Germany Asks for Forgiveness for ‘Fatal’ Failures of 1972 Munich Olympics Attack on Israeli Athletes
Herzog speaks at the commemoration ceremony of the Munich Olympics attack on Israeli athletes. Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO
Germany’s president on Monday asked for forgiveness for the “fatal” failures by his country to protect the eleven Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian militants 50 years ago at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.
“As the head of state of this country and in the name of the Federal Republic of Germany, I ask your forgiveness for the woefully inadequate protection afforded to the Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich and for the woefully inadequate investigation afterwards – for the fact that it was possible for what happened to happen,” German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at a commemoration ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Olympic Games, which was attended by the victims’ relatives and German and Israeli officials.
The ceremony was held just days after the victims’ families, who had threatened to boycott the commemoration event, last week reached a compensation agreement with the German government, ending a decades-long dispute.
“Today’s act of remembrance can only be sincere if we are prepared to recognise painful facts – if we acknowledge that the story of the Olympic attack is also a story of misjudgements and of dreadful, fatal mistakes: of, in fact, failure,” Steinmeier admitted. “We are talking about a great tragedy and a triple failure.”
“The first failure regards the preparations for the games and the security strategy; the second comprises the events of Sept. 5 and 6, 1972; and the third failure begins the day after the attack: the silence, the denial, the forgetting,” he elaborated.
Steinmeier emphasized that it was Germany’s responsibility as the host of the games to protect sportsmen and women from around the world, especially those from Israel.
“There were survivors of the Shoah among the athletes and their coaches,” Steinmeier said. “Their safety had been entrusted to us. What a great vote of confidence it was to take part, after the crimes against humanity of the Shoah, in Olympic Games hosted by the country of the perpetrators.”
“We were not prepared for an attack of this kind, and yet we ought to have been; that, too, is part of the bitter truth,” he conceded.
Steinmeier announced that the German government will establish an Israeli-German commission of historians to “shed light onto that dark chapter.”
Addressing the victims’ families, Steinmeier said: “You have a right to finally know the truth, to finally receive answers to the questions that have tormented you for decades. And they include the question of why you were left alone with your suffering, your pain, for so long.”
Also speaking at the memorial ceremony, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog commended the German government for taking responsibility for the failures surrounding and following the Munich massacre after decades of neglect.
“For the families of the victims, their pain and sorrow for their loved ones’ loss, were compounded by their anguish about this indifference and cold shoulder,” Herzog said. “These were years in which it seemed like one simple truth had been forgotten: this was not a uniquely Jewish and Israeli tragedy—this was a global tragedy! A tragedy that must be recalled and commemorated at every Olympic Games.”
One of the widows of the 11 killed Israeli athletes, Ankie Spitzer, whose husband was fencing coach Andre Spitzer, addressed him during her speech noting that “although after 50 years, we are finally reaching our goal, at the end of the day you are still gone and nothing can change that.”
“Everybody is asking now if I feel closure,” Spitzer said. “They don’t understand that there will never be closure. The hole in my heart will never, ever heal.”