1972 Munich Olympics Terrorist Attack Explained as Massacred Israeli Athletes Honored

Nearly half a century after 11 Israeli Olympic athletes and coaches were murdered at the Munich Games, the Olympics honored those athletes for the first time during the Tokyo opening ceremony with a moment of silence.

Families of the victims had been urging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to hold a minute of silence at the opening ceremony for years but had their requests repeatedly rejected as it was "inappropriate," according to former IOC President Jacques Rogge. The long-awaited honoring of the athletes at the opening ceremony was well received by the families and two widows of the murdered athletes called it "justice" for the fathers, sons and husbands who were murdered.

On Sept. 5, 1972, a group of Palestinian terrorists who were part of the group Black September entered the Olympic Village in Munich, Germany, and forced their way into the apartment of the Israeli athletes. Two people were killed almost immediately and nine others were taken hostage.

Shaul Ladany, who was on the Israeli Olympic team, was asleep in a neighboring room at the time. He told CNN in 2012 that his roommate told him wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg had been fatally shot. While it's largely believed that Wienberg led the terrorists into the room with members of the weightlifting and wrestling team because their stature could be advantageous in fighting off the attackers, Ladany disputed that because the terrorist knew who was in each room.

"In room two with me were two sharpshooters, two members of the shooting team," he told CNN. "They couldn't risk anyone would be armed."

munich olympics israeli murdered athletes 1972
Israeli athletes murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympic games were honored at the opening ceremony for the first time in 49 years. Portraits of some of the Israeli athletes murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics at the Olympic Village are displayed inside the Memorial Center on September 6, 2017, in Munich during its inauguration within ceremonies marking the 45th anniversary of a deadly attack by the Black September group on the Israeli delegation by Palestinian militants at the 1972 Olympic Games. Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images

Weinberg, who survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, told CNN he went to the games to show that Israelis could "perform like every other nation in the world" and are "as good as the others." He related it to how Jesse Owens wanted to stand up to Germany at the 1936 Olympic games as Nazi Leader Adolf Hitler promoted his ideals of a master race that didn't involve black people.

Everyone in the room Weinberg was in escaped the attack, but those in the other room weren't so fortunate. Ilana Romano, the widow of Yosef Romano, told the New York Times the terrorists "cut off" her husband's genitals and abused him while the other athletes watched. Romano had tried to overpower the terrorists early during the attack but was shot and left to die.

"The terrorists always claimed that they didn't come to murder anyone--they only wanted to free their friends from prison in Israeli," Ankie Spitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer told the New York Times. "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."

In exchange for releasing the hostages, the group demanded Israel release more than 200 prisoners who were being held in Israeli jails and two German terrorists, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof. Israel refused to give in to the demands because former Prime Minister Golda Meir said if they did "no Israeli anywhere in the world can feel that his life is safe."

One of a series of mishaps in the attempt at rescuing the hostages was that authorities never turned off power to the Olympic Village after the hostages were taken. So, the terrorists were able to learn the whereabouts of the snipers and other information from news reports.

Their ability to know authorities' plans prompted the cancellation of one rescue attempt and officials botched another.

In an attempt to rescue the hostages, authorities made it appear as if they were giving in to the terrorists' demands to fly everyone to Cairo, Egypt. After arriving at a German airbase, officials ordered the snipers to open fire, prompting a two-hour gunfight, during which hostages were fatally shot and a terrorist threw a hand grenade into the cockpit of one of the helicopters.

Misinformation was rampant after the hostages were taken and news reports initially gave families and the world hope that the rescue operation had been a success. However, hours later, Jim McKay, a famed sports journalist covering the games for ABC, reported the hostages at the airport had died, famously saying on air, "they're all gone."

Along with Weinberg, Romano and Spitzer, Yossef Gutfreund, David Berger, Ze'ev Friedman, Eleizer Halfin, Amitzur Shapira, Kehat Shorr, Mark Slavin and Yakov Springer were killed. Berger had moved to Israel just a few years earlier from the United States, where he was born and raised.

"Today, for the first time at the Olympic Games, the brutal massacre of 11 members of the Israeli delegation at the 1972 Munich Olympics was officially mentioned," Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett posted on Twitter. "I welcome this important and historic moment. May they rest in peace."