Fencing coach Andre Spitzer believed in the Olympic ideal. The 27-year-old would stroll through the Olympic Village and regularly chat with natives from countries at odds with Israel, insisting that this was the one place where he and his Arab competitors could interact outside of the political conflict. His wife, Ankie Spitzer, remembers Andre shaking hands with the Lebanese team after inquiring after their events results during the Munich Games.
“The idea of the Olympics is first to forget that you are two warring nations,” Ankie recalls him saying. “Then you can come together in spirit, and through sport, find good in each other, make friendships, forge relationships and find brotherhood and peace in each other.”
Andre was born in Transylvania, Romania on July 4, 1945. After his father died when he was 11, he and his mother moved to Israel. He served in the Israeli Air Force and studied fencing at the Israeli National Sport Academy. In 1968, Andre traveled to Holland to train as a fencing master in The Hague. There, he fell in love and married one of his students, Ankie.
The new couple returned to Israel, where Andre founded the National Fencing Academy and became the chief fencing instructor at the prestigious Wingate Institute.
Just a few weeks before the 1972 Munich Olympics, Ankie gave birth to their first and only child, a daughter named Anouk. The couple left the infant with Ankie’s parents in Holland during the competition, though Andre made it a point to visit her during the Games.
Spitzer arrived in Munich only around four hours before Palestinian terrorists broke into the Israeli apartments, killing coach Moshe Weinberg and weightlifter Yossef Romano and taking nine athletes hostage.
During the 20-hour negotiations that followed, Spitzer was seen only once, standing at a window with his hands tied in front of him alongside marksmanship coach Kehat Shorr—a stunt proving to German authorities that the hostages were still alive. But when Andre attempted to answer a negotiator’s question, he was clubbed over the head with an AK-47 assault rifle and pulled away from the window.
Spitzer was in the second helicopter to be shot at during the botched rescue at the Fürstenfeldbruck airbase. He watched as four of his bound teammates were raked with machine gun fire and then incinerated as the first helicopter exploded. Seconds later, Spitzer and the four other hostages in his helicopter were also fatally shot, though there is some debate as to who was responsible for the gunfire.
Spitzer is buried alongside teammates Amitzur Shapira, Eliezer Halfin, Mark Slavin and Shorr at the Kiryat Shaul Cemetery in Tel Aviv, Israel. His widow Ankie decided to remain in Israel to raise their dauther, though she spoke little Hebrew and had no family in the area.
"I would never be able to explain to Anouk what her father was about. She would always be an exception [elsewhere]” Ankie explained. “Here, she would fit in." Ankie later converted to Judaism.
Ankie has been one of the most vocal widows of the Munich 11, leading the court battle against the German government, which was settled in 2003, and heading the petition for a moment of silence to be held on the 40th anniversary of the events at the upcoming London Games.
Read more about the Munich 11 and the controversy surrounding the rejected moment of silence at the London Olympic Games here.