Families of Munich terror victims boycott 50th anniversary amid compensation row

·3 min read
People weep over the coffins of the 11 Israeli Olympic team members who were killed in a terrorist attack at the 1972 Games - Hulton Archive
People weep over the coffins of the 11 Israeli Olympic team members who were killed in a terrorist attack at the 1972 Games - Hulton Archive

Families of the victims of the 1972 Munich Olympics terror attack are boycotting the 50th anniversary remembrance service due to what they say is inadequate compensation from the German government for mistakes made during the hostage crisis.

Berlin had hoped to use the September 5 ceremony to draw a line under one of the darkest episodes in its bilateral relations with Israel since the end of the Second World War.

Fifty years ago on that day, eight heavily armed Palestinian militants belonging to the Black September group broke into the Israeli lodgings in Munich’s Olympic village and took nine hostages.

They killed two sportsmen who attempted to resist them and later went on to kill all nine hostages after Berlin bungled an attempt to rescue them, something Germany has been found to have tried to cover up for years afterwards.

Frank-Walter Steinmeir, the German president, was supposed to use the ceremony next month to make a public apology for the entire affair.

Media reports suggest that the German government was prepared to offer a total of €10 million in compensation, which would include two previous rounds of compensation which account to €4.5 million.

But lawyers for the families have told the New York Times they want 20 times that sum, saying that new evidence shows that Germany bears much more responsibility for the deaths than was clear in 1972.

Six of the Israeli Olympic team members killed in the attack - Agence France Presse/AFP
Six of the Israeli Olympic team members killed in the attack - Agence France Presse/AFP

‘A joke’

According to Germany’s top selling newspaper Bild, the families wrote an impassioned letter to Bavarian state leader Markus Söder, which accused Germany of “50 years of vilification, lies, humiliation and rejection”.

Ankie Spitzer, who represents the families and is also the wife of the murdered Israeli fencing coach, is said to have described the German offer as “a joke”.

German authorities said: “We deeply regret the cancellation. Negotiations will continue with the aim of achieving a positive outcome.”

After taking hostages, the kidnappers demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli prisons, but the Israeli government refused to negotiate.

Germany then lured the militants to an airport on the promise of safe travel to Egypt and tried to ambush them. But their snipers were poorly equipped and the militants survived the attack long enough to kill all of their remaining hostages.

One of the Palestinian terrorists involved in the 1972 attack - The Sydney Morning Herald/ Fairfax Media
One of the Palestinian terrorists involved in the 1972 attack - The Sydney Morning Herald/ Fairfax Media

Three of the militants survived and were later freed when Germany complied with the demands of Palestinians who took a Lufthansa plane hostage. Their exact fate has never been conclusively cleared up.

Details of the ham-fisted rescue operation only came to light years later, with Germany doing everything it could to suppress internal investigations into the events.

Due to strictures imposed on the country after the Second World War, west Germany was not able to deploy the army inside its own borders. But, instead of accepting an Israeli offer to send in its special forces, the Bonn government sent in local policemen armed with standard issue rifles.

An investigation released by Der Spiegel in 2012 concluded that Germany made multiple mistakes including failing to act on a tip off from a contact in Lebanon about the attack.

It also found that the federal and Bavarian governments decided to portray the terrorists as hardened professionals rather than look at their own failures.

The tragic events at the 1972 games, and the subsequent Israeli pursuit of the perpetrators were turned into an Oscar nominated film by director Steven Spielberg.