Shiran Shamam is 16 years old, black-haired, sensitive, sweet. She never got to touch her grandfather, kiss him, squeal for joy in his big arms. All she knows of him is a grainy black-and-white photo, the official one from the Israeli team rosters, that shows him with a shy smile and raccoon-like circles under his eyes.
Yoseph Gutfreund, Shiran’s grandfather, a wrestling referee, was one of 11 Israelis kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympics in 1972, the games that forever changed the Olympic movement. “All my friends have grandfathers. I don’t,” she said. “I don’t understand that the price he needed to pay for his identity was his life.”
Thirty years ago today, the attack unfolded live, televised to a worldwide audience. Overnight, the terrorists achieved their political objective, elevating the Palestinian cause from virtual obscurity. Afterward, the Israeli government spent years tracking down, and killing, anyone it believed connected to the attack; only one of the eight terrorists, Jamal al-Gashey, is believed to be still alive, and living somewhere in the Middle East. At the Olympics, security belatedly became priority No. 1.
Now, the world has seen another televised terrorist attack, last Sept. 11, and now, it is important to remember what happened in Munich--to understand for the future the mistakes of the past and to understand the terrible human toll a terrorist attack exacts. It rips. It sears. It never goes away.
“When they are born, they know about their grandfather,” said Shiran’s mother, Yael Shamam. “We tell them the story.”
It never goes away. Last Sept. 9, the father of Shiran’s best friend was killed by a suicide bomber at the railway station in Nahariya, a coastal Israeli town near the Lebanese border. When Shiran came home from the funeral, on Sept. 11, she turned on the TV, only to see the World Trade Center towers burning, then crashing to the ground.
The horror, one thing on top of another, was awesome.
“I really felt like, I can’t have my children here in this world. It’s crazy. I didn’t know how to explain it to myself. I asked my mother, have I gone crazy?” she said. Then she paused, and added: “Thirty years have passed. But the hatred still continues.”
A Premonition of Danger
The 1972 Olympic Games were billed as the “Games of Joy.” In Munich, the idea was to show the world how things had changed since 1945 and the end of World War II, a war in which the German government had overseen the execution of 6 million Jews.
Two nights before the 28-member Israeli delegation departed for the Games, Ilana Romano and her husband, Yossi, which is what everybody called him, threw a party. She was 26, he was 32. She had seen him on the beach seven years earlier, “someone so strong and so gentle,” and now they had three daughters, the oldest 6, the youngest 5 months old, and Ilana Romano was scared--afraid of what might happen, again, to Jews on German soil.
“I told Yossi I was so afraid,” Ilana Romano said. “Yossi said, ‘Ilana, you are crazy. If Germany prepares something, they do it 100%.’ ”
The Games began Aug. 26. The Israelis marched in to the Olympic Stadium behind the blue-and-white flag emblazoned with the Star of David, a nation among nations. What was to fear?
For the next few days, as Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut tumbled and American Mark Spitz swam to glory, much of Israel remained consumed with the exploits of Esther Shakhamorov Roth, a sprinter and hurdler. Israel had been sending athletes to the Games for 20 years, since the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki; Roth represented Israel’s first legitimate chance for a medal. The thought of a Jew winning a medal at an Olympics in Germany was so delicious the entire country seemed on edge with delight.
On Sept. 1, Roth, racing in a field of eight, won her first-round heat in the women’s 100-meter dash. In the second round, later that day, she finished fourth, advancing to the semifinals. In Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, everything stopped when she was running, even the government. Golda Meir, the Israeli prime minister, said things could wait a minute while they found out how Esther was doing.
The next day, in the second of the two semifinal heats, Roth finished fifth. Only the top four made the finals. Just that fast, she was out.
But only in the dash. The 100-meter hurdles were still to come.
On Sept. 4, Roth finished fourth in the first round, good enough to move on to the second. Her longtime coach, Amitzur Shapira, was waiting for her at the finish line, joy spread wide across his face. Roth was 19, Shapira 40. He had discovered her six years earlier, nurtured her talent, driven her to and from practice because her parents didn’t have a car.
Shapira was more than her coach. He was like a father to her, and he was waiting for her expectantly at the finish line. He told her this was the “happiest day of my life.”
