Background of the Munich massacre in 1972
To be able to understand the dimension of the Munich massacre, it is necessary to undetsand the political backdrop of the time.
When the modern Olympic Games were founded in 1896 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, his primary goals included international understanding and overcoming ideological barriers. These are undoubtedly good intentions, but to believe that the Olympic Games could ever be apolitical is wrong. Since their establishment, and even just recently, there have been repeated calls for boycotts due to political disagreements.
The political situation in 1972 was very tense. The African states, for example, threatened to leave if the IOC did not exclude Rhodesia from the Games, which was already boycotted by many states. So this is what happened: only four days before the start of the Games in Munich, Rhodesia was excluded and athletes who had already traveled to Germany had to return to their country. The list of such boycott calls could be continued endlessly but here we will focus on the events in Munich.
Israel in 1972 was in a period after the so-called “Six-Day War” in 1967, in which Israel was able to strike a decisive victory and thus had made considerable territorial gains in Palestine. At the same time, Israel had made an enemy of the entire Arab world – a situation that continues to reverberate to this day.
After the war, a terrorist organization called “Black September” was founded in 1970. It was closely linked and in collaboration with international terrorism. In August 1972, eight members of this terrorist organization arrive in Munich.
Course of events of the Munich massacre
Tuesday, 5th of September 1972
– Around 4:10 AM: Eight members of the “Black September” terrorist organization effortlessly climb over the fence surrounding the men’s village.
– Around 4:35 AM.: The terrorists enter the Israelis’ quarters at 31 Connolly street and take hostages. In the process, two athletes are already fatally injured.
– Throughout the morning: The terrorists demand the release of more than 230 comrades-in-arms in Israel as well as the two top German terrorists Ulrike Meinhof and Andreas Baader. Pictures of the leader of the terrorists known as “Issa” in a white linen suit with a hat go around the world. Thus, the terrorists get the attention they were looking for. Representatives of the German government, Bavaria and the city will spend the whole day negotiating with the terrorists. Ultimatum after ultimatum will be extended. At the same time, the games continue as planned at 9:00 AM.
– During the afternoon: Only slowly do the residents of the Olympic Village learn of the tragic events in Connolly street. More and more onlookers and reporters arrive at the now closed-off scene. At 3:38 PM, the Games are interrupted at the behest of the IOC. An attempt to free the building fails because the police are too poorly trained. Moreover, television teams broadcast the preparations for the liberation operation all over the world. The terrorists themselves also see these images.
– In the course of the early evening: In the late afternoon, the terrorists back down from their original demand and ask to be flown out together with the hostages. Federal Minister for the Interior, Hans Dietrich Genscher is allowed to speak briefly with the hostages. During this talk, he perceives only five assailants. A fatal misjudgement that would turn out to have catastrophic consequences. The airport of Fürstenfeldbruck in western Munich is chosen for the operation.
– Later in the evening: The ultimatum is extended one last time to 9 PM. Several scenarios for liberation are sketeched out and discarded.
– Shortly after 10 PM: The group of bound hostages and their captors leave their quarters at 31 Connolly street. For the first time, the world realizes there are not five but eight terrorists. Fatally, this realization is not passed on to the operations command at Fürstenfeldbruck airport, where only five snipers have taken up position.
– Around 10:20 PM: Two helicopters with a total of nine hostages, eight terrorists and four crew members take off from the Olympic Village in the direction of Fürstenfeldbruck.
– Shortly after 22:30: The helicopters touch down on the tarmac there. A Boeing 727 is parked there, but it is not fully fueled. The police plan to overpower the hostage-takers on the tarmac. Shortly thereafter, a prolonged firefight begins.
– Around 11:30 PM: A fatal false report goes around the world with the claim that all hostages have been freed.
– Shortly before midnight: Due to the crowded access roads caused by the press and onlookers, armored emergency vehicles arrive much too late. As they drive onto the tarmac, the terrorists open fire again.
Wednesday, 6th of September
– Shortly after midnight: A terrorist arms a hand grenade and throws it into one of the two helicopters. The detonation of the grenade kills all potentially surviving hostages in the first helicopter. The other hostages in the second helicopter die from machine gun fire. To this day, it is not known for sure whether the hostages were killed shortly after their arrival in Fürstenfeldbruck or whether they actually died after midnight. The date of death of all nine hostages who died in Fürstenfeldbruck is dated September 6th, 1972.
– Around 2:30 AM: At a press conference, Bavarian Minister for the Interior Bruno Merk announces the death of all hostages.
– 10:00 AM: Start of the funeral service. During this ceremony, the president of the IOC gives a speech with the words that have gone down in Olympic history: “the games must go on”.
– 4:45 PM: The Games continue with the handball match between Romania and Hungary.
This text and the matching Mavin Guides App tour have been authored by: