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40 Years After the Munich Massacre

On this date, an attempt to save the Israeli athletes failed

Adam Chandler
September 06, 2012
Olympic Memorial in Munich(AP)

On this date 40 years ago, the botched rescue attempt of the remaining nine kidnapped Israeli athletes at Fürstenfeldbruck, a NATO airbase outside of Munich, ended the episode known informally as the Munich Massacre. Perpetrated by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September, the events of 1972 left 11 Israeli athletes and coaches dead.

We’ve learned a surprising number of things about the Munich Massacre in the last few months alone. Among them, the revelation that Willi Pohl, a German neo-Nazi collaborated with Black September, introducing the group’s leader to expert document forgers, to the knowledge of local German police.

The release of dozens of previously classified documents by the Israeli State Archives last month yielded awful morsels like this:

“…one of the two reasons for Olympic officials’ and West German authorities’ refusal to abort the Games as soon as the attack on the Israelis became known — “German television has no alternative program.”

Perhaps, most damning of all (as far as the tragedy is concerned), the German Foreign Ministry had been tipped off by a Palestinian informant three weeks before the attack, which Munich officials failed to heed.

These nasty discoveries were made all the more raw by the International Olympic Committee’s refusal to pause for a moment of silence at this year’s Olympics, insulting the memory of the slain athletes at the very moment that might have had the most palliative effect.

Despite this, the summer had its share of earnest tributes from government bodies, political leaders, religious and civic organizations of all stripes, and by the honorable actions of individuals. Regardless of the clumsy and unfeeling responses from institutions like the IOC, the summer was saturated with news of goodwill. While total closure for a tragedy like this remains beyond grasp for some, the battle for memory continues to be waged.

This seems important to note on a day like today.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.