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MUNICH OLYMPICS: 30 YEARS LATER

Israelis Still Seeking a Moment of Silence

Olympics: Mentions have been made by IOC presidents, but relatives of victims want closure from massacre.

September 05, 2002|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TEL AVIV — Four years after Munich, at the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal, the relatives of the 11 murdered Israelis began a campaign that so far has proved fruitless--requesting that the IOC honor the memory of the 11 dead at the Games with a moment of silence dedicated solely to the Israelis.

Over the years, according to confidential minutes from IOC executive board meetings obtained by The Times, senior IOC delegates have made it plain they do not want to risk causing offense to Arab interests.

Jacques Rogge, the current IOC president, said, "The memory of the victims of Munich will never be forgotten out of respect for them and as a message for the future," maintaining that the dead have indeed been honored--in 1972, just hours after the Israelis were attacked, and on various other occasions, at the 1996 Atlanta Games and, most recently, at the Salt Lake Winter Games in a speech Rogge gave that touched briefly on events 30 years ago. Rogge and other dignitaries are due to attend a ceremony Friday at the Furstenfeldbruck airport near Munich, where nine of the 11 Israelis were killed.

The 11 Israelis are also recalled in monuments and plaques at various sites around the world, including a U.S. National Park Service memorial honoring David Berger on the front lawn of Mayfield Jewish Community Center in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

None of the memorials, however, has been dedicated at the IOC's instigation. Israel's Olympic committee donated to the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, a miniature replica of a statue in Tel Aviv that was dedicated to the 11 who died.

And mentions by Rogge and two of his predecessors--Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain and Avery Brundage of the United States--have offered the relatives little, if any, solace--because, even if well intended, such gestures are not what they want.

The Sept. 6, 1972, memorial, for instance, which Brundage presided over, was scheduled when only two of the 11 had been killed, and it served as the bridge to resumption of the Games. A 1996 Samaranch speech during the closing ceremony of the Atlanta Olympics joined a reference to the Israelis with mention of a woman killed when a bomb went off in Atlanta's Centennial Park.

Rogge's speech in Salt Lake was given to IOC delegates and invited guests only, and he paired it with a reference to security at the Games. On that diplomatically sensitive occasion, he did not use the words "Israel" or "Israelis," though he has explicitly and unhesitatingly done so in interviews and on other occasions.

He said that night, "The IOC has devoted particular attention to the security aspect since the tragic attack in Munich, in 1972, whose 30th anniversary we commemorate with emotion."

It is a measure of the potency of Arab political power within the IOC that two young Arab royals were made IOC members at the Salt Lake Games--Sheik Tamin Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani of Qatar and Prince Nawaf Fahd Abdul Azia of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi prince was born in 1978, the Qatari sheik in 1980. Sheik Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah of Kuwait, an IOC member since 1992, heads the influential Olympic Council of Asia; it is widely believed he played a significant behind-the-scenes role last year in helping secure Rogge's election as IOC president.

If the IOC were to allow a moment of silence for the Israelis alone, Ilana Romano asks rhetorically, "What will happen? The Arabs won't come to the Olympic Games?"

Romano's husband, Yoseph, a weightlifter, was the second of the 11 Israelis to die. "My husband was killed," she said. "He was killed, and he suffered, and it's not possible to close this story until someone takes responsibility and there is a minute of silence."

Both Romano and Ankie Spitzer, the widow of Israeli fencing coach Andre Spitzer, took the lead over the years in pursuing the reports they suspected that the Germans had produced in the aftermath.

For 20 years, they were stonewalled. Then, in 1992, after Spitzer had appeared on German TV, she received an anonymous package containing bits of German investigations into the kidnappings and murders--enough for her to bluff her way through a phone call with the German Foreign Ministry by quoting, for instance, from portions of a January 1973 ballistics report.

That call set in motion the release, in August 1992, of the documents--more than 3,800 files of information, including reams of testimony and 900 pathology pictures.

The emergence of the documents led to a lawsuit filed in a Bavarian court, the relatives of the 11 slain Israelis claiming negligence by the German authorities. After many years of legal sparring, primarily over whether the suit ought to be barred by a statute of limitations, the two sides reached an out-of-court settlement in April 2001, according to Pinchas Zeltzer, the Israeli attorney who has long handled the case.

The families are still waiting for the money, a total of about $3 million. A spokeswoman for the German interior ministry said in a statement Wednesday that "the last details of the distribution are presently being dealt with" and "the transfer of the amount should be processed during this week."

Zeltzer said, "As far as I understand, the people in Berlin," meaning federal authorities, "say, 'We don't have any problem, we can pay the money.' The people in Munich," local or state authorities, "are asking for some further formalities. I don't understand and I don't know."

Spitzer says she's inclined to reject her share of the settlement: "What, they're going to give me the money and I'm going to buy a dress?"

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