This September marks 50 years since the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games. The men’s families, with the aid of the Bavarian state government, will arrive in Munich for what is likely to be a landmark ceremony.
But this week, a small group of rabbis from the Conference of European Rabbis took advantage of the staging of the CER meeting in Munich, to hold a ceremony of their own at a memorial site in what was the Olympic park.
Munich was awarded the Olympics in 1966 and from then until 1972, there was frenzied rebuilding of a city that endured serious bombing damage from the Allies during the war. The city took the opportunity with both hands, bulldozing the international airport to make way for an Olympic Park, apartments for an expected 7,000 sportsmen and women, and a Press Village.
Much of the documentation from the Black September Palestinian attacks on the Israelis has only just been made available, half a century on. The German police are said to be particularly touchy about the criticism of the role they played; one police officer was killed in the melee at the airport where most of the athletes were murdered.
The problem, apparently, was that Germany wanted to show how different it was from the Germany which had hosted the notorious 1936 Berlin Olympics. So an order went out that police officers were to be unarmed – as it turned out, a fateful and fatal decision.
The former Olympic park now contains three memorials to the murdered Israeli athletes. There is a plaque on the bridge leading to the village, a plaque on one of the apartments where the first two Israelis were killed, and the central one with the names and biographies of the dead, only erected as recently as 2017.
A tour guide explained that the present day residents of the sports apartments – ordinary Munich citizens – had refused to have this main memorial in front of their buildings, saying it would be noisy and disruptive with a constant stream of visitors. He insisted there was no antisemitism in this, but it is hard to know the truth.
The rabbis said Kaddish and El Maale Rachamim, led by Rabbi Michael Jedwabne of Aachen, before leaving a large wreath at the site.
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