That night, much of the Israeli team went into town to see a production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” starring Shmuel Rodensky, a renowned Israeli actor. The play was in German, but Shapira knew Yiddish, close enough, so he could translate for Roth, sitting beside him. At intermission, the team was invited for a glass of wine. Group photos were taken. There were cheers all around.
“From the first steps I took in athletics,” Roth says, “I was told, ‘We will prepare you for the Olympic Games.’ And here I was at the Olympic Games. It’s not a thing you can describe in words.”
She tries: “I feel I’m in paradise.... Everything for me was like making dreams real. I was like a child, giving [Shapira] everything he wants.”
After midnight, the delegation returned to the Olympic village. Shapira told Roth he would see her the next morning at breakfast.
She slept soundly. After dawn, there was an urgent knock on her door. It was Shlomit Nir, a swimmer, the only other woman in the Israeli delegation.
Hurry, Nir said, now, get out of bed, hurry, fast. We have to move. There are terrorists. We know one or two on our team may already be in trouble but we don’t know who.
Shots at 31 Connollystrasse
Around the Olympic village stood a chain-link fence. It was about 6 1/2 feet high, not topped with barbed wire, easy to scale.
Just after 4 in the morning on Sept. 5, a group of men carrying sports bags and wearing sweatsuits bearing the names of Arab nations--Libya and Saudi Arabia, and others--approached the fence near Gate 25A, which was routinely locked at midnight but left unguarded.
At the same time, a group of American athletes, coming back to the village after a late night out, approached the same stretch of fence. One of the men wearing an Arab-team uniform helped one of the Americans over the fence; the American returned the favor.
Several officials, including half a dozen German postmen, saw the people climbing the fence. Nothing seemed remarkable--athletes had been climbing the fence throughout the Games, especially those who had been out drinking.
Inside the fence, the Arabs--in all, eight terrorists--headed toward the housing complex at 31 Connollystrasse. Of the 28 members of the Israeli team, 21, all men, were living there. The terrorists headed to Apartment 1 and slipped a key, a copy they had somehow obtained, in the door.
At first, the lock wouldn’t budge, and the sound of the key scraping against the lock alerted Gutfreund, the 40-year-old wrestling referee. He crept out into a communal lounge. The door yielded. In the dim light, he saw gun barrels. He screamed, “Take cover, boys!” and threw his 6-foot, 290-pound frame at the door.
Wrestling coach Tuvia Sokolovsky, who shared Gutfreund’s room, broke open a window and ran out as the terrorists forced their way into the unit.
As the leader of the terrorist group, later known to the world as Issa, entered another room, 33-year-old Moshe Weinberg, another wrestling coach, lunged at him with a fruit knife. Another terrorist fired a single shot; it ripped into Weinberg’s cheek.
The terrorists pulled Weinberg off the floor and rounded him up with Gutfreund and four other Israelis: Shapira, the track coach; Andre Spitzer, a 30-year-old fencing coach and the father of a newborn; Kehat Shorr, a 53-year-old rifle coach of Romanian descent who had fought the Nazis during World War II; and Yaacov Shpringer, a 52-year-old weightlifting judge who was born in Poland and who had been the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust.
Weinberg was still conscious. He was pushed and shoved to another apartment--Unit 3, the terrorists inexplicably passing up Unit 2, where five other Israelis were sleeping, among them Shaul Ladany, a race walker who as an 8-year-old had been liberated from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Still asleep in Unit 3 were three weightlifters and two wrestlers. The weightlifters were David Berger, 28, a 180-pound light-heavyweight who had grown up near Cleveland; Zeev Friedman, also 28, born in Siberia; and Romano. The wrestlers: Eliezer Halfin, 24, and Mark Slavin, 18. Slavin, born in Russia, had arrived in Israel four months before the Games. He was a real talent, perhaps a medal threat; his Olympic debut was scheduled for later that day, Sept. 5.
There was another Israeli wrestler in Unit 3, but he was awake--Gad Tsobari, who a few days before had completed his competition in Munich in the light-flyweight freestyle event, for wrestlers 106 pounds or less. He’d been woken by the shot fired at Weinberg. Curious, careful not to wake up Berger, his roommate, Tsobari opened the door to see what was going on.
