One of the widows of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre who fought for decades for a public tribute at the Games has hailed the German IOC chief who finally made it happen.
Ankie Spitzer, whose husband Andre Spitzer was killed during the hostage crisis, told Jewish News she “could not stop crying” after a minute’s silence was held at the opening ceremony in Tokyo on Friday. She had led a decades-long campaign for such a tribute, alongside Ilana Ramano, who was also widowed in the darkest chapter of Olympic history.
Eleven members of the Israeli delegation were taken hostage and murdered by the terror group Black September during the 1972 Games.
During Friday’s ceremony in front of a global audience of millions, an announcer said: “We remember those who lost their lives during the Olympic Games. One group still hold a strong place in all our memories and stand for all our memories and stand for all of those we have lost at the Games: the members of the Israeli delegation at the Olympic Games Munich, 1972.” It was followed by the Japanese word mokto, meaning silence.
The tribute was also paid to other members of the Olympic movement who had died, as well as to victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking exclusively to Jewish News, Spitzer, who has campaigned trelessly alongside fellow widow Ilana Ramano, said they had no idea it was going to happen.
But her hopes had been raised after Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, personally invited the pair to join just 1,000 dignitaries at the ceremony in Japan.
She said they were in frequent contact since he took on the top job in 2013. “We went to see him several times in Lausanne and were in constant email touch. When he did the ceremony at the Olympic Village in Rio, we told him he made an historic step forward. But we added tis wasn’t enough. We wanted it at the Opening Ceremony when millions of people were watching.”
Hailing the IOC chief, she said: “He had the guts to do it. I know he realised that our demands were just. Thank G-d it was realised in our lifetime so that we don’t haver to burden our children with the continuing fight for justice.”
Bach took office a year after more than 100,000 people had backed a failed petition calling for a minute’s silence at the London Games – a move supported by Barack Obama. An Israeli call for such a tribute was rejected by the IOC, with then IOC President Jacques Rogge saying he would attend a ceremony, simlar to what had happened previously, organised by the Israeli Olympic Committee and the local Jewish community at the Guildhall. He also held an unexpected minute’s silence inside the Olympic Village – but this fell short of the request of the families.
He claimed at the time the IOC had repeatedly marked the tragedy and that it would “never fade” from the memory of the Olympic family – but Jerusalem suggested the decision lacked integrity and questioned if the authorities saw anything to do with Israel as controversial. Spitzer suggested the IOC had long feared a backlash from some Muslim states if a tribute such as the one held last week was held on the biggest stage.
This weekend, the families will still hold their own ceremony, as they have done at all recent Olympics. It will be attended by Bach who they will also meet privately beforehand.
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