Lives can change in 60 seconds, worlds end and new ones begin. Sixty seconds is all it can take sometimes. Sixty seconds where you don’t pay attention on the road as a child runs after a ball; 60 seconds for a couple to become a family as a child is born and placed in his mother’s arms for the first time; 60 seconds when an ill-prepared rescue attempt can turn to disaster and strong men who came in peace can be turned into victims of an ongoing war called terror.
On September 4, 1972, Palestinian terrorists violated the spirit and purpose of the Olympics, bringing violence and death to 11 Israeli athletes. This happened in Munich, in Germany.
To remember, to read about those tragic hours of terror is to read about courage and bravery on the part of the Israelis at they struggled, within themselves, to save their teammates. Those who saw them in the hours before the bungled German rescue attempt, spoke of the dignity of the Israeli athletes. In their deaths, they showed the best of what Israel is and the best of what Israel had brought to the Olympic Games. In dignity, the Israeli team departed after the massacre, and in great shame, the world continued to play as if…as if nothing had happened.
There was no honor among the Palestinian murderers, no honor in gunning down and murdering innocent, unarmed athletes that came to celebrate what was supposed to be the one moment in time the world would join to pursue sports and not war. In their actions, the Palestinians showed the worst of Palestinian society.
Of the German actions, I cannot write. I want to believe their incompetence was not a sign of apathy. I want to believe there was honor in their trying to save the Israelis, the Jews, who had come to German soil to participate in the world games. I want to believe and sometimes I do. I can only imagine their horror that Jews, including at least one Holocaust survivor, had become victims of terror on German soil. I want to feel bad for them but while they may or may not have been responsible for the ultimate failure of the rescue (and the horrendously inadequate security that allowed this to happen in the first place), my heart is too full with sorrow to find compassion for their dismay.
And finally, there was no honor in the cowardice and insensitive actions of the International Olympics Committee – then, and now. They failed – from the start, through the attack, and after. They failed to adequately prepare; they failed during the negotiations. They failed, most dramatically, in recognizing the magnitude of the horror that had played out before their eyes. They failed, and evenworse, lack even the dignity to admit that in their actions, they sanction forgetting or ignoring the results of their failures.
The Palestinian group came to murder, and murder they did. I remember the Munich Olympics, though I was a young girl at the time. I remember waiting for hours hoping the Israelis would be released. Believing that Jews would not die as hostages on German soil. I remember wishing they would let the Israeli army come in and save them but having faith that the Germans could beat terrorists. I was wrong. The German army wasn’t allowed to run the operation – this was done by two politicians and a police officer. Later it was learned that it’s possible some of the hostages were even killed by the German police.
I remember the bungled attempt the Germans made to save the Israelis, of begging to be told that somehow at least one had survived. I remember the joy when we heard the hostages were all safe…and the incredible agony of learning not a single one had survived. I remember the fury when I later read that the “sharpshooters” were not trained professionals but merely men who had shot competitively on weekends. This is what they sent to fight terrorists!
And finally, I remember in the midst of my tears the absolute sense of betrayal and shock to hear that the games would continue, even as Israel pulled into itself to bury its dead.Paula R. Stern