Forty-three years ago this month, the Munich Massacre shocked the world.
It was “the very first time that a terror attack was reported and broadcast, in real time, across the globe,” Time.com reported in an August 2013 retrospective.
During the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics, 17 people died in connection with the massacre: 11 Israeli athletes, coaches and officials, a West German policeman and five members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September.
The crisis began around 4 a.m. on Sept. 5, when eight Black September gunmen, armed with AK-47s, grenades and other weapons, stormed into the Olympic village and began taking hostages.
Wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg was the first Israeli hostage to be shot and killed. Within 36 hours, 10 other Israelis lost their lives in the massacre: Weightlifters Yossef Romano, Ze’ev Friedman and David Berger; wrestlers Mark Slavin and Eliezer Halfin; weightlifting coach Yakov Springer; wrestling judge Yossef Gutfreund; shooting coach Kehat Shorr; fencing coach Andre Spitzer; and track coach Amitzur Shapira. Police officer Anton Fliegerbauer was also killed. (At Munich’s Olympic Stadium, there was a Sept. 6 memorial service attended by 80,000 spectators and a reported 3,000 Olympic athletes.)
But for the Munich Massacre’s Israeli victims, surviving family members spent four decades pushing German governments and IOC officials for some type of official memorial or remembrance. It never came under past IOC presidents, including Juan Antonio Samaranch, and his successor, Jacques Rogge.
As reported widely in 2012, Rogge turned down a request for a moment of silence during the Opening Ceremony at the 2012 London Games to honor the victims. But under Rogge’s successor, Dr. Thomas Bach, the winds of change have provided a breakthrough, with official IOC support for a permanent Munich memorial.
“We must not forget the victims,” Ludwig Spaenle, the Bavarian minister of education and cultural affairs, told a news conference in September 2013, when plans for the memorial were unveiled. (It is scheduled to open next year, with an estimated price tag of about $2 million to be split between the German national government, German state of Bavaria’s government, the IOC and The Foundation for Global Sports Development, and be located near the athletes’ village.)
The Foundation for Global Sports Development, based in Eugene, Oregon, has an active role in the memorial project, collaborating with director Stephen Crisman, whose documentary credits include “Bob Dylan: The American Troubadour,” and “Hemingway’s Cuba,” and executive producer Michael Cascio, a longtime programming executive for the National Geographic Channel, on an upcoming documentary film, “Munich 72 and Beyond,” scheduled for release later this fall.
It will be “a documentary which will focus on the Munich Memorial and the lives it will touch as it is being built,” the FGSD website stated, adding, “(it) tells the story of the brutal murders. However, unique from other films about the terrorist attack, ‘Munich 72 and Beyond’ gives voice to the families’ subsequent years of grief. The grief has come in many forms as they have mourned their slain family members, struggled to learn more information about what occurred during those 36 hours, and fought to have their loved ones properly and officially remembered.”
Dr. Steven Ungerleider, the FGSD vice president who is also serving as one of the film’s producers, told The Japan Times by phone from Oregon that Bach’s advocacy for the project represents a “huge paradigm shift.”
He quoted Bach, a German and an Olympic fencer in the 1976 Montreal Games, as saying, “Hey, it’s long overdue to recognize the Israeli team, to recognize these very Olympians who were murdered on our soil, on our sacred ground of the Olympic Games and stop being in denial and burying our heads.”
During the past two years while sitting in on numerous meetings, Ungerleider, worked alongside Spaenle, Dr. Bach’s chief of staff, architects in Berlin, fallen Israelis’ families and Daniel Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, plus members of the Mossad (Israel’s national intelligence agency). At first, the plan focused on creating the memorial, but a documentary organically grew out of the original project.
“(We were) shooting some footage just to have in the archive, with the idea that this is important just to hold on to share with other colleagues and the (IOC),” said Ungerleider, an IOC consultant who has attended 14 Olympics during his decades-long involvement in global sports.
Word quickly spread. Major news organizations, including ABC, PBS and HBO, began calling, seeking information on the project.
