This Day in 1972: The Massacre at the Munich Olympics



Around 4:30 am on September 5, 1972, a group of Canadian athletes returning from an illicit night out in Munich was scaling the chain link fence around the Olympic dormitory compound. They were joined by 8 other men. Once inside, the Canadians went on their way, none the wiser to the fact that their companions had been a commando squad of Palestinian terrorists.


The terrorists made their way to the quarters of the Israeli Olympic team.

Yossef Gutfreund, a wrestling referee, woke up when he heard something scratching at dorm door. He opened the door, saw the gunmen, then he shouted a warning to the other members of the Israeli team while he blocked the door. He couldn’t hold them back long but he did buy some time. The weightlifting coach, Tuvia Sokolovsky, smashed a window and escaped. The wrestling coach, Moshe Weinberg. fought until he was shot in the face, subdued, and forced to help the gunmen find more hostages. Weinberg led the terrorists past another dorm room, telling them that they were not Israelis, but did lead them to the room holding six wrestlers and weightlifters. No one knows why but it is suspected that Weinberg thought the stronger men there would have a chance against the terrorists. As it turned out they were all captured in their sleep.

As the athletes from Apartment 3 were marched back to the coaches’ apartment, the wounded Weinberg again attacked the gunmen, allowing one of his wrestlers, Gad Tsobari, to escape via the underground parking garage. Weinberg knocked one of the intruders unconscious and slashed another with a fruit knife before being shot to death. A Six-Day War veteran and weightlifter, Yossef Romano, attacked and wounded a terrorist before being killed. The fight allowed the remaining residents of the dorm to flee leaving a total of nine hostages.


German police responded and negotiations ensued. The terrorists demanded the release of 234 Palestinian terrorists and two members of the German terror group, the Red Army Faction. Israel refused to negotiate and asked to send a commando team to effect the rescue of the hostages. The Germans refused. Negotiations bogged down and at 6:30 pm on September 6, the Palestinians finally asked for transportation to Cairo. The Germans hatched a scheme to take the terrorists at Munich airport.

A goat-rope ensued. The Germans used regular police in the operation. One group of them walked away from the mission without telling the command group. As a result, when the rescue was attempted critical parts were missing. In the confused mess that followed, all the Israelis, 5 terrorists, and one German police officer were killed.

This set off a rather hot clandestine war as for a few years Israel pursued anyone who had been vaguely associated with the plot and killed them. That operation, called Wrath of God, came to a sad end on July 21, 1973, in Lillehammer, Norway, when an Israeli hit squad killed a Moroccan waiter in a case of mistaken identity.

Since then much has been learned. Most Western nations have highly trained commandos who can react to hostage situations. The fumbling Three-Stooges antics of the Germans in 1972 was succeeded by the quintessential German efficiency of GSG-9 which flew to Mogadishu to free 86 hostages aboard a hijacked Lufthansa airliner. They killed three hijackers, captured one, and not a single hostage was harmed. But the macro situation now is even more dire than it was in 1972. Then the Palestinians had to depend upon a clandestine network of Arab expatriates to move about Europe. Now they have large sanctuary zones in every European country and often the support or acquiescence of the communities living in those sanctuaries to plan and stage for their attacks. Just like in 1972, there is no end in sight except now the target is not Israel but Western Europe.



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