Never a Silent Moment
Ankie Spitzer Rekhess was agitated but trying to control it.
“Is it too much to ask?” she demanded, hands folded tightly on her lap, as though to loosen them would unleash more emotion than she was willing to share.
For 20 years she has been prowling through the hierarchy of the Olympic Games seeking what would seem a logical observance: a moment of silence for 11 murdered athletes.
But she hasn’t been getting that moment either at the international games or in the noisy memories that are never very far out of mind.
She asked for the observance once more for tonight in Atlanta during the pageantry of the opening ceremonies of the 100th Olympiad, and once more her request was denied.
We talked about it the other day in a large and otherwise empty meeting room of her Westside apartment complex.
“I don’t want to condemn anyone,” she was saying. “I simply want recognition for 11 athletes who came home in coffins 24 years ago.”
Rekhess was referring to the Palestinian terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich games that killed 11 members of the Israeli team. Her husband, Andrei Spitzer, the national fencing coach, was one of them.
Since 1976, she has asked the International Olympic Committee to commemorate what happened back then. The committee has said no each time, that such an observance would be too political.
This year, Rekhess feels that it is more important than ever because the Palestinians will be taking part in the games for the first time and she and others have arranged for 14 now-grown children of the murdered athletes to be present tonight. One of them will be her daughter.
Rekhess was in Munich for the ’72 Olympic Games with her husband and their little girl, Anouk, then only five weeks old. Anouk became ill during the trip and was taken by her mother to Holland for treatment.
Andrei Spitzer telephoned them from Munich to see how his daughter was doing and to say he was looking for the quarters he would occupy during the games. It was midnight. Four hours later, the terrorists struck.
She never heard from him again.
“Later,” she said, controlling her anger, “I went to the room where they had tortured and mutilated the hostages. I saw pictures of what they had done to them and vowed no one would ever forget. That’s why I want the moment of silence . . . to remember them all.”
A correspondent for Dutch and Belgium television, Rekhess still lives in Israel. In 1980 she married Elie Rekhess, a professor of Mideastern History at Tel Aviv University who is spending two months at the Rand Corp. in Santa Monica as a visiting professor.
In Atlanta, Ankie Rekhess and others have gone a step further in their pursuit of commemoration by arranging for the children of the murdered athletes to be at the games as visible reminders of the massacre that took the lives of their fathers.
But as far as Rekhess and others know, they will sit unrecognized in the bleachers, forced to observe a silence of their own.
A spokesman for the Atlanta games wouldn’t discuss the opening ceremonies in specific terms except to say, “We’re going to celebrate everybody and everything and not single out anyone.”
Rekhess says she was told by Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympics Committee, that if an observation were held to memorialize Munich, the Arab delegations would walk out.
But Rekhess says she will never stop trying, no matter where the games are held and under whatever circumstances.
“It is not a question of obsession,” she said that day in the large meeting room. Her voice carried a resonant quality into the emptiness. “I do not wake up every morning and go to sleep every night thinking about the massacre. It is simply a matter of honoring their memory.”
She would even be satisfied if mention were made in an indirect manner, honoring all athletes of past Olympics, without specific reference to Munich.
“We have raised our children without hate in their hearts toward the Arabs,” she said. “Friday night, 14 of them will rise up to welcome the Palestinians to the games. Why can’t the Olympics recognize our loss?”
Notwithstanding protocol, the widows and children of Munich deserve at least that much to ease their emotional pain. Healing ought to be an essential element in an arena meant to celebrate the human condition. Without it, the blood spilled 24 years ago will never stop flowing.
Al Martinez can be reached through the Internet at email@example.com