut into a hillside in the former Olympic park.

The memorial cost 2.35 million euros, or about $2.8 million. The funding came primarily from the State of Bavaria, the German federal government, the City of Munich and the International Olympic Committee.

Until now, the main memorials have been a sculpture and plaque. Plans for the memorial were announced in 2013.

Finally, the human stories are being told and the lessons of history underscored, Jewish leaders said ahead of the opening ceremonies this week.

The new memorial attests “to the bloodshed that soaked what should have been a joyous celebration of sport” and camaraderie, Ronald Lauder, head of the World Jewish Congress, said Tuesday in an email to JTA.

Lauder, who will address the opening ceremony along with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, said it was “regrettable that it took nearly half a century after the saddest moment in Olympic history” to reach this point, but lauded the German government for its “role in this significant tribute.”

He also said that life for Jews has changed for the better in Europe over the past 80 years, despite a recent increase in anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

“We should also be encouraged by the fact that so many European governments are vigilant in their defense of Israel and of all of their citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike,” Lauder added.

Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Jewish Community of Upper Bavaria and Munich, and former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement released Tuesday, “The [1972] attack was not just against Israel, not just against Jews. It was an attack on all of us, on the Olympic idea, the vision of freedom and peace for all humans.”

She applauded an additional as yet incomplete element of the memorial — a “school of democracy” to be located in the tower at the Fürstenfeldbruck airport, site of the botched rescue attempt.

Knobloch thanked Spaenle for his “outstanding commitment” to realizing a memorial “that gives the victims a face, tells of their lives, remembers them — and warns us never to take life, freedom or democracy for granted.”

The memorial was designed by a team under the auspices of the Bavarian Ministry of Culture in consultation with family members of victims, the consul general of Israel, experts from the concentration camp memorial at Flossenburg, the Jewish Museum in Munich and the Bavarian State Ministry for Political Education.

Ahead of Wednesday’s ceremony, the German news media featured interviews with family members, several of whom are expected to attend.

Among them will be Ankie Spitzer, who was 26 years old when she lost her husband, the coach and fencing master Andre Spitzer, in the attack. She told Deutschlandfunk radio that she could not deal with the fact that her loving husband had been brutally murdered and “no one regretted it.”

“It took 45 years, but I don’t regret the long and lonely journey that brought us to this day,” she said. “This is what I wanted.”


Toby Axelrod is JTA’s correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week. She has won numerous awards from the New York Press Association and the American Jewish Press Association. She has published books on Holocaust history for teen-agers.