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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

This Wasn't the Kind of Reminder the Israelis Had in Mind

Munich: Sons and daughters of 11 slain were only trying to get recognition from IOC.

July 28, 1996|MIKE HISERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Mayo Genia answered the phone early Saturday and promptly flashed back to an anguishing experience of more than two decades ago.

On the line was her husband. Television in Israel was reporting an explosion at the Olympics. He was checking on her.

Genia turned on the television in her downtown hotel room and was immediately overcome by feelings of anger, frustration and helplessness.

It was happening again. Just as she and her traveling companions had feared it would.

For the last 11 days, Genia has been touring here with 11 other daughters and sons of the 11 Israeli Olympians massacred by Palestine terrorists during the 1972 Summer Games in Munich.

They did not come to stage angry protests, only to raise consciousness. They were hoping that the International Olympic Committee would break tradition and in some way acknowledge the tragedy of those who are internationally remembered as "the Munich 11."

IOC officials have never recognized or memorialized the athletes and coaches who died innocently after hooded gunmen stormed the dormitory where they were staying. Spokespersons say the IOC does not conduct special ceremonies in such instances.

But Genia and the others were not asking for a ceremony. They simply wanted to remind people that the tragedy had occurred--and might again if nations do not band together to denounce terrorism.

No longer does anyone need a reminder.

At 1:25 a.m. Saturday a pipe bomb blew up inside Centennial Olympic Park, where crowds have gathered to socialize and enjoy concerts late into the night during the Games.

Two people died and 111 were injured.

Shirly Shapira, whose father, Amitzur, was an Israeli track and field coach, was out late with a group of friends only a few blocks from the explosion.

"We were in shock," she said. "I started crying. Everything comes back."

Shapira was only 6 months old when her father was killed, but because she has studied his life and listened closely to stories told by his family and friends she feels close to him.

"I live with his shadow," she said.

Genia also is haunted by her memory. As she watched the TV images of the wounded and frightened in Centennial Park, her thoughts were of them and their families.

"I know the feeling, all the fear you have when something like that happens," said Genia, whose father, Yacov, was a weightlifting official. "That's why we were here, to remind people. So something like this would never happen again."

At a temple a few miles north of the explosion, the mood was somber late Saturday morning as Genia and the others attended a previously scheduled service and reception.

"This has been very hard on everybody," said Rachel Romano, whose father, Joseph, was a weightlifter. "A lot of memories come back. Once again, terrorists come to the Olympic stage and try to turn it into a war place."

Relatives of the slain Israelis said that even if the blast was not the work of an organized group, their message remains the same: Stop terrorism.

And the first step toward that, they believe, is to remember the victims.

"We do not need it mentioned that [the 11 killed] are Jews or are from Israel," Genia said. "Just condemn the terror. We ask all the delegations and all the countries to condemn the terror. If they can't do that, they should not be a part of the family of the Olympic Games."

Ironically, the temple where the Israeli group gathered Saturday was gutted by a fire-bomb in 1958. No arrests were ever made, but members of the congregation say the action was prompted by Rabbi Jacob Rothchild's outspoken support of the civil rights platform of a local Baptist minister, Martin Luther King Jr.

Rothchild's first sermon after the bombing ended with the Biblical phrase "And none shall make them afraid."

Michal Schorr, whose father, Kehat, was a shooting coach, reminded her American acquaintances that many Israelis live daily with such fears in their homeland.

"Unfortunately, we also know these actions in Israel," she said. "We live with the terror and we're sorry to say we know it from a close angle."

Schorr said her group would stay in Atlanta, as planned, until Monday.

"And we are going to continue to speak out about why we came here," she said.

No member of the group was in favor of postponement or cancellation of the Games.

"Our hearts say stop the Games," Romano said. "But our heads tell us to continue to fight the terror. If you stop the Games, you let them win.

"So we have to continue."

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