He was met by a terrorist in a bright yellow sweater who turned a gun on him. Issa.
A few seconds later, Berger appeared at the door. “He made the same mistake I did,” Tsobari says. “He was trapped like I was.”
Slavin, Halfin, Romano and Friedman had already been captured.
“They were without masks,” Tsobari recalls of the terrorists. “They looked Arabic. They were poker-faced.”
Guns aimed at their chests, the six Israelis were ordered out to join Weinberg. He was clutching a handkerchief tied under his chin, as if this were a surreal cartoon and he had a toothache. “I’ve been shot,” he said to the others.
Downstairs, Issa asked in exasperation, speaking in English, “Where are all the Israelis?” Tsobari says, “He didn’t even know this building housed [most of] the Israelis.”
The terrorists--there were five of them at Unit 3--pushed the seven Israelis into a line. The prisoners were ordered to put hands on heads, even Romano, who had torn a ligament in one leg during competition and was on crutches.
Berger, speaking in Hebrew, said, “Let’s get them! We don’t have anything to lose.” One of the terrorists apparently understood, however, and raised his gun at the group.
As they were led into the foyer of Unit 1, Tsobari, the first in line, was met by a rifle pushed into his stomach. Acting on instinct, “I pushed [the rifle] over the wall,” Tsobari says. “And I ran,” toward a basement and an underground parking lot, where he zigzagged through a warren of concrete pillars.
At least one terrorist chased him, shooting. Tsobari felt two or three shots whizzing past.
As Tsobari made his break, Weinberg punched and tackled one of the terrorists, then made a grab for a gun. One of the terrorists firing at Tsobari wheeled on Weinberg. He shot straight into Weinberg’s chest, killing him.
One Israeli dead. The other 10 were herded into Unit 1.
It was there that Romano would die. The other nine spent most of their final few hours there, arms bound, bullet holes marking the walls, their friend Romano on the floor in front of them.
Meantime, Tsobari, 5 feet 4, dressed in only pants, no shirt, no shoes, within a few minutes reached the Olympic press center and a CBS camera crew. He didn’t know they were a U.S. TV crew, only that they were speaking English. Tsobari speaks English poorly. He tried, saying, “I coming from the group of Israelis. Terrorists come to my house. They shoot after me.”
For a full 20 seconds, Tsobari says now, the camera crew laughed at him.
A Corpse in the Street
The first call to Munich police came at 4:47 a.m., from a cleaning woman who phoned to say she’d heard shots at 31 Connollystrasse.
About 5:10, as a Munich police officer walked outside the three-story building at 31 Connollystrasse, Issa dropped a typed communique from a second-story window. It called for the release of 234 prisoners in Israeli jails as well as two behind bars in Germany, radicals Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof. Authorities had until 9 a.m., or the terrorists would start executing their Israeli hostages.
As proof of their determination, Weinberg’s corpse was thrown into the street.
The terrorists called themselves Black September. The name came from a battle in Amman, Jordan, on Sept. 17, 1970, between Palestinian guerrillas and the Jordanian army; at least 4,000 Palestinians were killed.
About 20 yards away from where Weinberg’s body came to rest, in Unit 5, Shmuel Lalkin, the head of the Israeli delegation, saw the corpse and began calling Olympic and Israeli officials and Israeli journalists. About 6:30 a.m., German police took him to the office of Walther Troger, the head of the Olympic village. Lalkin immediately got back on the phone to Israel, on a direct line to the prime minister’s office.
What, however, could be done? Meir had announced many times before that Israel would not bargain with terrorists.
Tsobari finally had been taken under protective armed guard. After being given some clothes, he sketched out what he remembered--where he was, how many terrorists he saw and so forth.
Other members of the Israeli delegation arrived. They listened to the radio, sweated, worried, tried to comfort each other.
“We didn’t know what was going on,” Roth says.
Swimmer Nir’s fiance was a member of Sayeret Matkal, the elite Israeli commando team that at the time was one of the few military squads in the world trained in counter-terrorism tactics. Its leader then was Ehud Barak, the future Israeli prime minister. “I said, I’m sure [they] will come over to Germany and do something,” Nir says.
