The memory of the Munich 11 was finally honored in London yesterday, though not due to any help from the International Olympic Committee.
A memorial service for the Israeli victims of the 1972 Olympic terrorist attack drew 850 attendees—including the British prime minister, London mayor, Israeli officials and athletes, friends and families of the deceased, and beloved Israeli actor Chaim Topol, who acted as master of ceremonies.
As it does every Olympics, the Israeli Committee organized the event to pay homage to 11 men killed in the name of hate. This year’s ceremony was also hosted with help from the Jewish Committee for the London Games and the Israeli embassy in London, and took place at England's famed Guildhall.
While the memorial acted as a space to remember and mourn, the service also presented an opportunity to criticize on a public stage the actions of the IOC. The committee, and president Jacques Rogge in particular, has faced much condemnation for its refusal to honor the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre with a minute of silence at the opening ceremony.
Ankie Spitzer, wife of Munich victim Andre Spitzer, has been a staunch advocate of the minute of silence campaign. Taking to the stage at Monday evening’s ceremony, Spitzer noted the fact that Rogge—who sat front and center at the event—was himself an Olympic athlete in 1972. She said the Munich 11 had “probably the same dreams Jacques Rogge…had when [he] went to the Olympic games. The only difference is our loved ones came home in coffins.”
Spitzer also pointed out that this year’s opening ceremony featured moments of silence after all: one for the victims of London’s 7/7 attack and another for war veterans in general.
"Is the IOC only interested in power and money and politics? Did they forget that they are supposed to promote peace, brotherhood and fair play?" she asked. "Shame on you IOC, because you have forsaken 11 members of the Olympic family. You are discriminating against them only because they are Israelis and Jews…You owe it to them.”
She added: "We will not stop our battle to have a moment of silence for the victims at the Olympics opening ceremonies, all the more so after they dedicated a moment of silence to the British victims of terror at last week's opening ceremony. The more the Olympics Committee entrenches itself in its refusal, the more we will struggle."
Ilana Romano—also a Munich 11 widow and a vocal partner in the minute of silence campaign—told Rogge from the podium: “Today, you submitted to terrorism…You will be written down on the pages of history as a former athlete who became a president who violated the Olympic charter that calls for brotherhood, friendship and peace.”
She added: “I will never forget that moment when I hugged [my children], and I could see their lips trembling and their eyes welling up and one question in their mouth: ‘Mom, will dad never come back?’ I answered in tears: ‘Correct.’”
Romano also spoke about an interaction she had with Rogge, when she asked him privately if he would have “kept quiet” had the murdered athletes been from another nation. The widow said Rogge responded that it was a “very difficult question,” a response that “hurt and offended” her. “One could feel the discrimination in the air,” she said.
Rogge himself took to the stage, issuing a brief statement that was met with polite, yet quiet, applause.
"Even after 40 years, it is painful to relive the most painful moments of the Olympic movement. I can only imagine how painful it must be for the families and close personal friends of the victims,” he said. “We are all here today because we share the duty of remembering the victims and to make sure the lessons of 1972 are never forgotten… We are here to speak with one voice against terrorism. There is no justification for terrorism, ever.”
Spitzer and Romano spoke to the media following the ceremony, explaining they had not been nervous about confronting Rogge.
“What could he say? It was all old. He didn’t say anything new to me. Maybe I said something new to him,” Romano said. “I have been waiting for a long time to tell him what I thought. This time we took the gloves off. Up to now I was always diplomatic.”
“It wasn’t bravery, it was the truth. We gave him many opportunities to get out of the hole he dug himself,” Spitzer added.
British Prime Minster David Cameron also spoke to media just before the memorial: "As the world comes together in London to celebrate the games and the values it represents, it is right that we should stop and remember the 11 Israeli athletes who so tragically lost their lives when those values came under attack in Munich 40 years ago. It was a truly shocking act of evil. A crime against the Jewish people. A crime against humanity. A crime the world must never forget."
Cameron then used his official address inside Guildhall to draw a parallel between Israel and the UK, particularly as victims of terror attacks. In 2005, just a day after London won its bid to host the 2012 games, the city faced a suicide bomber that killed more than 50 individuals.
"Seven years on from 7/7, I am proud that as we speak, this great city of London, probably the most diverse city in the world, is hosting athletes from 204 nations. And I am delighted that a strong Israeli team is among them," Cameron said. "Our two countries, Britain and Israel, share the same determination to fight terrorism and to ensure that these evil deeds will never win.”
Speaking specifically about the Munich massacre, the prime minister added, “It was a sickening act of terrorism that betrayed everything the Olympic movement stands for and everything that we in Britain believe in.”
Israel’s Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat—who honored the Munich 11 by standing during the Israeli team’s entrance at the London opening ceremony—also spoke to attendees.
"There is a line to be drawn from Auschwitz to Munich, and from Munich to Burgas, where Israeli tourists were murdered by terrorists just three weeks ago. It is the murder of Jews simply because they are Jews,” she said. “The Olympics come to advance human achievement, terrorism comes to negate it … Those who called the IOC for an official and public moment of silence to honor the memory of Israel's slain athletes understand this."
Livnat added: "World leaders called on the IOC to hold a public moment of silence at the ceremony. Sadly, their pleas were rejected…That is why, during the speeches at the opening ceremony, I insisted on my own moment of silence. But I was not alone. Millions, all over the world, lovers of sports and lovers of humanity, were with me in silent awe. In my silence, I spoke for them. In deafening silence, we unite with the memory of our 11 athletes."
President Barack Obama spoke out as well, through a prepared statement read by the US Ambassador to the UK, Louis Susman. Obama was a proponent of the minute of silence campaign, a fact that was pointed out in the statement.
"[The Munich 11] were citizens of a young democracy in the ancient homeland of the Jewish people…While the United States supported a moment of silence in their honor, we welcome any effort to recall the terrible loss that was suffered in Munich, and the lives of those who were lost,” Susman read. “Let us rededicate ourselves to a world that represents the hopes of those athletes, and not the hate of those who took their lives."