The Munich Olympics

One of the greatest tragedies ever to befall an international sporting competition.

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"I was awoken by commentator Ron Pickering who told me to get dressed quickly as there was serious trouble… The BBC office was overlooking the street where it was all happening, and going outside, I had a front row seat… At one point I could see the four balaclava-wearing terrorists on the balcony--a picture that went round the world--while all about me were hundreds of armed German police and soldiers. I found that it all got to me quite badly, and I eventually had to go back to my room… The following day there was a very moving memorial service in the stadium to which David Coleman, the senior BBC commentator gave perhaps his greatest ever commentary... There were some great sporting achievements in the following days, but I must admit that my heart really wasn't in it any more, and I was very pleased when I got home."

Ben Helfgott, who competed in the 1956 and 1960 Games as well as the Commonwealth Games in 1958 and four Maccabiah Games, remembers Munich in an article he had written for the Jewish Quarterly:

"How well I remember this twenty-hour drama. Ten days earlier I had been at the opening ceremony and had watched with pride and deep emotion as the Israel team received a tumultuous welcoming applause by the 80,000 spectators. During the next few days, I spent a lot of time with them at different venues and receptions and shared in the excitement and euphoria of the Games. The last time I saw five of them was early in the morning of Tuesday 5 September after the completion of the weightlifting competition. I was awakened a few hours later by a friend informing me that the Israeli team was being held hostage."

Ben goes on to describe the aftermath and discussions on continuing the Games:

"This unanticipated event overshadowed everything that took place before and after it. The Olympic Village was considered to be hallowed ground and its violation was repugnant and unacceptable to all civilized people. For the first time in history the Olympic Games were suspended so that a memorial service could be held for the murdered Israelis. The mourning ceremony took place in the Olympic Stadium with most of the teams participating. The Soviet and East German teams did not appear... The Games resumed but the soul had gone out of them. Some Dutch and Norwegian competitors went home in protest."

'The Games Must Go On'

Avery Brundage, the president of the IOC, and Walther Troger, who was in charge of the Olympic village, a number of German politicians, and others including the Israel officials--who were in constant contact with their prime minister, Golda Meir--eventually came to the conclusion that 'The Games must go on,' reasoning that if the Games had been abandoned, the murderers would have scored a deplorable victory.

Some dozen years later, Shmuel Lalkin, the leader of the Israeli Olympic team, reflected on the terrible events in words that echoed the above reasoning:

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Dr. Paul Y Mayer

Dr. Paul Yogi Mayer is a sportsman, writer, teacher and youth worker, who traces the history of the Olympic Games in the context of Jewish participation and contribution.