Widows of the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by the Black September Palestinian terror group in the 1972 Munich Olympics have come forward with gruesome details of the attack – details that were hidden from them by the German government for two decades.
In the attack, the Olympic team members were taken hostage for 20 hours and eventually all murdered, along with a German police officer, by the Black September group in an attack funded by current Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. German neo-Nazis gave the terrorists logistical assistance.
Ilana Romano and Ankie Spitzer, the widows of two of the athletes murdered in the attack, came forward for the first time revealing new details about the attack to the New York Times which were published on Tuesday, in an attempt to gain recognition for their loved ones and have them receive a proper memorial.
Among other things, they divulged that the victims were viciously beaten – and at least one was castrated.
Spitzer, whose husband Andre was a fencing coach, first described the brutality in an interview for the upcoming documentary film “Munich 1972 & Beyond,” which is expected to be released early next year.
She told the paper that she and other families of the victims only got the details of what really happened 20 years later, when German authorities released hundreds of pages of reports they had denied existed over the previous two decades.
The reports included photographs that she, Romano and their lawyer Pinchas Zeltzer first saw in 1992. Zeltzer had received the photographs from the scene of the attack during a trip to Munich.
The widows insisted that he show them the photographs despite his recommendation that they not view the horrific graphic evidence, and afterwards they agreed not to publicly discuss them – until now.
“Can you imagine?”
Romano’s husband Yossef, a champion weight lifter, was shot as he heroically attempted to overpower the terrorists early in the attack. He was left to die in front of the other hostages and castrated, while others were beaten and seriously wounded, suffering broken bones and other brutal wounds, said Spitzer.
Aside from Romano another athlete was also murdered at Olympic Village, while the other nine hostages were murdered in a failed rescue attempt by German authorities at a nearby airport.
“What they did is that they cut off his genitals through his underwear and abused him,” Romano said of her husband. “Can you imagine the nine others sitting around tied up? They watched this.”
Spitzer said it wasn’t clear if the mutilation occurred before or after Romano died, but Romano said she believed it came after his death.
One of Romano’s daughters was to be married three days after her lawyer notified her that he had received the photographs in 1992, but she said she didn’t delay after having waited for 20 years to learn the truth of her husband’s fate.
She, Spitzer and Zeltzer have kept the details to themselves since out of respect for the memories of the victims, with Romano telling her daughters immediately afterwards that the pictures were “difficult” and requesting that they not ask her about them.
“It was very painful”
Romano has since referenced the mutilation of her husband but kept the information about the photographs to herself. She noted the pictures were “as bad as I could have imagined.”
“The terrorists always claimed they didn’t come to murder anyone – that they only wanted to free their friends from prison in Israel,” said Spitzer. “They said it was only because of the botched-up rescue operation at the airport that they killed the rest of the hostages, but it’s not true. They came to hurt people. They came to kill.”
Local police killed five of the eight Black September members during the failed rescue attempt. They captured the three survivors, but West Germany later released them following an airliner hijacking later that year. Mossad responded to the release with Operation “Spring of Youth” and Operation “Wrath of God,” tracking down and killing the remaining terrorists involved in the massacre.
“The moment I saw the photos, it was very painful. I remembered until that day Yossef as a young man with a big smile. I remembered his dimples until that moment,” said Romano. “At that moment it erased the entire Yossi that I knew.”
How the details were divulged
In 1992 Spitzer gave an interview on German TV, in which she expressed frustration at not knowing the details. Afterwards she was contacted by a man who said he worked with a German government agency that had access to vast amounts of records on the attack.
The man, who stayed anonymous, gave about 80 pages of reports which Spitzer, Romano and Zeltzer used to pressure the German government into giving them the full records, including the horrific photographs from the attack.
After receiving the file, they sued the German government, the Bavarian regional government and the city of Munich for a “deficient security concept” and “serious mistakes” that doomed the failed rescue attempt of the nine remaining hostages who were murdered at an airport.
However their lawsuit, delayed for 20 years by the German government’s refusal to share the details, was dismissed on grounds of statute of limitations expiring.
The widows have continued lobbying to memorialize their loved ones, and just this year the International Olympic Committee under the new president Thomas Bach agreed to make a permanent memorial in Munich.
There are also plans to commemorate the 11 victims in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, although they will be remembered in a moment of silence together with other athletes who have died in the games.
Romano and Spitzer are pressing to have the victims remembered separately from those who died in sporting accidents, given the radically different nature of their deaths.
The murdered athletes were:
Moshe Weinberg, wrestling coach
Yossef Romano, weightlifter
Ze’ev Friedman, weightlifter
David Berger, weightlifter
Yakov Springer, weightlifting judge
Eliezer Halfin, wrestler
Yossef Gutfreund, wrestling referee
Kehat Shorr, shooting coach
Mark Slavin, wrestler
Andre Spitzer, fencing coach
Amitzur Shapira, track coach