Two months before the start of the London Olympics, German President Joachim Gauck met on Tuesday (May 29) with a group of survivors of the 1972 Munich Olympic attack.
In a late addition to his tight schedule during a tour of Jerusalem, the German President, on a four day visit to the middle east, paid his respects to the 11 victims of the attack on the Israeli team at the Munich Olympic village 40 years ago.
“The President mentioned that he will attend the opening of the Olympic games and he will speak with the chairman of the International Olympic committee,” said Shaul Ladani, who was a walker in the 1972
Israeli Olympic delegation in Munich, referring to an ongoing struggle of the victims’ families to organize an official commemoration. “I said, I told him I know in advance what will be the answer. It will be a diplomatic answer.”
On September 5, 1972, members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage at the poorly-secured athletes’ village by Palestinian gunmen from the Black September group.
Within 24 hours, 11 Israelis, five Palestinians and a German policeman were dead after a standoff and subsequent botched rescue effort ended in gunfire.
Four decades after the deadly event, families of the victims are asking the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to organize an official commemoration at the London Games.
The families, led by the widows of late weightlifter Joseph Romano and fencing coach Andre Spitzer, have recently gained the backing of Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
The Israeli diplomat has written a letter to IOC President Jacques Rogge calling for the observance of a minute’s silence in memory at the games.
In his written reply, Rogge said the memory of the “victims of the terrible massacre” would not be forgotten, but that the “IOC has officially paid tribute to the memory of the athletes on several occasions” and its representatives participate in the Israeli commemoration ceremony that take place every Olympics.
After receiving the reply, Ayalon launched an internet campaign under the name “Just One Minute”, hoping to garner more support for the cause through social networks.
“During the Munich summer Olympic Games, 11 Israeli athletes were brutally murdered by Palestinian terrorists,” Ayalon says in a video posted on YouTube.
“These terrorists did not just target Israelis, they tried to pierce the very spirit and fraternity upon which the Olympic Games were built. This video is one minute long, the same amount of time we are asking the International Olympic Committee to stop and remember, contemplate, and to send a message that the international sporting community will stand against hatred and violence,” Ayalon added.
Romano’s widow, Ilana, told Reuters television in Tel Aviv she was very encouraged by the new Foreign Ministry campaign.
“We support any campaign whether here or in the world and we thank those who help in this effort we are leading for the 40th anniversary. This year the electronic media was added, and whoever knows how to use it and reach any corner of the world, we praise his efforts,” Romano said as she looked at photos of her late husband, one of the first Israeli athletes to be killed.
Describing her efforts over the years to convince the IOC to hold an official commemoration, including a personal meeting with Rogge and other officials, Romano can barely contain her anger.
“Their replies?: ‘It’s not time yet’. When will the time arrive? ‘It’s not mentioned in the protocol?’. Come on, did the protocol mention my husband should come back in a coffin? Was that written in the protocol?”
Despite the latest campaign, Romano is skeptical their efforts will bear fruit in time for the London Games opening ceremony on July 27.
“It’s hard for me to believe we will succeed, I have suffered so much agony and so many delays, but I do have hope,” she said.
Another element pressing the IOC for an official commemoration is the Olympic Committee of Israel.
“The International Olympic Committee has a moral debt to those 11 who were murdered during the Munich Olympic Games. This is a part of the history of the Olympic movement and a movement like the (International) Olympic Committee must remember its past in order to ensure the continuations of its development in the future,” Efraim Zinger, secretary general of the Olympic Committee of Israel, told Reuters.
Recently, similar requests were sent to Rogge by U.S. Congressmen Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey, and members of the New York City Council.