Opinion: Munich’s indelible stains

Under the headline “Indelible Stains,” the Los Angeles Times listed “10 Olympic controversies that forever leave their mark on the Summer Games.”

Subsequently, the Times published (a part of) my letter written in response to the egregious omission from their article:

Unfortunately, the most important controversy in the history of the games was left off the Times’ list: the murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the Munich Olympics in 1972 by Palestinian terrorists. 

Maybe the controversy was that the Olympics did not have adequate security; or that the German government refused assistance from the Israeli government, who, unfortunately, had years of experience in such situations; or that the Olympics were not suspended out of respect to the great loss of life; or that 10 Arab countries protested lowering their flags half mast and immediately raised their flags following the memorial; or that the German government released the three remaining terrorists (in exchange for a hijacked Lufthansa airliner), who returned to heroes welcomes in their home countries.

Or maybe another controversy is that the Indelible Stains of Blood was actually left off the LA Times’ list.

The Times placed it on their website; not in print.  Interestingly, they omitted what I considered the most important line in the letter: the last.

People question why so many Jews today are obsessed with keeping alive the memory of the 11 murdered Israelis. 

Unfortunately, in today’s world, 11 people mass murdered is a relatively benign number.  Almost daily we read about suicide bombers who murder 20, 30, 45, 200.  Not to mention the thousands wiped out in Syria and more than 300,000 slaughtered in the Sudan.  Just last week, in our own back yard, 12 people were murdered while attending a midnight movie.  That’s one more than Munich.

So why should the Olympics and the world pause, even for one moment, to honor the memory of 11 murdered Israeli athletes?  Why not give silence to all victims of murder?

Because it’s different.  Because context is everything.  Because it was on the heels of the Holocaust, in the exact place where the idea of eradicating an entire people began; an idea which led to more than 6 million people stripped of their dignity, tortured, and systematically exterminated: men, women, and children.

There were not just eleven people murdered in the Munich Olympics during those horrific events, frozen in time while the world witnessed.  Those 11 athletes represented a country, a religion, a people.  Every Jew lost a brother that day.

When a U.S. embassy is attacked, America is attacked.  The 11 Israeli Olympians were not just individuals; they were Israel.  Then, once again, as Israel was attacked, the world did nothing but watch, as if it was another televised sporting event.  And it continues today while the International Olympic Committee refuses to honor their memory 40 years later.

Israel has moved into the 21st century.  Israeli children are taught about the Holocaust, yet they understand today’s realities.  They are no longer crippled by the past, rather they celebrate Israel’s Nobel Laureates in science, medical and technological breakthroughs, and the humanitarian efforts that are transforming the world.

Certain images create nations.  Unfortunately, those images are not always beautiful.  The assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Pearl Harbor, the Twin Towers.

As a Jewish nation, we can no longer stay paralyzed by our past, but we must never forget it.  We must remember the “indelible stains” of our history, from the destruction of the First and Second Temples to the heroism at Masada and Entebbe.  And we must honor with a moment of silence those who perished in the Holocaust, and our relatives lost in Munich in 1972.

Jack Saltzberg is executive director of Friends of Sheba Medical Center. He can be reached at jack@saltzberg.org.