Remembering the Munich 11?
By David FlemingAnouk Spitzer was just two months old when her father Andre Spitzer, an Israeli fencing coach, was murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972. The terrorists entered the Israeli apartments inside the Olympic village at 4:30 a.m. on Sept. 6, 1972 and 21 hours later 11 Israeli athletes, coaches and judges had been killed along with five terrorists and one policeman in what would stand as the worst tragedy in Olympic history. For reasons too political to make sense, almost 24 years later, Spitzer is still fighting to have the father she never knew honored by the International Olympic Committee.
The mess actually began in 1972 when German Chancellor Willy Brandt asked all countries to fly their flags at half mast to honor the Munich 11, but rescinded the mandate when 10 Arab nations objected. It continued at last week's opening ceremonies when despite the excuse he gave Spitzer, Samaranch spent a good deal of his speech addressing the problems in Bosnia.
So instead of the closure she had hoped for, Spitzer and some of the other 14 surviving children of the Munich 11 shared a memorial service and the dedication of a statue to honor their murdered fathers Sunday night at the tightly guarded Atlanta Jewish Federation's Selig Center. "Why have we been fighting each other for 24 years over this? The Olympic family lost 11 athletes, why can't we honor them?" asked Spitzer. "If the members of the Dream Team were wiped out, would they be remembered? You tell me if they wouldn't be remembered for the next two million years. We just want one word from the IOC that this wasn't just a regular Olympics, that our fathers were killed there."
Said Mimi Weinberg, widow of Israeli wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg who was attacked by terrorists and then fought to his death as he approached apartment No. 3 on Connellystrasse, "A moment of silence is not a little thing to ask, even after this long. We want official recognition that something happened in 1972; for people to know that I sent my husband to Munich and he came back in a coffin."
Dedicating the memorial sculpture, which has a solid stone base from Jerusalem, five steel Olympic rings and an eternal flame, S. Stephen Selig, president of the Atlanta Jewish Federation, also spoke of Saturday's Centennial Olympic Park bombing, which killed two and injured 112. "It is being said that Saturday morning's act of violence and terror has destroyed the innocence of the Olympic Games," Selig said as Atlanta mayor Bill Campbell and representatives of IOC and ACOG looked on. "But the 14 children of the Munich 11 are here tonight to tell us that the innocence was lost long ago.
"(We) want to send out a message to the people who did this, just as (Israeli Prime Minister) Golda Meir sent out a message 24 years ago. To terrorists, to those who would destroy the spirit of unity and peace that the Olympics represents, we say, No deal. No deal ever. We will remain vigilant, but we will not surrender. We will not allow hate to stop us."
That spirit, which has helped the Atlanta Games to continue the last two days, has sustained family members of the Munich 11 since 1972 with the only acknowledgment from the IOC coming later this year in the form of a small memorial at the Olympic Museum in Switzerland. "We want a moment of silence for 11 athletes who were part of the Olympic family the IOC always talks and talks about," said Guri Weinberg, son of Moshe Weinberg. "We don't want it for 11 Israelis or 11 Jews or 11 politicians. Just athletes. In `72 and again on Saturday someone used the Games to make a point. When that happens people die. And it's absolutely disgusting. But it's up to the IOC to give us closure, even now."
That's just not likely to happen, though, for the IOC family is often an oddly dysfunctional one. As of Sunday night, some relatives of Alice Hawthorne, who was killed in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, had yet to hear from anyone associated with the Olympics. IOC officials have been going out of their way to say that the park was not an Olympic venue, like that matters to the people who were injured by shrapnel.
So whether Samaranch chooses to acknowledge the Munich 11 or not is inconsequential: The Munich Games will always be synonymous with terrorism. And the 14 children who persevered without their fathersmoment of silence or notwill always be examples of the perpetual illumination of the human spirit.
There are seven days left to see which of those legacies will be assigned to the Atlanta Olympics.
photograph by Peter Kay
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