While the hostages remained at the Olympic village, however, nothing was done. This was the result of an unbelievable lack of preparation combined with spectacular bungling by German authorities and pressure from Olympic officials, in particular outgoing IOC President Avery Brundage. He wanted the crisis resolved. He wanted the Games to continue.
The Germans were ill-prepared and ill-equipped to do anything, however. For instance, no armed police officers patrolled the Olympic village and surroundings. Why? Because German authorities, eager not to evoke memories of the Nazi years with armed guards in dark uniforms, had stationed about 2,000 “security officers” in light-blue uniforms on patrol in Olympic Park, but none at the village. And these officers were “armed” with walkie-talkies, no guns.
Why didn’t the Germans send a SWAT team to 31 Connollystrasse? Because they didn’t have one. It wasn’t until after the Games that the German authorities acknowledged the need for an on-call SWAT team. A late-afternoon plan to storm the compound came to an abrupt halt when police realized that people all over the world--including, most probably, the terrorists inside the Israeli units--were watching live TV shots of German police, lamely affecting a disguise as athletes in sweatsuits, moving into position on the roof of the building.
A Face in a Window
The 9 a.m. deadline was unrealistic, and even Issa had to know it. The first deadline was extended. New deadlines were posted, then passed, amid frantic negotiations.
It was during the siege of 31 Connollystrasse that ABC went live from the village, with Peter Jennings on the scene and Jim McKay anchoring coverage. ABC was feeding its coverage worldwide, and thus the world caught sight of the image that has since come to symbolize the day--a hooded terrorist moving along a balcony.
About 5 p.m., fencing coach Andre Spitzer was brought to the second-floor window. In his undershirt, arms behind his back, Spitzer spoke briefly to German officials standing below. Then one of the terrorists whacked him on the back of the head with a gun butt. A few moments later, he was hauled away.
In Holland, Spitzer’s wife, Ankie, watched the episode on TV. Spitzer had just returned to Munich the night before. He had been in the Netherlands, where his wife’s parents lived; he was visiting Ankie and their sick newborn daughter, Anouk. When he had reached Munich, Spitzer had called his wife from a pay phone.
“I have only 50 pfennings left,” he had told her. “I have to talk fast.” A few moments later, he said, “I have only 10 pfennings left.” Then, in Dutch, “I love you.” Ankie Spitzer recalls, “I didn’t even say it back because the phone clicked,” the connection dead.
A few minutes after Spitzer appeared at the window, Troger, the mayor of the Olympic village, and Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the German interior minister, were allowed into Unit 1. They saw nine living souls and one corpse, Romano’s.
Troger has said many times since that the mood inside the room was “not very hopeful.”
Photographs taken a few hours later make clear just how desperate the situation must have seemed to the Israelis. One of the photos, obtained by The Times, shows Yossi Romano’s body, face-up, blood stains on the floor under him. His arms are limp above his head, hands near his ears. His torso is covered in a white tank top. He has no pants on. His blue underwear is torn in front; his groin is a bloodied mass.
Around him are markers of the sort typically used by police to locate shell casings or bullet holes. Eight are easily visible. In another photo, taken from a different angle, the number of shot markers--this in a small dormitory-style room--climbs to 15.
The photographic record strongly suggests that Yossi Romano was castrated. But such evidence is not definitive, and the truth may forever remain in dispute. In the book “One Day in September,” which relies in part on interviews made for an Oscar-winning movie of the same name, Al-Gashey, the sole surviving terrorist, is quoted as saying that any suggestion Romano was tortured is a “complete lie.”
Ilana Romano, Ankie Spitzer and a very few others who have seen the photos, however, are convinced that Yossi Romano was tortured. “I never forget, the terrorists said, ‘We had a friendship in the room [with the hostages],’ ” Ilana Romano says. “Ask me what kind of friendship. And after this, some people have the nerve to call them ‘freedom fighters.’ ”
After Genscher and Troger left the apartment, the plan to storm 31 Connollystrasse was put into play. Then, on live TV, aborted.
According to an English-language summary of legal documents filed years afterward in a Bavarian court, German officials said that the IOC, particularly Brundage, exerted intense pressure at that point to get the Israelis out of the village.
