Olympics: After 49 years Israelis killed at 1972 Munich Games remembered in opening ceremony

July 23, 2021 - 10:16 PM
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The Tokyo 2020 Olympics Opening Ceremony - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - July 23, 2021. Hanna Knyazyeva-Minenko of Israel and Yakov Toumarkin of Israel during the opening ceremony (Reuters/Marko Djurica)

TOKYO —  Israeli Olympic team members killed by Palestinian gunmen at the 1972 Munich Olympics were remembered during the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony on Friday with a moment of silence, the first time in 49 years.

The move was welcomed by relatives of the victims, some of whom were in the stadium, and Israel‘s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

“I welcome this important and historic moment. May their memory be blessed,” Bennett wrote on Twitter.

The families of the 11 killed had long asked the International Olympic Committee to hold a minute’s silence at a Games opening ceremony but had been turned down for almost half a century.

“We, the Olympic community, also remember all the Olympians and members of our community who have so sadly left us, in particular we remember those who lost their lives during the Olympic Games,” said an announcer during the opening ceremony.

“One group still holds a strong place in all our memories and stand for all those we have lost at the games – the members of the Israeli delegation at the Olympic Games Munich 1972,” the announcer added as the stadium darkened and a soft blue light illuminated parts of the arena.

On Sept. 5, 1972, members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage at the poorly secured athletes’ village by Palestinian gunmen from the Black September group.

Within 24 hours, 11 Israelis, five Palestinians and a German policeman were dead after a standoff and subsequent rescue effort erupted into gunfire. The IOC at the time decided not to stop or interrupt the Games

‘Tears flowing’

“Justice has finally been done for the husbands, fathers and sons who were murdered in Munich,” widows Ilana Romano and Ankie Spitzer, who watched the ceremony in the stadium, said in a statement. They lost their husbands — weightlifter Yossef Romano and fencing coach Andre Spitzer — in the attack.

“We went through 49 years of struggle and never gave up. (We) can’t stop the tears from flowing. For this moment we waited,” they said.

Hili Tropper, Israel‘s minister of culture and sport, said the moment of commemoration was “historic justice”.

“The Tokyo Olympics have just opened, but they are already a historic Olympics – after 49 years, on the main stage, at the opening ceremony, the 11 heroes, the victims of the Munich Olympics, were mentioned,” he said. “Better late than never.”

The inclusion of a moment of silence was also welcomed by the March of the Living, an international Holocaust memorial organization that campaigns against anti-semitism, saying it was “long overdue.”

Relatives of those killed had sought for them to be remembered at opening ceremonies but the IOC had previously ignored those requests.

Instead of a ceremony commemoration, the IOC in 2016 inaugurated the Place of Mourning in a leafy part of the Olympic village at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics to remember those who had died during the Olympic Games, also with Romano and Spitzer present.

The Place of Mourning featured two stones from ancient Olympia encased in glass and had been described as “closure” at the time by Spitzer. —Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem. Editing by Hugh Lawson