Whichever way you look at it, the Munich Olympiad of 1972 was tinged with a terrible irony. It was the first time Germany had hosted the event since the charade of the 1936 Nazi Games. The self-proclaimed ‘Happy Games’ had a logo of a sun spreading rays of hope for the future. It should have been an occasion remembered for the record-breaking seven gold medals won by swimmer Mark Spitz. However the Munich Games will go down in history for a brutal and audacious act of terrorism that had repercussions far beyond the Olympic Village.
On the morning of September 5, eight Black September Palestinian commandos dodged past lax security and took 11 Israeli athletes and officials hostage. Two of the hostages fought back and were killed immediately. The remainder were held in an increasingly tense stand-off that was to last throughout the day. Under the guise of a deal to take the captors and their hostages to a safe haven in the Middle East, a rescue attempt was launched. The German authorities had little experience of counter-terrorism at the time and things quickly went wrong. All of the remaining nine hostages were killed as well as a German policeman. Five of the attackers died and three were arrested.
Incredibly, the Olympic events were allowed to continue throughout the day. The president of the host’s organizing committee lobbied for the remainder of the Games to be cancelled but, with the endorsement of the Israeli government, International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage announced that ‘the Games must go on. A remembrance service was held the following day at a packed Olympic Stadium and the Games resumed. In retaliation, the Israelis launched ‘Operation Wrath of God’ to kill those involved in planning the assault, further polarizing Middle East opinion.
When was the Munich Olympics Disaster: September 5 1972
Where was the Munich Olympics Disaster: Munich, Germany
What was the Munich Olympics Disaster death toll: 17
You should know: The star athlete of the games, Mark Spitz, himself a Jew and therefore a possible target, was flown out of Germany before the closing ceremony. The three arrested Palestinians were released from custody in October to meet the demands of hijackers of a Lufthansa airplane.