The minutes from the IOC’s executive board meeting, which for years remained confidential, indicate the board’s feeling: “ ... the Games must continue at all costs.” In fact, the Games had carried on for most of that day, Sept. 5, a postponement not imposed until 3:51 that afternoon--at which time IOC officials had known for hours that at least one Israeli, Weinberg, was dead. They had scheduled a memorial service for the next morning and anticipated resumption of events later in the day, Sept. 6.
Thus, as night drew near on the 5th, the stage shifted from the village to the military airfield at Furstenfeldbruck, about 14 miles west of Munich.
The Germans tried pretense. They told the terrorists they had agreed to a demand issued late in the afternoon by Issa, to fly the terrorists and Israelis to Cairo.
The real plan, however, was to try to ambush the terrorists at the airport.
Eight Terrorists, Not Five
During the day, thousands of Olympic athletes--and others--had gathered around the village. Now, as night fell, they were able to see the hostages with their own eyes. The Israelis were led, heads down, hands tied, out of 31 Connollystrasse.
The scene turned even more surreal. “I’ll never forget this,” Roth says. “It was like a picture from the cinema. I kept seeing flashbulbs,” photos taken by the gathered thousands, “rat-tat-tat, like in a stadium.”
She adds, “I didn’t see Amitzur going to the bus.” She thought, “Maybe he’s alive.”
The Israeli team doctor gave Roth two sleeping pills. If the hostages were rescued, she would still compete in the 100-meter hurdles. She went to sleep dreaming of Shapira: “If Amitzur is alive, I run for him. I win for him.”
Two buses took the terrorists and Israelis to two gray-green Iroquois Bell helicopters. The choppers would ferry them to the airfield at Furstenfeldbruck.
Into the first chopper went Shapira, Spitzer, Slavin, Shorr and Gutfreund, sitting left to right on a bench, as well as Issa and three other terrorists.
Into the second went Berger, Friedman, Halfin and Shpringer, and four terrorists.
The Germans were stunned to learn there were eight terrorists. They were operating on the assumption there were only five. The plan for the ambush at the airport had factored in five terrorists, not eight.
It took about 20 minutes to fly the Israelis and terrorists to the airport. No one managed in that time to tell the five German riflemen waiting at the airport to expect eight terrorists, not five.
According to an English-language summary of legal documents filed in German court, which cites German after-action reports, as well as other sources that have sought to re-create what went awry at the airfield, there was a litany of other errors as well:
The shooters were not specially trained or qualified marksmen. They were not told where the helicopters would land. They were not given bulletproof vests or steel helmets. They did not receive night scopes for their rifles. Nor, in an amazing breach of police standards, were they even given walkie-talkies to communicate with each other, or their commanders--even though thousands of walkie-talkies were available from the “security officers” in the village.
Because there were no walkie-talkies, snipers 3, 4 and 5--who were positioned on top of the control tower building--did not know where snipers 1 and 2 had been placed. Incredibly, sniper 2 was positioned directly in what became the firing line.
Also, improbably, armored cars that could have helped at the scene were delayed en route to the airport by a traffic jam that developed when it became clear to the curious multitudes where the helicopters were headed.
Meantime, onboard the Lufthansa Boeing 727 already parked at the airfield--the plane purportedly due to take the terrorists and Israelis to Cairo--there was another problem, a huge breakdown.
The first element of the German rescue plan involved the placing of police officers, posing as an airline crew, inside the 727. There, they were to overpower however many terrorists--probably two, most probably Issa and his deputy, Tony--who, it was accurately believed, would have gone to check out the plane before the hostages were brought on board. The plan called for the snipers to then take out the remaining terrorists.
A team of 17 heavily armed German police officers was assigned to the plane. Upon arrival, they observed that the front of the plane offered little cover for an ambush and that a single hand grenade thrown at the back--where the officers would have had to hide--would be lethal to many, if not all of them. It was also observed that the plane was loaded with nearly 10,000 gallons of fuel.
Minutes before the helicopters arrived, the officers--having decided that it would be suicidal to stay on, orders be damned--left the plane.
