Survivors recall the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
By Rolene Marks and Yair Chelouche
“They’re all gone”.
They were the words that reverberated around the world. Television viewers across the globe were glued to Jim McKay, who anchored ABC’s coverage of the unfolding terrorist attack in Munich during the 1972 Olympics. The words are seared into our conscience. We can never forget that moment when we heard that 11 members of the Israeli Olympic Team had been murdered by Black September terrorists. Germany, once emblematic of painful memories for the Jewish people, had become a place where Jews were targeted for murder yet again.
On the 5th of September, we will remember how these terrorists first killed two members of the Israeli delegation and held another 9 hostage, until they too, were slaughtered. Israelis are far too familiar with terrorism, having endured attacks from terror groups since the birth of the modern state; but for it to happen like this on foreign soil, at the Olympic Games, the very essence and symbol of brotherhood and the human spirit, made the pain that much more acute.
Several weeks ago, history was made when the Israeli Airforce entered German airspace for the first time to train with the country’s Luftwaffe. Apart from practicing complex maneuvers, the premise of the joint exercise was to strengthen ties – and pay tribute to the past. Sharing the commitment to fight antisemitism and declaring “Never Again” the two allied forces flew over the Dachau Concentration Camp in tribute to victims and survivors of the Holocaust as well as those who were murdered on that tragic day in September, 1972.
Yehuda Weinstain has often been called the “Flying Fencer”. Weinstain was just 17 when he participated in the Olympics as a Fencer. He recalls the excitement of being in the Olympic Village, sharing the camaraderie with his team, being a bit star struck at seeing the famous athletes and practicing with intense focus. It was the Olympics after all! The Olympics symbolise the best of the sporting world and the very spirit of international goodwill, devoid of the partisan politics that plague global discourse. This was shattered with the attack on the Israeli team.
Yehuda Weinstain recalls how it was a twist of fate that saved his life. Having visited the city to acclimate so that when it came to choosing his accommodation, he chose the same room that was in between that of the coaches and other team members. This decision would prove lifesaving.
The sportsmen were assigned a room in a complex with three bedrooms, with two in each room.
When the terrorists started their deadly attack, they went to the rooms on either side of Weinstain and roommate, Dan Alon; but not theirs. They heard the shots that killed wrestling coach, Moshe Weinberg. They knew that something horrific had occurred. Weinstain remembers seeing a blood puddle at the place where Weinberg’s body lay as he peered through the window.
“It could’ve been me,” he says, “Because the terrorists, passed by my window twice and didn’t come in. Later on we believed that the terrorists’ omission on our door was a deliberate act by Moshe Weinberg who wanted that the people who will face the terrorists are those, he thought, could resist stronger. So it was my luck”.
He recalls making the decision to run to safety. “I ran about seven metres around the corner. It felt longer. I had the feeling that someone could shoot me in the small of my back”, he says. It was Alon’s turn, then some of the others to make the run for safety and he, Weinstain and the remaining survivors were taken to safety by German police and isolated before being sent home to their worried families in Israel.
Yehuda Weinstain, Olympic athlete for Fencing enlisted in the army as is required of Israeli citizens and became Lt Col Weinstain, a combat pilot in the IAF, flying many important missions for the Jewish state.
His latest mission was addressing the delegation from the IAF that participated in the training exercise in Germany – a poignant and important moment.
Dr Avishay Jakobovich was also at those fateful games – albeit in a different role. Host country Germany, wanted to show the world that it had moved forward from its Nazi past and invited all participating countries to send separate delegations of youth under 21 that would serve as cultural and social Ambassadors. In retrospect, many would criticize the lack of police presence and security. Jakobovich, delighted to be part of the Israeli delegation, remembers the incredible happy and inclusive vibe, with dancing and singing amongst the different global representatives and enjoying the games as a spectator.
This was until the massacre of the Israeli coaches and athletes. “We were quickly removed from where we were staying and isolated. I called my parents to let them know I was okay. The hardest parts were when we represented the State of Israel at the main memorial held by the Olympic committee the day after the massacre and accompanying the coffins of the victims and the flight was difficult and emotional, knowing the bodies of those murdered were underneath us, in the belly of the plane. I sat next to Ankie Spitzer, now the widow of Andre Spitzer the Fencing coach. Very hard,” he recalls.
Dr Jakobovich served as Chief Gynaecologist for the IDF and is a leader in his field today.
This and every September, we remember them – the 11 coaches and athletes, slaughtered in their prime in one of the most nefarious and infamous terror attacks in recent history. The recent IAF-Luftwaffe flyover may have been history in the making and a great tribute to remember and heal wounds but it is the message of that auspicious occasion that we take heed of – NEVER AGAIN!
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