“And so our team got together and said, ‘Dr. Bach, this would be an amazing documentary to talk about the 43-year struggle, some of the politics, some of the backstory, but really to shift the emphasis on a moment of encouragement, a moment of redemption, a moment of healing . . . until finally we can have a place where people can go to mourn and grief, not just Israelis or Germans but (everyone,’ ” Ungerleider recalled. “And that’s how the film came about.”
“Munich 72 and Beyond” will be shown at a number of film festivals. The film festival version will be around 41 minutes, with a longer version also planned.
“(When) you shoot a documentary . . . there’s a lot of our footage that will not make the film just because of time constraints,” Ungerleider noted. “We will have that logged into an educational platform so while you’re at the museum or if you’re at home or for students (it will be available). We’ve talked to a number of educational institutions and museums around the world, and they want to have access to the database.”
To assemble this ambitious documentary, which, according to Ungerleider, “had the blessing” of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, about 100 people were interviewed, with about 33-35 interviews fitting into the shorter version; additional footage will be archived.
Sitting in on the interviews, which were conducted by Crisman, the aforementioned director, Ungerleider likened his role to that of a point guard for the film team: to set everything up.
“It was a lot of emotion, especially with the younger family members in talking about the murder of their father, so we sort of had to prepare them,” Ungerleider said, adding that victims’ surviving spouses, children and grandchildren were interviewed.
He added: “We tried to capture a lot of what the children said, because some of them were just a year old when their father went to Munich and came home in a coffin.
“There’s a fascinating piece about what their memory is, and what they’ve been told over the years, and what their neighbors have said to them and what their relatives have said to them about your father being a great hero, a great Olympic hero for the tiny state of Israel.”
To stick with the film’s outline, “we had to be very careful to tell the backstory and give some historical perspective but not get stuck in all imagery of the vicious attack,” he added.
How was this done?
“We do have a number of flashbacks and we do some storytelling and then we transition into talking about what does it mean in 2015, and what terrorism means and what has transformed over time and why memory is so important to understand the future,” Ungerleider stated.
To capture the emotional authenticity of the interviewees and make them comfortable on camera, some conversations shifted back and forth between German and English. In addition, “many of the Israelis spoke in beautiful English, but there were a couple of them that started to break down and they said, ‘Would it be OK to go to Hebrew?’ ” Ungerleider remembered. “And we said, ‘Absolutely.’ “
Case in point: One of the wives mostly spoke in Hebrew, Ungerleider noted, adding, “She said, ‘My emotions aren’t able to be touched unless I speak in my native language.” (The film will have subtitles.)
Enriching the Munich Memorial and the film is the dedicated work of archivists and researchers who visited Israel on numerous occasions over the past two years, said Ungerleider, who has served on the U.S. Olympic Committee’s sport psychology registry since 1984 and written six books, including “Faust’s Gold: Inside the East German Doping Machine.”
“The Bavarian government has a team under their wing of the minister of culture, and they have a number of young people who do nothing but museum curating . . . and right now they are focused on the Munich Memorial,” he explained. “So they sent teams over once a month for the past two years to meet with the families, meet with the ambassador, meet with the (Israeli) special forces to collect information by interviewing, but also get pictures, get archival material, get medals, get shoes, get any personal (items) that the families wanted to share.
“So the memorial will be very rich; it will be full of texture, not only video images, but actual pieces of clothing and things like that.”
Indeed, preserving Olympic history and personal history became linked together.
2024 odds: Five cities have made official bids for the 2024 Olympics: Rome, Paris, Hamburg, Los Angeles and Budapest. If L.A. is awarded the Summer Games, it would become the second city to stage the quadrennial extravaganza for the third time after London (1908, 1948, 2012) and Paris (1900, ’24)
In a story posted on Aug. 31, the website handicapeverything.com listed Paris as the odds-on favorite (6:5). Other projections: Rome (3:1), Hamburg (5:1) and Budapest (7:1). As the last entry to throws its hat in the proverbial ring, Los Angeles did not receive odds from the website. Stay tuned. . .. In September 2017, the IOC will select the 2024 host city during meetings in Lima.