The Munich games in 1972 were the first organised in Germany nearly three decades after the Second World War. The Germans wanted a pacifist event, unlike the Berlin Olympics in 1936 which were held under Nazi banners. The murder in Munich of 11 Israeli athletes condemned the pacifist ideal to failure. The host country’s responses were a list of failures.
At half past four in the morning the attack began, eight armed members of the Palestinian terrorist organisation Black September entered the Olympic Village unhindered. They burst into the quarters of the Israeli delegation, killing two, and they held nine athletes hostage. They demanded that 243 Palestinian prisoners in Israel be freed and brought to Egypt, as well as the liberation in Germany of left-wing militant activists Ulrike Meinhof and Andreas Baader of the group Red Army Faction.
Israel refused any negotiation with the terrorists.
Germany’s Olympic organisers had asked a police psychologist, Georg Sieber, for worst-case scenarios, and he detailed 26 of them but he was ignored. The police had no experience for this and no special force prepared. They just surrounded the hostage site.
The Games were suspended 12 hours after the attack began.
The police agreed to transfer the terrorists and their hostages to a nearby NATO airbase in two helicopters, where a passenger jet and five weekend marksmen recruited in the emergency were waiting. But there were eight terrorists, and the attempted trap was a disaster. This led to the killing of all the hostages at a few minutes past midnight. They were machine-gunned or incinerated after a hand grenade was thrown into the helicopter they were tied up in. One policeman also died. Three of the terrorists survived and were arrested.
A wave of assassinations of suspected Black September operatives would follow, in which the Israeli secret service was implicated.
Germany and other countries would establish counter-terrorism forces.
The next day, a memorial service in the Munich main stadium barely mentioned the dead athletes, and the Games were resumed.