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Munich’s New Memorial to the Slain Israeli Athletes Is Meaningless and Offensive

Before, during, and after the attack, Germany displayed a systemic pattern of neglect, still unacknowledged by its government

Liel Leibovitz
September 06, 2017
Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin and German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier unveiled a memorial in Munich today commemorating the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists in the city’s Olympic village 45 years ago this week. The memorial cost more than $2.7 million to erect, and features black-and-white photographs of the victims, including a German police officer killed in a botched attempt to rescue the hostages. Both leaders called the tribute “overdue,” and it is. It’s also, sadly, deeply misguided and offensive.

Nowhere on the new memorial does it say that the Germans were tipped off about the pending attack three weeks before it happened by a credible source in Beirut, but failed to do anything.

Nowhere is it recorded that, as Der Spiegel uncovered five years ago, German officials met with Black September’s Abu Youssef, the attack’s mastermind, just months after the massacre in order to “create a new basis of trust,” agreed to upgrade the group’s status from terrorist organization to resistance group, and allowed the PLO to send a colleague of the Munich murderers as its emissary to Bonn.

Nowhere does it say that, as newly revealed documents show, the German authorities at the time refused to stop the Olympic games even as the hostage situation was unfolding in large part because they had nothing better to air on TV.

Nowhere does it indicate that, as we’ve learned from the testimony of the head of the Mossad at the time of the attack, Tzvi Zamir, the German authorities made no effort whatsoever to save not only the lives of the Israelis but of their own police officers as well. “The Germans,” Zamir told then prime minister Golda Meir, “do not value human life.”

These are not minor gripes. They indicate a systemic pattern of neglect before, during, and after the attacks, putting innocents at risk and appeasing the perpetrators. It’s a pattern that ought to trouble anyone, but should resonate particularly in Germany. If the Germans want to pay meaningful tributes to those Jews slaughtered, yet again, under the watchful eye of their government, let them begin by acknowledging these failures, and taking concrete steps to assure they never happen again. Anything less is just a meaningless pile of rocks.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.