Grieving relatives have hit a wall in their relationship with Germany and the IOC, Duke says – Copyright AFP JAVIER TORRES
Ralf YESERMANN and Hui Ming NEO in Berlin
The presidents of Germany and Israel on Monday will lead celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the Munich Olympics attack, in the hope that a long-awaited deal to compensate the victims’ families will help them finally begin to heal from the painful episode.
A quarrel over a financial offer previously made by Berlin to the relatives of the victims threatened to spoil the ceremony as family members planned a boycott.
But an agreement was finally reached on Wednesday that Berlin would provide €28 million ($28 million) in compensation. In addition, for the first time, the German state acknowledges its “responsibility” for the mistakes that led to the deaths of 11 Israelis.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier admitted on Sunday it was a “shame” that it took Berlin so long to come to terms with the families of the victims.
“For too long, we have refused to acknowledge the pain of the mourners,” Steinmeier said at a state banquet in honor of his Israeli counterpart, Isaac Herzog.
“And for too long we didn’t want to admit that we also bear our share of responsibility. We had to ensure the safety of the Israeli athletes,” he said.
Ahead of Monday’s ceremony at Fürstenfeldbrück airbase, where the hostage-taking reached its tragic climax, Germany’s spokesman in charge of fighting anti-Semitism, Felix Klein, said it was “time for an apology.”
“And I think the president will find the right words at the commemoration on Monday,” he told the Funke newspaper group.
– “Without minimum effort” –
On September 5, 1972, eight fighters from the Palestinian militant group Black September broke into the Israeli team’s apartment in the Olympic Village, killing two and taking nine Israelis hostage.
The West German police responded with an unsuccessful rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, as well as five of the eight hostages and a policeman.
The games were supposed to showcase a new Germany 27 years after the Holocaust, but instead led to a deep rift with Israel.
In 2012, Israel released 45 official documents on the killings, including specially declassified materials that strongly criticized the activities of the German security services.
The reports include an official report by former Israeli intelligence chief Zvi Zamir, who said that the German police “did not make even the smallest effort to save human lives.”
– “Inhuman and incomprehensible” –
Relatives of the victims fought over the years to obtain an official apology from Germany, access to official documents and appropriate compensation, in addition to the initial amount of 4.5 million euros.
Two weeks ago, the relatives of the victims said they were offered 10 million euros – including the amount that has already been paid.
Enki Spitzer, whose husband Andre Spitzer was killed in a hostage situation, called the previous sentence “insulting.”
“I returned home with coffins after the massacre,” she told AFP. “You have no idea what we’ve been through in the last 50 years.”
Herzog highlighted the pain grieving relatives face, saying they just “hit the wall” whenever they tried to raise the issue with Germany or even the International Olympic Committee.
“I think there was a tragic crackdown here,” he said, noting a number of “inhuman and incomprehensible” shortcomings such as “the fact that the hostages were being led to the slaughter while the Games continued.”
After the initial suspension, then IOC President Avery Brundage stated that “The Games must go on”.
The Duke expressed the hope that the agreement would lead “this painful episode to a cure.”
“I hope that from now on we will continue to remember, refer to and, most importantly, reaffirm the lessons of this tragedy, including the importance of the fight against terrorism for future generations,” the Israeli President said.