Shortly after the helicopters landed, about 10:40 p.m., the order was given to the German riflemen: “Fire!”
Here came one more mistake. Only two snipers fired--thus depriving the Germans of the opportunity of taking out as many terrorists as possible with the first volley of shots.
The ensuing firefight lasted more than an hour, ending shortly after midnight. One of the terrorists threw a grenade that exploded, setting one of the helicopters ablaze, with Berger, Friedman, Halfin and Shpringer captive. The five Israelis in the other helicopter were shot to death.
Berger, who had initially been hit by gunfire in the thigh, not a mortal wound, died from smoke inhalation, according to an autopsy report cited in legal papers.
In addition to the Israelis, five of the terrorists, among them Issa, were killed. Also killed was one German policeman, Anton Fliegerbauer.
Lalkin, the chief of the Israeli delegation, identified the bodies at the scene. “Horrible,” he says, particularly those that were burned.
Photos of the Israelis in the other helicopter, the one not burned, show the dead Israelis handcuffed and bloodied. Autopsy photos, also obtained by The Times, make plain the savagery of the attack; one photo shows an Israeli corpse with wrists bound together with red cord, chest and left wrist marked by bullet holes.
Troger, who has been an IOC member for many years, has said of the German efforts: “It was just one mistake. We were unprepared.”
Ilana Romano says, “That’s a big mistake.”
Lalkin says, “I brought  coffins back to Israel. What should they tell me, they’re sorry? Maybe they’re sorry.”
Throughout the night, erroneous reports had gone out on several newswires indicating that the hostages had been saved. At ABC, none of those reports were read on the air.
Instead, early in the morning of Sept. 6, Jim McKay told American viewers, “We’ve just gotten the final word. When I was a kid, my father used to say our greatest hopes and worst fears are seldom realized. Our worst fears have been realized tonight.
“They have now said that there were 11 hostages. Two were killed in their rooms this morning--excuse me, yesterday morning. Nine were killed at the airport tonight.
“They’re all gone.”
A few hours later, the sun rose, illuminating the carnage at the field; the night had been moonless and the extent of the destruction had to wait for dawn. Back at the village, Esther Roth opened her eyes. “People know what happened,” she says. “They don’t know how to tell me. But I understand.”
‘You Don’t Have a Father Anymore’
In Israel, earlier in the evening, Meir, the prime minister, had called Rachel Gutfreund to say everything was all right. “My mom said, ‘If he doesn’t call us, it’s not OK,’ ” Judith Salman, the older of Rachel and Yossi Gutfreund’s daughters, recalls.
Judith and her sister, Yael, had been pulled from school the day before. Classmates had come up to them and said, “They killed your father.” The girls, then 14 and 12, ran home to find their mother crying. Throughout the 5th, mother and daughters knew he was a hostage, still alive, but little more.
At 6 in the morning on the 6th of September, someone knocked on the front door of the Gutfreund residence. Judith recalls: “My mother said, ‘That’s it, you don’t have a father anymore.’ ”
Judith plunged into disbelief: “I started laughing. He was such a big guy.... They couldn’t shoot him.” This, she says, was a man who loved his wife, his daughters, life. “He would get a raise in his salary, say, ‘Let’s go!’ And we’d be on vacation for three days.”
In Munich that morning, a crowd of 80,000 people jammed the stadium. In the front row sat the Israeli delegation, 17 of 28; 11 seats remained empty. No Arab delegation sent a single representative.
IOC President Brundage declared, “The Games must go on.” Which they did, at 4 p.m.--after a moratorium that lasted 24 hours 9 minutes.
Lalkin also spoke. “I remember sitting in the field, we were crying, listening to the voice of Shmuel Lalkin saying, Israel must continue, no one will scare us, we will continue,” Roth says. “We came back to Israel. But there was no one to continue.”
After the memorial, the Israeli team went back to the village to get their belongings--as well as those belonging to their 11 teammates. On his way to get his things, as well as those of his friend David Berger, Tsobari says, “I walked by the stairs to No. 1 that I’d escaped from. I started sweating. I stopped. I felt like I was still in front of the terrorists. I felt so bad. It’s a moment I can’t forget, like I’m inside a dream.”
