Olympic Games finally remember the Munich 11, 43 years later

“We have given the best years of our lives to remember — to remember the tragedy of what happened. … Now we are starting to see some light from all of our efforts.”

Such is the sentiment of Ilana Romano, widow of Israeli weightlifter Yossef Romano, who was murdered by Palestine Liberation Organization terrorists along with 10 other members of the Israeli Olympic team during the summer of 1972 Olympics in Munich. That fateful event became known as the “Munich Massacre.”

In September 1972, relatives of the Israeli Olympic team members who were murdered at the Munich Olympics lead funeral processions in Israel photo/jns-gpo-eldan david

Since then, Romano and a handful of fellow widows have fought for the International Olympic Committee to formally recognize the massacre with a moment of silence or official memorial. While the games went on in 1972, the tragedy was shooed under the carpet. As recently as 2012, Romano and Ankie Spitzer, the widow of another Munich Massacre victim, pressed top Olympic officials over their refusal to honor the dead with a minute of silence at the opening ceremony of that year’s London Olympics — the massacre’s 40th anniversary. No such recognition was granted.

But the playing field is starting to shift.

In time for the Rio Olympics in the summer of 2016, a first-ever IOC-supported official memorial telling the story of the Munich Massacre will be erected in Munich, on the grounds of the Olympic stadium. The memorial, whose groundbreaking ceremony will take place this summer, is being constructed at the initiative of the Bavarian government to bring a sense of closure to this 43-year drama.

Likewise, it was announ­ced that the new president of the IOC, Thomas Bach, will erect an official site at the Rio Olympics where people can reflect on those who were injured of killed in the Olympic Games — including the 11 Israeli victims.

Unofficial tribute to the murdered Israeli Olympians at the start of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London photo/jns-chesdovi via wikimedia commons

In anticipation of the memorial, the Foundation for Global Sports Develop­ment will release a new documentary examining what is often called the first act of modern terrorism. The film, “Munich 1972 & Beyond,” will for the first time unravel why and how the attack happened, its aftermath and its importance today. Produced by Steven Ungerleider, psychologist and author of “Faust’s Gold,” and GSP president David Ulich, the film will offer new research and information — some of which Romano says she has never seen herself.

“The IOC jumping in is the biggest symbolic step at this point,” Ulich said, noting the 40-plus year controversy about the IOC’s level of support — or lack thereof — in remembering the victims. The IOC is among the lead sponsors of the memorial and is supportive of the film.

“This was a very edgy, unpleasant, traumatic event,” says Ungerleider. “First there was denial, then it was buried, suppressed for whatever reason — political reasons, anti-Semitic reasons, racist reasons — and not until a year ago has someone stepped up and said, ‘Now we are ready to move forward, and we need to honor the past so we can move forward and remember those [killed] and never forget.’”

Ulich says the memorial is an important piece of the healing process between the Germans, the Israelis and the IOC, as well as between the victims’ families and the world, and that the film will “document that healing process.”

Since that 1972 massacre, security has been at the forefront of every Olympic Games. According to Ungerleider, an entire Olympic budget is around $15 billion to $20 billion, of which close to $2 billion is spent on security. The IOC works closely with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Mossad, the U.K.’s Secret Intelligence Service and other security bodies around the world.

Ilana Romano adds, “Now I can rest a little because I know that I am leaving the record straight for the next generation, from a historical perspective, so hopefully history will not repeat itself.”

Ron Kampeas

JTA D.C. bureau chief