(JTA) — Bobby Jones went to bed Sept. 4, 1972, expecting a grueling training schedule the next day. After a stellar second season at the University of North Carolina, the future NBA Hall of Famer was in Munich as a member of the newly qualified United States Men’s Olympic Basketball Team. for the medal round.
Jones didn’t get the night’s sleep he expected.
“We heard gunshots at night and the village had turned into an armed camp by morning,” Jones told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
A little after 4 a.m. on September 5, eight members of the Palestinian terror group Black September jumped a fence in the Olympic Village and within minutes burst into hotel rooms where some of the players and coaches were sleeping. Israeli team. They killed wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg and wrestler Yousef Romano, who tried to resist, then injured some of the others before taking them into armed custody.
Monday marks the 50th anniversary of what became known as the Munich massacre, after the 11 Israeli coaches and athletes held hostage were all killed after a failed hostage rescue attempt by West German police later that night . The German government is holding a memorial ceremony in Munich on Monday, days after reaching a 28 million euro compensation deal with the victims’ family members and issuing a statement acknowledging the failures of the ‘German state’ on that infamous day.
For years, family members of the victims — as well as the Israeli government — had alleged that Germany failed to protect Israeli athletes and sought to cover up police failings that occurred throughout the war. daytime. Lax security measures allowed terrorists easy access to apartments in the Olympic Village, and numerous reports show that poor communication and the use of inexperienced police led to the chaos that marked the end of the crisis on the tarmac of an airplane. A 2012 report claimed that Germany had also been informed of a possible terrorist incident weeks before the Games.
Germany’s announcement shows it has increased its compensation figure to 28 million from around 10 million after recent negotiations with a group of family members of the victims.
On the fateful day, confusion reigned for the non-Israeli athletes on the field. Word gradually spread of a situation unfolding throughout the morning, but few in the Olympic Village knew the details. Jones explained that the village was made up of “three long apartment buildings” and the basketball team could observe the situation from afar in the middle building.
His teammate Mike Bantom, a Philadelphia native who would go on to have a nine-year NBA career, tied the shooting to his return home.
“I remember standing on the patio and looking across the yard seeing a few guys with guns,” he recalls, “I put into context that someone got shot in an argument. I didn’t know it was this kind of incident.
Jim Becker did. The reporter who had covered Jackie Robinson’s first game as well as three wars – Korea, Vietnam and the Yom Kippur War – was woken up early by fellow Associated Press, Charlie Erb.
“Charlie got me out of bed at 5 a.m. and told me that Arab terrorists had taken over the rooms of the Israeli Olympic team,” said Becker, 96, who now lives in Honolulu. “I could see out the window of the AP building, which was 200 yards from the Olympic Village, and I could see guys in masks with guns. I spent the next 36 hours on the typewriter.
Meanwhile, Team USA was training in virtual ignorance of what was happening, even as official competitions came to a standstill. Bantam only learned of the hostage situation after calling home in the United States.
“Team USA used to go to a military base and train,” Bantom said. “This time they kept us there and didn’t bring us back.
One of the defining images of the 1972 Munich Olympics: a member of the group that had taken the Israelis hostage seen on the balcony of the apartment wearing a face mask. (Russell Mcphedran/The Sydney Morning Herald/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)
“Very little information was given to us about what was going on,” he continued. “When we came back in the early evening, we were kept outside the village because they were arranging for the hostages. We saw helicopters coming out of the village. That’s when I was able to call home and find out from people here what was really going on.
The players eventually came within sight of the hostages.
“That afternoon when the terrorists took the Israelis out, we were 50-100 meters away,” Jones said. “I think, ‘How is this going to end?’”
No one would know for hours. Behind the scenes, the terrorists demanded the release of more than 200 Palestinian political prisoners from Israeli prisons, only for Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir to categorically refuse, saying she would not negotiate with the terrorists. That left it to the German government to try to work things out.
The terrorists demanded to be transported to Cairo, and the German authorities missed many opportunities to kill or arrest them along the way. Buses brought the attackers and their blindfolded hostages to several helicopters, which then took them to a nearby NATO airbase.
The inexperienced snipers planted on the scene lacked the proper weapons to fire at long range; armored vehicles with rescue help got stuck in traffic on the way to the base; and the Palestinians easily discovered that the plane they thought would take them to Cairo had been set up like a trap. After a shootout with German police, one of the terrorists threw a grenade into one of the helicopters, killing the Israelis inside; another terrorist fired at the remaining Israelis in the other helicopter.
“They’re all gone,” sports commentator Jim McKay told an international broadcast, after providing hours of updates.
No one in the Olympic Village was aware of the operation or how it ended.
“The German government issued a false press release stating that the release of the hostages had been concluded peacefully,” Becker said, rushing to take office that day, despite normally focusing on sports. “I was writing this story.
“But I had a journalist [Erb] at the airport who said he heard gunshots and explosions. So I threw that story out and wrote a newsletter based on what he told me.
His editor in New York called around midnight. “They said, ‘What you write can’t be true, because we saw that Howard Cosell and Jim McKay were on TV. So they made me write a bulletin saying that the German government was announcing that the hostage situation had been resolved peacefully,” Becker said. “In fact, the New York Times official history of the Olympics contains the statement that all of us in Munich went to sleep that night believing that the hostage exchange had been concluded peacefully.”
When the truth broke the next morning, finishing the Olympics was the last thing on many athletes’ minds.
“Everybody’s initial reaction was ‘Let’s get out of here and come home,'” recalls Bantom, who would go on to work for the NBA for 30 years after his playing career. “It was the first time something like this had happened, where people were taken hostage for political reasons and killed. We were shocked at the time and upset by what happened and feared what might happen.
Photographers gather after the Munich Massacre during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. (Keystone/Hulton Archives/Getty Images)
Jones felt the same.
“When we heard what happened that night, we all thought we were probably going to go home after that,” he said. “But they said they were going to continue.”
“I think it really hardened me a bit to the realities of the world,” Jones continued. “It made me aware of world situations and animosity. Not everything was kumbaya.
After holding a memorial ceremony to honor the victims, International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage decided to go ahead with the remainder of the Games.
“Brundage was ticked off because it would be his last Olympics and they had ruined everything,” Becker said. Brundage had held his post since 1952 and was considering retirement. “Brundage stands up and says we shouldn’t let politics get involved. Eleven dead athletes, five terrorists and a policeman, and he likens it to politics.
The rest of the Israeli Olympic delegation left Munich. Five days later, the U.S. basketball team reached the gold medal game against the Soviet Union, where they lost for the first time in Olympic history, 51-50, in a controversial final. .
Doug Collins made two free throws with three seconds remaining, giving Team USA a 50-49 lead, but the Russians were given extra opportunities and extra time – thanks to a series of malfunctions and miscommunication at the scorer’s table – and scored a last-minute layup to win.
“My feeling was if we could honor those people killed by winning a gold medal, that would have been great,” said Collins, who would become a four-time NBA All-Star and later coach Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
“I just don’t think they would have wanted the Games to be stopped.”
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