At Munich massacre memorial in Tokyo, widow lauds Olympics’ long-awaited tribute

Days after opening ceremony honored Israeli victims of 1972 terror attack for the first time, Israeli ambassador urges world to stand together against terrorism

Ankie Spitzer (R) at the Israeli memorial for the victims of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, in Japan on August 1, 2021 (Israel Olympic Committee)
Ankie Spitzer (R) at the Israeli memorial for the victims of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, in Japan on August 1, 2021 (Israel Olympic Committee)

An official memorial was held Sunday in Tokyo for the 11 Israeli athletes murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics, days after the opening Tokyo Olympics ceremony included, for the first time, an official commemoration of those who died in the terror attack nearly 50 years ago.

The ceremony at Israel’s embassy in Japan on Sunday was attended by Israeli athletes participating in the Tokyo games, family members of the victims, and the president of the International Olympic Committee.

“Even though 49 years have already passed, the tragedy is still engraved in our collective memory and will always be,” said Israel’s Ambassador to Japan Yaffa Ben-Ari. “The memory of our victims serves not only as a reminder to the leaders of the State of Israel of the imperative to take care of the lives of the Jewish people, but also reminds the leaders of the world that in order to fight against evil we all have to stand together and condemn terrorism.”

Ankie Spitzer, widow of the slain Israeli fencing coach Andre Spitzer, profusely thanked IOC President Thomas Bach for the gesture at the opening ceremony, calling it a “glorious moment” to “finally realize that our 11 loved ones were recognized as members of the Olympic family, that they were no longer ignored because they were Jews and Israelis.”

“Sometimes it only takes one man to make a difference,” she said, after making an emotional blessing of thanksgiving, Shechiyanu, at the start of her remarks.

“Our deep wounds of the Munich Olympics will never heal, but life looks different today — much brighter and hopeful,” she added.

The 11 Israeli Munich victims.
The 11 Israeli Munich Olympics victims.

Bach told the ceremony: “We know that no ceremony and no memory can ever fill the void left by those whose lives were taken so violently. With these acts of remembrance, we wanted to honor their memory, while also attempting to close the wounds of the past.”

During the opening ceremony on July 23, 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 saw 11 Israeli athletes murdered by the Black September Palestinian terror group. Two of the Israelis were murdered in the Olympic Village, and 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.

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.

Spitzer and another widow, Ilana Romano, were at the opening 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.”

Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, widows of Andre Spitzer and Yoseff Romano, who were murdered in the 1972 Munich massacre, take part in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics opening ceremony, July 23, 2021 (Courtesy)

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 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.”

Ilana Romano, center, and Ankie Spitzer, right, widows of Israeli Olympic athletes killed by Palestinian gunmen at the 1972 Munich Olympics, attend a memorial in their husbands’ honor, ahead of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Edgard Garrido, Pool)

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