45 Years Late, A Memorial To The Munich Massacre

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Munich’s Olympic Park is set to unveil a new memorial this week honoring the 11 Israeli athletes massacred by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympic games.

For decades, cries from the victims’ families to build a comprehensive monument for the slain athletes and coaches were rebuffed by German authorities and Olympic Committee officials.

Offering not even cold comfort, the reasons were always cloaked with the same explanation- politics don’t belong in the Olympics.

The Israeli sportsmen who trained for years to represent their country only to be gunned-down ruthlessly at the competitions, had little more than a modest sculpture and a nondescript plaque to memorialize their names.

Neither structure has done justice to the magnitude of the massacre that took place at the world’s most prestigious sporting event whose very spirit celebrates international peace and friendship.

The plaque, a gray stone tablet, is carved with each victim’s name and is located at a distance on the grounds of the old Olympics dormitories, since then converted to low-income shabby dwellings.

The sculpture, situated an earshot from the BMW Museum showroom at the edge of the park, fails to personalize the events. In a chilling coincidence, its artist Fritz Koenig was also the sculptor behind the original bronze sphere at New York’s World Trade Center. That piece of work became a symbol of 9/11 when it was damaged in the attacks.

The newly-dedicated $2.8 million memorial stands in the heart of the Olympic Park and takes the form of a sanctuary cut into a hillside, evoking an open wound. It will feature a 36-foot LED screen that plays a 27-minute film footage of the crisis.

Photos, bios and pictures of personal belongings of the athletes honor the victims and add to the poignancy of the tragedy.

The deadly events in Munich unfolded in the early morning of September 5th, 1972 when eight terrorists of Black September, an offshoot of the PLO, forced their way into the housing units of the Israeli delegation.

Two Israelis were killed in the initial melee. A harrowing hostage standoff followed with the captors demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. The ordeal culminated the next day with 9 other coaches and athletes slaughtered in a botched rescue operation at a nearby airport.

Declassified papers released by the German government 20 years later revealed that the hostages were beaten during captivity and suffered broken bones.

One of the two athletes killed at the break-in was also castrated and his body left at the feet of his teammates while their fate was being negotiated.

In 1972, Israel was still a relative newcomer to the Olympic tournaments. The young country first participated in 1952 at the Helsinki games and had never won a medal.

Among the hopefuls who perished in Munich were three weightlifters and two wrestlers; four coaches and two referees were also killed.

The human trauma and political repercussions stemming from the massacre became subjects of countless articles, books, documentaries and movies. Yet it took two generations before the International Olympic Committee would officially honor the victims.

With fresh sympathetic ears from a new IOC President and the Bavarian Culture Minister, the decision to erect a worthy memorial in Munich’s Olympic Park came after the 2012 games in London.

We can’t help but also think that politicians and IOC officials had finally come to the somber realization that terrorism threatens all, not just a select few.

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