The Munich Olympics

One of the greatest tragedies ever to befall an international sporting competition.

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Reprinted with permission from Jews and the Olympic Games (Vallentine Mitchell).

The XX Olympic Games were awarded to Munich by the IOC. They were of a special importance, not only for the Olympic Movement in general, but especially for the post-war German republic and the independent state of Israel. Both countries were proud of their cooperation and their joint desire to overcome a horrendous past that had brought so much suffering to Germany, Jews, and many other people all over the world, far beyond the Holocaust.

Perhaps in recognition of the achievements of West German democracy, 122 countries sent 7,156 competitors, of whom over one thousand were women--a record number. For the second consecutive Games there were two German teams: the Federal German Republic (FDR)--also known as West Germany--and East Germany (GOR). As a result, Germany once again had a total of six places in all competitions. This state of affairs remained until reunification in 1990.

The president of Federal Germany, Gustav Heinemann, declared the Games open on 26 August in the Bavarian capital in a beautiful stadium that I had had the opportunity to see shortly before its completion.

As in nearly all the Games of the modern era, there were political demonstrations. Another two Afro-Americans followed the example of Smith and Carlos, raising their black-gloved fists as a sign of protest. They were banned by the Americans from any further participation.

Murder

munich olympics massacreHalf way through the well-organized and peaceful Games--through which Germany hoped to erase the memory of the Berlin Games--another kind of protest happened. This event was to prove unprecedented in the history of the Games and shocked deeply not only Walther Troger, the man in charge of the Olympic village--where these events took place, but the whole of Germany, and sent shock waves to many parts of the world. I vividly recall these events and my own feelings of horror as I watched the events unfold on television.

There are many written and visual accounts about what happened during the night beginning on 5 September 1972, when the perimeter fence which surrounded the Olympic village was scaled by Palestinian terrorists, who carried out a well-prepared attack on the temporary residence of the Israeli representatives at 31 Connelly Strasse. It was established later that the attack was orchestrated by 'Black September,' a known violent wing of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

Those in charge of the Olympic camp and security were unprepared for any acts of violence. Two Israelis were killed whilst resisting the eight Palestinians, but others in different areas of the building managed to escape. Among those was the team's leader, Dr. Shaul Ladany, a university lecturer and also the world record holder for the 100 km walk. Others escaped when awakened by a German cleaning woman.

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Dr. Paul Y Mayer

Dr. Paul Yogi Mayer is a sportsman, writer, teacher and youth worker, who traces the history of the Olympic Games in the context of Jewish participation and contribution.