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MUNICH OLYMPICS: 30 YEARS LATER

BLACK September

Long before the Twin Towers fell, dream of security at Games toppled when Arabs murdered 11 Israelis

September 05, 2002|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Germans were ill-prepared and ill-equipped to do anything, however. For instance, no armed police officers patrolled the Olympic village and surroundings. Why? Because German authorities, eager not to evoke memories of the Nazi years with armed guards in dark uniforms, had stationed about 2,000 "security officers" in light-blue uniforms on patrol in Olympic Park, but none at the village. And these officers were "armed" with walkie-talkies, no guns.

Why didn't the Germans send a SWAT team to 31 Connollystrasse? Because they didn't have one. It wasn't until after the Games that the German authorities acknowledged the need for an on-call SWAT team. A late-afternoon plan to storm the compound came to an abrupt halt when police realized that people all over the world--including, most probably, the terrorists inside the Israeli units--were watching live TV shots of German police, lamely affecting a disguise as athletes in sweatsuits, moving into position on the roof of the building.

A Face in a Window

The 9 a.m. deadline was unrealistic, and even Issa had to know it. The first deadline was extended. New deadlines were posted, then passed, amid frantic negotiations.

It was during the siege of 31 Connollystrasse that ABC went live from the village, with Peter Jennings on the scene and Jim McKay anchoring coverage. ABC was feeding its coverage worldwide, and thus the world caught sight of the image that has since come to symbolize the day--a hooded terrorist moving along a balcony.

About 5 p.m., fencing coach Andre Spitzer was brought to the second-floor window. In his undershirt, arms behind his back, Spitzer spoke briefly to German officials standing below. Then one of the terrorists whacked him on the back of the head with a gun butt. A few moments later, he was hauled away.

In Holland, Spitzer's wife, Ankie, watched the episode on TV. Spitzer had just returned to Munich the night before. He had been in the Netherlands, where his wife's parents lived; he was visiting Ankie and their sick newborn daughter, Anouk. When he had reached Munich, Spitzer had called his wife from a pay phone.

"I have only 50 pfennings left," he had told her. "I have to talk fast." A few moments later, he said, "I have only 10 pfennings left." Then, in Dutch, "I love you." Ankie Spitzer recalls, "I didn't even say it back because the phone clicked," the connection dead.

A few minutes after Spitzer appeared at the window, Troger, the mayor of the Olympic village, and Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the German interior minister, were allowed into Unit 1. They saw nine living souls and one corpse, Romano's.

Troger has said many times since that the mood inside the room was "not very hopeful."

Photographs taken a few hours later make clear just how desperate the situation must have seemed to the Israelis. One of the photos, obtained by The Times, shows Yossi Romano's body, face-up, blood stains on the floor under him. His arms are limp above his head, hands near his ears. His torso is covered in a white tank top. He has no pants on. His blue underwear is torn in front; his groin is a bloodied mass.

Around him are markers of the sort typically used by police to locate shell casings or bullet holes. Eight are easily visible. In another photo, taken from a different angle, the number of shot markers--this in a small dormitory-style room--climbs to 15.

The photographic record strongly suggests that Yossi Romano was castrated. But such evidence is not definitive, and the truth may forever remain in dispute. In the book "One Day in September," which relies in part on interviews made for an Oscar-winning movie of the same name, Al-Gashey, the sole surviving terrorist, is quoted as saying that any suggestion Romano was tortured is a "complete lie."

Ilana Romano, Ankie Spitzer and a very few others who have seen the photos, however, are convinced that Yossi Romano was tortured. "I never forget, the terrorists said, 'We had a friendship in the room [with the hostages],' " Ilana Romano says. "Ask me what kind of friendship. And after this, some people have the nerve to call them 'freedom fighters.' "

After Genscher and Troger left the apartment, the plan to storm 31 Connollystrasse was put into play. Then, on live TV, aborted.

According to an English-language summary of legal documents filed years afterward in a Bavarian court, German officials said that the IOC, particularly Brundage, exerted intense pressure at that point to get the Israelis out of the village.

The minutes from the IOC's executive board meeting, which for years remained confidential, indicate the board's feeling: " ... the Games must continue at all costs." In fact, the Games had carried on for most of that day, Sept. 5, a postponement not imposed until 3:51 that afternoon--at which time IOC officials had known for hours that at least one Israeli, Weinberg, was dead. They had scheduled a memorial service for the next morning and anticipated resumption of events later in the day, Sept. 6.

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