Black September: Remembering terror of the '72 Munich massacre

The victims’ relatives, on the other hand, have had to fight for decades to gain any insight at all into the relevant files, and for more adequate compensation. Now they are planning to stay away from this year’s 50th-anniversary commemoration event in Munich.
Two West German policemen wearing sweat suits and armed with machine guns get into position on the roof of the Munich Olympic Village building, on Sept. 5, 1972, as armed Arab commandos hold Israeli Olympic team members hostage.
Two West German policemen wearing sweat suits and armed with machine guns get into position on the roof of the Munich Olympic Village building, on Sept. 5, 1972, as armed Arab commandos hold Israeli Olympic team members hostage. AP

By PETER HILLE

CHENNAI: Hans Völkl still feels a bit queasy when he hears the sound of rotors. It makes him remember the roar of the two Bell-UH 1 helicopters, a sound that has been with him ever since the night of September 6, 1972.

At that time, Völkl was a young Bundeswehr soldier stationed at an air base just outside Munich, Bavaria. He worked the night shift in the tower and was supposed to help pilots land here. The 21-year-old had been glued to the TV news watching a drama unfold at the Olympic village, just 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) away in Munich. That morning, Palestinian terrorists had broken into the Israeli Olympic team’s quarters, where they shot and killed weightlifter Josef Romano and wrestling coach Mosche Weinberg and took nine other Israelis as hostages.

The Olympic Games in Munich were meant to show Germany’s friendly face to the world. It was supposed to be a “celebration of peace,” 36 years after the Olympic Games in Nazi-ruled Berlin, and only 27 years after the end of World War Two and the Holocaust, during which Germany murdered six million Jews.

But now Jews had again been killed on German soil — and the German state had failed to protect them.

After a pause of only one day and a funeral service, the competitions in Munich continued. There was no apology from politicians or the police for the Fürstenfeldbruck fiasco. No committee of inquiry was set up, no one took responsibility for the failed rescue operation, or for why the offers of help from Israeli specialists had been turned down.

The victims’ relatives, on the other hand, have had to fight for decades to gain any insight at all into the relevant files, and for more adequate compensation. Now they are planning to stay away from this year’s 50th-anniversary commemoration event in Munich.

“Witnesses, victims, and their families were treated almost like annoying poor relatives,” says Ludwig Spaenle, Bavaria’s antisemitism commissioner, who is committed to reinvestigating the events of 1972. West Germany failed in the face of terrorism, he argued.

“What happened afterward is also a dramatic state failure,” Spaenle told DW. “People wanted to forget things very quickly and made every effort to do so. They kept quiet about the events. And there was no public remembrance.” Only in the last ten years or so have efforts been made to remember and confront the events — for example, by setting up a memorial in Munich’s Olympic Park. Hans Völkl also said he was returned to his usual duties as quickly as possible. In Fürstenfeldbruck, flight operations restarted while the wreckage of the helicopters was still on the airfield in front of the tower, Völkl recalls. There was no psychological counselling, doctors at the time liked to recommend drinking a glass of cognac to cope with the shock, he recalled. “People tried to repress traumatic experiences,” says Anna Ulrike Bergheim, the chairwoman of the Fürstenfeldbruck Historical Society. She spent years searching for eyewitnesses and found people like Völkl. When she walks through the corridors of the air base today, she knows exactly who was where on the night of September 6, 1972.

“The events certainly haven’t been processed by the people who were there then,” Bergheim tells DW. “Many eyewitnesses are only now coming forward because they only now have reached the point where they can talk about it.”

This article was provided by Deutsche Welle

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