Someone got Yossi Gutfreund’s things. Some of his clothes were stained with Yossi Romano’s blood, “so you know he had tried to help,” Judith Salman says. Also recovered was Gutfreund’s camera, his sunglasses, his referee’s whistle, his Olympic village keychain. Film in the camera, developed later, shows the Israeli team marching into the opening ceremony of the Games.
Gutfreund’s daughters say their father had the camera and sunglasses with him in the helicopter. “He was so positive all the time,” Judith says, adding, “He thought he was going to go visit an Arab country,” so he’d need sunglasses, of course, and a camera might be handy.
At the airport near Tel Aviv, the Israeli delegation, and the 10 coffins--Berger’s body was sent back to the United States--were met by a weeping mob. When Tsobari got home, there were 500 people waiting for him.
He could barely cope, that night and for some time to come. Lalkin says, “Gad Tsobari for two years was not in his mind,” and Tsobari agrees. For a while, Tsobari says, he drank to try to forget. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t sleep, and when he could, he was plagued by nightmares, running away, always running away.
Shlomit Nir, now Shlomit Nir-Toor and for the past nine years a deputy in the Israeli Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport, also had nightmares. For a year she kept dreaming she was like Tsobari, “running away from the Arabs,” underneath the Olympic village. “I saw this place, the same location all the time, I couldn’t run out of it.”
About a year and a half after the attacks, Yossi Romano’s mother, unable to cope with the loss of her son, committed suicide. She burned herself to death, Ilana Romano says.
Within five years, his brother also committed suicide. He hanged himself, she says.
After the knock on the door at the Gutfreund residence, Rachel Gutfreund “didn’t eat for two weeks,” her younger daughter, Yael Shamam says. “We had to force her.”
“It was really a great love,” her sister, Judith says. Rachel and Yossi were married in 1956, he never finishing university but excelling in sports, she a secretary. Since she’d been a teenager, her health had never been quite right. Even so, they were blessed with two healthy daughters. A terrier named Doobie rounded out the family. People still laugh at the memory, the funny picture they made walking down the street, Gutfreund, a gentle bear of a man, his diminutive wife, and their small dog.
After Yossi’s murder, Rachel Gutfreund was so lonely, she was virtually unable to function. Although diabetic, she would secretly go on chocolate binges. “She wanted to die,” Judith says.
The two young sisters, meantime, were left to cope with their mother, and to fend for themselves.
“You ask, ‘Why me?’ ” Judith says.
“I was jealous of my friends that had fathers,” Yael says. “I was jealous. I didn’t want to go to their house and they had a father there. Why did they have a father and I don’t have?”
Rachel Gutfreund died in 1986 of complications from diabetes. To this day, though Judith has lived in Canada for 12 years, Yael has stayed in Israel, the two sisters talk by phone two, three times daily, sometimes more.
The sense of abandonment remains vivid. The sisters have nine children between them--Yael has five, Judith four--and while the older ones are now in their teens and early 20s, all the children know that Rule No. 1 is to check back home with a frequency that would drive most kids crazy--no more than an hour without checking in.
“Let’s say I’m with friends,” says 18-year-old Lihi Salman, Judith’s third child. “If I don’t call her, she assumes the worst. If my [cellular] battery is dead, I go to a pay phone and call her.”
“I know if I go downtown or something,” particularly to the pedestrian mall in Jerusalem, long a favored Israeli hangout but the scene in recent months of suicide bombings, “she will kill herself,” Shiran Shamam says. “So I just don’t do it.”
On July 4, the Gutfreund grandchildren helped fill the stage when the Israeli Olympic Committee threw a party to commemorate 50 years of taking part in the Games. The celebration was shown live on Israeli TV--and once again, the nation was captivated by Esther Roth. She cried, the camera zooming in on her, as the names of Amitzur Shapira and the others murdered in 1972 were read aloud.
In Munich, she says, “All my ideals were killed. All the innocence inside me was killed, the justice in the world.”
For her, it was a struggle to resume running. A few months after the Games, she was married; then she became a mother. She started training again, reluctantly at first, motivated not by romance or idealism or personal glory. “My goal,” she says, “was to finish the mission I started in Munich and I was not allowed to finish.”
