Israelis killed at 1972 Summer Olympics get German memorial nearly a half-century later

Forty-five years after a terrorist attack left 11 Israeli team members dead at the 1972 Summer Olympics, a long-delayed memorial has opened in the German city that hosted those Games.

The Munich 1972 Massacre Memorial debuted Wednesday as a 5,000-square-foot exhibit built into a grassy mound with photos and information about each of the victims and a video display of archival news coverage from the incident that began on Sept. 5, 1972. A German police officer killed during the rescue attempt is also memorialized.

“Relatives of the victims and the state of Israel waited almost half a century for this moment,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin was quoted as saying by Reuters. “The Munich Olympics became the blood Olympics.”

That summer, Palestinians from the Black September organization stormed the athletes’ village, taking Israeli wrestlers, weightlifters, coaches and other team officials hostage.

The prolonged standoff eventually shifted to a nearby airport where a rescue attempt ended in disaster. Along with nine Israelis killed (two team members were killed earlier at the athletes’ village), the German police officer and five Palestinian gunmen were among the dead.

The subsequent effort to erect a substantial memorial – something more than a plaque or sculpture – encountered years of delays.

“I know that no ceremony and no memorial can fill the void left by those whose lives were taken so violently, but I hope that the memorial will be a symbol of our shared grief, a tool of education for the current and for future generations, and a demonstration of our determination to defend the Olympic values of peace and tolerance,” said Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee.

Relatives of the victims have repeatedly asked that the opening ceremony at each Games include a moment of silence.

Though IOC leaders have insisted such an observance would not be appropriate, at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics they declared every athletes village will have a small site – a “Place of Mourning” – to commemorate “all those who have passed away” during the Games.

david.wharton@latimes.com

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