“Ludvík Daněk carried the flag and there were athletes who already had Olympic medals. It was amazing. And we followed the then German alphabet until slowly at the end,” recalls swimmer Věra Civínová at the opening ceremony of the 20th Olympic Games in Munich.
Listen to the full documentary about the dark events of the 1972 Munich Olympics
“We also went by size, first the girls, then the boys. I was quite tiny and the basketball players followed us,” she says with a smile. At the age of less than 15, she enjoyed the atmosphere of the first Olympics.
“There were a lot of foreign athletes and they were all smiling at you, greeting you and people stopping you along the way, asking for autographs without knowing you. That was nice, amazing,” Civínová remembers.
Everything indicated that Munich will be remembered exactly as the German organizers had planned. The fans chanted for the stars – swimmer Spitze, athlete Borzov, gymnast Kató and others.
Everything changed on September 5. At four hours and 42 minutes in the morning, eight men in sports kits with sports bags climb over the fence of the Olympic village. They do not attract any attention, they are even helped by several athletes returning from a binge.
“They had to sneak out of the village for a night’s entertainment. We recognized that they were Americans and that they were also about to climb over. We started talking and then we helped each other,” said Jamal al-Ghashi, one of the eight members of the terrorist group of the Palestinian organization Black September, in the documentary One Day in the Light.
The men were committed to violence. Even if the unarmed Olympic security or the Munich police had been alerted, it would probably be too late anyway. The group heads to the quarters of the Israeli athletes at Conollystrasse 31. In the corridor, they take submachine guns and pistols out of their bags and try to get into the apartments of the Israeli team.
Jamal al-Ghashi patrols the entrance to the three-story house, the other seven members try to open the door to apartment number one on the first floor. The key they secured in preparation for the attack. But Josef Gutfreund, the huge trainer of the wrestler, who is still awake, hears the ruckus.
When he sees the eyes of hooded men through the crack of the ajar door, he leans his 130-kilogram and almost 2-meter body against the door and shouts Cjevre tsitatra – take cover guys. With a heroic act, he at least gave his friends some time to escape.
After a while, however, the three terrorists overpowered and pacified Gutfreund and began to search the rooms. The commander of the group, Jatíf Afif, who was nicknamed Ísa, meaning Jesus in Arabic, entered the room, where he was surprised by another of the trainers, Moše Weingerg, who attacked him with a fruit knife.
But he did not hit the body of the terrorist leader, Ísa just fell and before the coach of the Israeli wrestlers could get to the gun, the second attacker fired at his head. The bullet struck Weinberg in the face next to his mouth, and the wound gaped open, spurting blood. Moshe staggered and clutched at the bleeding spot.
The terrorists picked up Weinberg and dragged him outside to take more hostages in the next apartment. The shot that wounded Moshe did not wake anyone, and when they sneaked into the apartment, they caught other Israelis. Mostly wrestlers, weightlifters and coaches.
They wanted to drag them along with Weinberg to apartment number one, where a group of previously captured people were. The wrestler Bad Cabari realized the hopelessness of the situation and ran towards one of the Palestinians, knocking him to the ground and running away.
“I didn’t go towards the trainers, but I started down the stairs. I am convinced that I was guided by the hand of God. I ran to the basement and there to the parking lot. Someone was running after me,” recounted Bad Cabari years later.
“They fired two or three rounds behind me. As I ran, I zigzagged before the fire to save my neck. I couldn’t believe that no bullet hit me. It only took a few minutes, but each one gave away years of my life,” he recounted.
The first victims
But his life was saved by Moše Weinberg. Even though he was seriously injured, he did not want to give up. He lunged at another of the terrorists and knocked him down, dropping his weapon, but as he reached for it, the gunman who had been firing at Cabari turned and shot Weinberg’s body with a round of machine gun fire.
The attack turned into a terrible reality. Blood, Jewish blood, was being shed again on German soil. In the rooms around Connollystrasse the lights came on, the curtains opened. It was safe to count that the police would arrive in a few minutes.
And so, shouting and pointing guns, the terrorists drove the remaining hostages into the upstairs room of No. 31 Connollystrasse, where they were already holding Gutfreund and the other athletes. Wrestler Josef Romano, a house painter who used to train with dumbbells for up to four hours a day at home in Israel, did not intend to be herded like sheep.
Not even the sight of bullets digging into Moše Weinberg’s body dampened his fighting spirit. On his way to the room upstairs, he pounced on one terrorist in a desperate attempt to take his weapon and saved his friends.
He was already clutching the Kalashnikov in his hands when another Palestinian fired at him. Josef, the beloved father of three daughters, fell to the ground. The terrorist attack claimed the second Israeli victim.
“It was necessary and it could not be prevented. They almost ruined the whole event. They were strong athletes. The other athlete also had tremendous strength, he jumped at one member of the group, grabbed his weapon and almost wrested it from his hands, so we had to shoot at him as well,” he justified the murder of Josef Romano Jamal al-Ghashi.