She also says, “I was among the best in the world so [meet organizers] must take me. But I feel they don’t want me, don’t want the security risk,” adding, “If I go to the toilet, people come with me.”
In 1976, at the Montreal Summer Games, the Israeli team was led into the stadium at the opening ceremony by Esther Roth. She not only made it to the hurdles finals, the first Israeli finalist at the Olympics, she finished sixth--behind five women from the Eastern Bloc. Her time, 13.04 seconds, would have won her bronze in Los Angeles in 1984; it’s still so fast she would have placed seventh in Sydney two years ago.
‘We Can Remember’
In 1992, at the Barcelona Games, two Israeli judo experts, Yael Arad and Oren Smadja, won Olympic medals, Israel’s first. “A medal can’t bring them back from the dead,” Arad said of those slain in 1972, when she was 5 years old. “But we can remember.”
As Ehud Olmert, the mayor of Jerusalem, put it, “This is a trauma that will stay with us forever. Of all the modern terrorist events we have had, the one in Munich remains the worst. The idea that they were in the helicopters, and just massacred, helpless, and on German soil, some 25 years after the end of the Holocaust,” he pauses and clenches his fists, “it is absolutely shocking to us.
“And to think this was done in the midst of the Olympic Games, and to think that one day later the Games resumed as if nothing happened, it is intolerable for us.”
On the anniversary of the slayings, which falls just before the start of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year and one of the holiest days in the Hebrew calendar, there are memorial services in various cemeteries in Israel. Five of the 11--Shapira, Shorr, Halfin, Slavin and Spitzer--are buried at the Kiryat Shaul cemetery in Tel Aviv, and Lalkin says, “I’ve been to [that] cemetery more than I’ve seen my dead parents.”
September is still hard for Ilana Romano. Her eldest daughter, Oshrat, was married 10 years ago on Sept. 8--sticking to the date despite her mother’s concerns. As she told her mother, “In September, my father is here with me, and I want him at my wedding.”
“Thirty years after, I feel September in the air,” Ilana Romano says, and this September promises to be particularly difficult.
“What happened in 1972,” she says, “opened the door to terror, and nobody has come to stop it.
“On Sept. 11 of last year, I felt so sick. I didn’t sleep for three nights. I told myself, God help the widows and the children and the mothers and the fathers. I know everything within the hearts of what these families feel.”
She also says, “For me, it’s so symbolic. September is September, and 11 is 11,” the date of the attacks the same as the number of slain Israelis.
What sense is there in all of it? Shiran Shamam can only touch her grandfather’s Olympic keychain, look at the old photos, imagine what might have been, what could be.
“Questions arise in my head,” she said. “Does he know that I exist? Is he looking at me sometimes? I know that if he is looking, he is very proud of my mom, the life and the family she has built for herself.
“When I think about what will be 20 years from now, I fear that the world will forget what happened at those Olympic Games in Munich, and thus it is very important for me to continue and to tell as much as possible about the story of my grandfather, so that they will know, will remember and will not forget for an instant.
“In my opinion, the largest lesson that can be learned from that event is the fact that it could have taken place,” she said, adding a moment later, “We must all pray and hope for better days, open our eyes to wider horizons so that we may all live, all people, in peace and quiet, and know no more sorrow.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
*--* Sept. 5-6, 1972 4:10 a.m.: Eight Palestinians enter Olympic village 4:30: Palestinians round up Israeli athletes. One escapes; two others are shot dead 5:10: Palestinians demand that 234 prisoners in Israel be released or they will execute athletes 8:15: Dressage event goes on as scheduled 4:35 p.m.: Palestinians demand the captors and hostages be flown to Cairo to negotiate from there 4:50: German police organize for rescue attempt from roof, then realize they’re being tracked by TV cameras. The plan is called off 10:22: Palestinians, captives depart in two helicopters for airport 10:35: Helicopters land; two Palestinians get out to inspect the jet. One terrorist is killed by snipers 12-12:30 a.m.: Four hostages in first helicopter, five in second helicopter are shot dead. A German police officer and five Palestinians are killed in cross-fire. Three survivors are arrested
Go beyond the scoreboard
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