The horrific legacy of Munich '72: I was there the day Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and killed 11 Israeli athletes
He had the look of a man condemned, who would not see another dawn. September 6, 1972, Munich’s Olympic Village. Andre Spitzer was an Israeli fencing coach. He wore a vest, his wrists were tied. His eyes showed bleak hopelessness. I was on the Puerto Rican team’s balcony and had a clear view of him at a window of their house on the Olympic Village’s Connollystrasse. A rifle barrel was against his head. On the walkway below were hapless, out-of-their- depth German negotiators.
As an Israeli, Spitzer realised his government would not barter his and his colleagues’ lives for the freedom of Palestinian prisoners ...
It was past noon. He was dragged away. I never saw him alive again.
At 4am, when eight Palestinians had shot their way into the Israeli house, the "innocence of sport” died.
Deployed in London for this year’s Olympics are surface-to-air missiles, heavy machine guns and elite special forces. The police and MI5 have been awarded draconian powers: all because of what happened in Munich — the scene of botched action and pitiful mistakes.
In 1972, the Israelis were taken to the Dachau concentration camp outside Munich just before the Opening Ceremony. I reported the visit for ITN and they looked bewildered by the number of cameras. They were, in fact, bit players in a West German propaganda drive.
The Munich Games were supposed to erase images of Berlin in 1936: Hitler, swastikas and goose stepping. In 1972, the Germans wanted a "friendly” Games. They opted for the lightest security, with no guns displayed, and a vulnerable squad was left defenceless. But the blame for squandering the safety of the Israelis lay also with their country’s own spymasters.
Aharon Yariv, the director of Israeli military intelligence, had chaired a meeting in Tel Aviv five days before the Palestinians attacked. He told me: "There were indications that Black September was planning a major operation within the next few days. The words ‘ international event’ were used. We passed this information to the interested departments. Nobody thought of the risk to our Olympic team ... If we had reacted and sent four bodyguards with the team, that would probably have been enough.” (...)