Forty-nine years after the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, Friday’s opening ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics included, for the first time, an official commemoration of those who died in the terror attack.
Tributes were paid to those lost during the pandemic and throughout Olympic history. The Israeli delegation that was killed at the Munich Games was specifically mentioned. A moment of silence was offered inside the stadium, alongside a dance performance honoring the dead.
“In particular we remember those who lost their lives during the Olympic games,” the announcer said. “One group still holds a strong place in all our memories and stands for all of those we have lost at the games: the members of the Israel delegation at the Olympic Games Munich 1972.”
The 1972 attack at the Munich Olympics saw 11 Israeli athletes murdered by the Black September Palestinian terror group. Two of the Israelis were murdered in the Olympic Village. The Palestinian terrorists kidnapped another nine and demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, as well as two prominent West German leftist militants.
After a failed attempt by German security forces to retake the hostages, the Palestinians turned their weapons on the Israelis, killing them all.
The 11 victims were David Berger, Ze’ev Friedman, Yoseff Gutfreund, Moshe Weinberg, Yoseff Romano, Mark Slavin, Eliezer Halfin, Yakov Springer, Andre Spitzer, Amitzur Shapira and Kehat Shorr. Their individual stories can be read in this 2014 blog post.
They were to take part in events that included wrestling, fencing, weight-lifting and athletics.
For the first time since 1972, the 11 Israeli athletes murdered at the Munich Olympics are remembered at the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Games
Video: Channel 5 Sport pic.twitter.com/OOrlMCrXTD
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Families of the Munich victims have campaigned for years for greater public recognition for the dead from the International Olympic Committee. The IOC faced criticism for refusing to hold a moment of silence for the Israeli victims during the opening of the 2012 London Games, 40 years after the attack.
Widows Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano were at Friday’s ceremony.
“Finally there is justice for the husbands, sons and fathers murdered at Munich,” the two said in a joint statement. “We went through 49 years of struggle and never gave up. [We] cannot hold back our tears. This is the moment we’ve waited for.”
In 2016, a memorial ceremony was held for the first time during the Rio Games (but not in the opening ceremony), under the leadership of German IOC President Thomas Bach.
With two widows of the victims and several Israeli team members looking on, Bach said then that the Munich massacre “was an attack not only on our fellow Olympians but also an assault on the values that the Olympic Village stands for.”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett praised the move.
“Today, for the first time at the Olympic Games, there was an official commemoration for the massacre of the 11 members of the Israeli delegation to the Munich Olympics. I applaud this important historic moment,” he said. “May their memories be a blessing.”
Igal Carmi, head of the Israeli Olympic Committee, said Israel was “grateful” for the 2021 tribute.
“The International Olympic Committee fulfilled the yearnings of the families of the 11 Israeli Munich victims and bravely commemorated [them] at the opening ceremony tonight,” he said in a statement.
He said Bach had promised the families of the dead “that the Olympic Movement would remember the 11 victims of Munich, for the first time in history, after 49 years. He promised, and he was true to his word.”