A painful chapter of history. Terrorists murdered Israelis during the Munich Olympics 50 years ago
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The Palestinians could no longer capture another Israeli. They barricaded themselves in the apartment and slowly the world learned about their act.
“I’m coming back to you live right now from the ABC center in West Germany. The Olympics became the one thing the Germans didn’t want, the Olympics of terror,” ABC anchor Jimmy Case told the public.
The Olympic village began to be filled by police and soldiers, and the evacuation of athletes from the vicinity of the place where the terrorists were holding the Israelis, including the Czechoslovak expedition, began.
“If you put it that way, it was a short distance, I would say 200 meters. Helicopters woke us up, then put us on buses and took us outside the village somewhere outside Munich,” explains the not-yet-fifteen-year-old Věra Civínová at the time.
“I was pretty freaked out. When you see those helicopters and men in suits herding you away on buses. Nobody knew what was going on. Only then did we find out,” he explains.
Two dead and nine captured Israelis. Political elites from Bavaria and the whole of Germany began to descend on the Olympic village. Negotiations have begun.
“According to the instructions, we were to seize Israeli athletes and negotiate the release of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. It was not supposed to exceed 24 hours, which was the limit for which we were able to handle the situation physically and mentally,” he described al-Ghashi.
“If the Israelis had not agreed to an agreement by that time, we should have asked for a plane that would transport us and the hostages to some Arab country,” he recounted.
Israeli Prime Minister Golda Maier immediately rejected the terms of the Palestinian group Black September and demanded that they be allowed to free the hostages by Israeli special forces. The Germans refused. However, they did not have an anti-terrorist unit at that time.
Nevertheless, they were planning an event to free the hostages. But the movement of the troops around the village, including the snipers on the roofs, was broadcast live by television stations all over the world, and the terrorists had televisions in their rooms.
The event failed and the German authorities readily agreed to the terrorists’ request to leave. Buses were brought to them, they took them and the hostages to the helicopters, and then to the Fürstenfeldbruck military airport.
‘War broke out’
According to the agreement of the negotiators, the kidnappers and the hostages were to fly from the airport to one of the Arab countries. But the German authorities never wanted to let the Palestinian group fly away. They quickly assembled a response unit that was waiting for the helicopters at the airport.
Untrained snipers took their places without knowing in advance exactly how many kidnappers there were. In addition, helicopters landed on the area between two groups of police units. The area was not lit, so the shooters could not see the targets. Nevertheless, the order to fire was given.
“It was running through my head that I was in the middle of a great battle and that I must fight with all my might so as not to give my life cheaply. A literal war broke out, shots were fired in all directions. I felt that I was hit in the hand, but I kept fighting,” he reflected al-Ghashi in 1999 before the authors of the documentary One Day in September.
German troops also used armored personnel carriers and, with the help of lights, snipers were able to eliminate five of the eight terrorists. But one of the survivors recognized that the situation was untenable and shot the trio of hostages tied together in the first helicopter. In the second, allegedly Jamal al-Ghashi started shooting at the other five and threw a grenade at the helpless athletes.
It was the evening of September 5, 1972, the shooting had stopped and the police had captured the three remaining terrorists. The media issued an unconfirmed report that the police action killed or captured the terrorists and freed the hostages. Celebrations began in Israel. A few hours later, however, the public learned the devastating news.
Of the eleven hostages, two were killed in the rooms, nine during the war at the airport. All the captives died.
A few years later, a Lufthansa plane was hijacked, and in exchange for the passengers, the German authorities handed over the three surviving actors of the Munich massacre to the hijackers.
On landing in Libya, where they were welcomed as heroes, Jamal al-Ghashi was asked if he was the one who shot the hostages at the airport. The young Palestinian answered with a smile: “It’s hard to say. When the snipers started shooting at the action commander and suddenly they turned on the lights, bullets were flying from all sides and we returned fire.”
Wrath of God
The Israelis wanted revenge and sent commandos all over the world to kill everyone who had anything to do with the assassination in Wrath of God. Over twenty people were killed.
Only two of the list survived the new millennium. Abu Daut, the mastermind of the whole operation who led the terrorists to the Olympic village, miraculously survived an attack by an Israeli agent, in which the gunman emptied an entire magazine into him, and died only in 2010 of kidney failure.
The second is Jamal al-Ghashi, who has been hiding somewhere in Africa the whole time and only came out of hiding during the filming of the documentary One Day in September. Even then, while filming at the same location, he did not regret his actions even for a moment.
“The name Palestine was repeated throughout the world that day. Many people in the world who had never heard of Palestine learned then that there was a neglected nation and that it had a reason to fight,” al-Ghashi concluded.
But this “struggle” took a heavy toll on September 5, 1972, in the form of eleven murdered Israeli athletes and one German policeman who died in a shootout at the airport.
The terrorist attack also negated the Olympic idea of a ceasefire during the games. Since then, there has never been a sports festival without high security measures.
Petr Kadeřábek, Apr
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