The Munich Massacre was the name given to the terrorist attack during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, West Germany. Eight Palestinian terrorists from the group Black September killed two members of the Israeli Olympic team and then took nine others hostage. The situation was ended by a huge gunfight that left five of the terrorists and all of the nine hostages dead.
Following this tragedy, the Israeli government organised retaliation against Black September, called Operation Wrath of God and also Operation Spring of Youth.
They called on all world governments to take more effective action against the Arab guerillas responsible. (Source 2) The massacre was a major event in the war between the Palestine and Israel people. It shocked the world and confirmed a harsh reality, that no one is safe from terrorism. The Munich massacre was brought on because of the war between the Arab and Israeli people. The operation was called “Ikrit and Biram”, after two Palestinian villages whose settlers were killed or forced out by the present day Israel Defence Forces in 1948.
This could have possibly been used as a motivator for the Black September group. In the 1972 Olympic Games, the Olympic Committee hoped to erase the memories of the usage of the Olympics in 1936 in Berlin to promote propaganda for Hitler and the Nazi party. They tried to introduce a friendly and peaceful atmosphere. However this also meant the level of security would be lower. As this was the country where Jews were previously condemned and hunted down during the Holocaust, the decision to make this Olympics more relaxed and with less security, was controversial.
This controversy and lack of German security caused unrest amongst the Israeli people following the Massacre. Nearly two weeks into the Olympic Games, on September 5, the members of the Palestinian terrorist organization, Black September, which were part of the fedayeen group, (Arabic for “men of sacrifice” and used often by Islamic terrorists to describe themselves) scaled the six foot wire fence that encircled the Olympic Village at 4 a. m. (Source 1). Although they were seen by various people, it did not arouse suspicion since athletes regularily hopped the fence. Source 3) At 4:30 a. m. the disguised assailants, carrying kitbags filled with assault rifles (AK-47), pistols and grenades, headed towards the apartments where the innocent athletes slept. The masked attackers entered and rounded up the coaches and officials from Apartment 1 and were lead to a group of athletes staying in Apartment 3, gaining more hostages. Some of the Israelis fought back; two of them, Moshe Weinburg and Yossef Romano, were killed. In the midst of the valiant Israeli retaliation, a few terrified Israelis were luckily able to escape.
Nine were taken hostage. (Source 3) At around 5 am, the police had been alerted and news of the attack had begun to spread around the world. At 9:30 a. m. the Black September group announced they were Palestinians and demanded that Israel release more than 200 Arab prisoners and grant them safe passage out of Germany. They also sought the release of two German terrorist prisoners. The Germans began to stall the terrorists but eventually offered the Palestinians an unlimited amount of money for the release of the athletes, as well as the substitution of high-ranking Germans.
However, the kidnappers refused both offers. The German police then decided to plan an assault and rescue operation. The border police, badly trained and unorganised took position on the roof dressed in Olympic sweat suits and wielding sub-machine guns. However because of camera crews filming the police men from nearby buildings the terrorists saw the attack coming from the TV. When the leader of the group Luttif Afif or “Issa” threatened to kill two hostages, the police retreated.
After hours of tense negotiations, the Palestinians agreed to a plan whereby they were to be taken by helicopter to the air base at Furstenfeldbruck where they would be given an airplane to fly them and their hostages out of Germany and into Cairo, Egypt. (Source 3) The Israeli athletes and the Black September group were then transported by bus to a helicopter which brought them to Furstenfeldbruck air base. The German police organised a sniper team to wait for the terrorists to eliminate them with as little casualties as possible.
At 10:30 pm the helicopters landed and once on the ground, the terrorists realized there was a trap. The German sharpshooters attempted to kill the terrorists and a bloody firefight ensued. The Israeli hostages could do nothing. They were sitting, tightly bound and blindfolded in the helicopters parked on the runway. “Perhaps, surprisingly, the fedayeen did not kill them right away. They might have been too busy returning the sharpshooters’ fire and dodging their bullets.
They might even have felt a reluctance to kill nine obviously defenceless men: a kind of animal inhibition that has been known to stay the hand of the most desperate murderers”. (Source 1) Two Black September members and one German police officer were killed in the standoff. A stalemate followed for over an hour and at 11:00 pm the media was mistakenly informed that the hostages had been saved and the news was announced to a relieved Israeli public. When the German police armoured cars arrived to the air base, the terrorists knew the end had come.
With the Israeli hostages in two separate helicopters, the leader of the Black September group, “Issa” opened fire on the hostages on the first helicopter, then pulled the pin and threw a grenade into the cockpit, killing all hostages inside. The hostages in the second helicopter met the same fate as the hopeless terrorists gunned down the Israeli victims. The snipers and armoured vehicles then took out three more terrorists, one being the leader of the tragic event, Luffif Afif. Three terrorists escaped but were captured by German police shortly later.
The tragedy ended in bloodshed and scarred the people of Israel. Victims (Israeli Athletes)- Moshe Weinburg, Yossef Romano, Ze’ev Friedman, David Berger, Yakhov Springer, Eliezer Halfin, Yossef Gutfreund, Kehat Shorr, Mark Slavin, Andre Spitzer, Amitzur Shapira (German Police Officer)- Anton Fliegerbauer Terrorists responsible (Killed)- Luttif Afif “Issa”, Yusuf Nazzal “Tony”, Afif Ahmed Hamid “Paolo”, Khalid Jawad “Salah”, Ahmed Chic Thaa “Abu Halla”. (Captured)- Mohammed Safady “Badran”, Adnan Al-Gashey “Denawi”, Jamal Al-Gashey “Samir”. Source 3) Surprisingly, decided by the Olympic Games Committee, the games continued. The massacre of 11 Israeli athletes was not considered serious enough to cancel or postpone the Olympics. Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times wrote at the time, “Incredibly, they’re going on with it”, and “It’s almost like having a dance at Dachau”. However, the Munich Massacre still had enormous effects on the Olympic Games and to the public. Security from then on was permanently increased. The event alarmed countries worldwide and spurred the realisation of needed action against terrorist rimes. The rumours arose from the Israeli public that the German security forces poorly handled the rescue operation. Still, the Israeli government were pleased with Germany’s actions as the Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr. Abba Eban stated clearly that they approve the German government’s decision to use force against the Palestinian terrorists. (Source 2) The Israel nation gained sympathy from countries worldwide as the actions of the Palestinian terrorists was condemned. The Israeli Prime Minister, Mrs.
Golda Meir, received messages of concern and sympathy from united countries against this act of terrorism including Western European countries, the United States and Canada. American President Nixon described the killings as “a tragedy for all the nations of the world”. Similiarly, the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Alec Douglas-Home declared that “the terrible events in Munich have appalled the civilised world. On behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, I send my deepest sympathy at the grievous loss which Israel has suffered”. (Source 2) This lead to the creation of many Government counter-terrorism organisations.
The furious Israeli government retaliated by allowing the Mossad (national intelligence agency of Israel) collect information and organise covert operations against the Palestinians. Operation Wrath of God and Operation Spring of Youth was devised to target and execute the high-ranking Palestinians suspected of planning or being involved with the massacre (Source 1). Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” inspired by the true events and the book “Vengeance” by George Jonas, shows the supposed, yet believed fictional, deadly response of the Israeli government and Mossad against the individuals responsible or involved in the appalling tragedy.