As Charles Krauthammer put it in his Washington Post article 'Munich,' the Travesty the first and the last thing which is to be said about Spielberg’s Munich:
Spielberg makes the Holocaust the engine of Zionism and its justification. Which, of course, is the Palestinian narrative. Indeed, it is the classic narrative for anti-Zionists, most recently the president of Iran, who says that Israel should be wiped off the map. And why not? If Israel is nothing more than Europe's guilt trip for the Holocaust, then why should Muslims have to suffer a Jewish state in their midst?Amen!
It takes a Hollywood ignoramus to give flesh to the argument of a radical anti-Semitic Iranian.
The raving international reviews were, after all, only to be expected and "specifically we as Germans" are always glad if the Jews are shown in a less-than-shining light. Doesn't every crime they commit, really or imagined, reduce a wee bit our own guilt about the Holocaust? Only yesterday I enjoyed one of my favourite metaphorical fishwraps, namely the public radio station WDR2, and almost choked on the praise of Munich. "The good are bad as well and the bad are good too" gushed the commentator and, believe it or not, the stupid cow thought that was A COMPLIMENT!
So forgotten is the legendary German foolishness, ineptitude and – yes – double dealing in handling the crisis. Forgotten is the heroism of the hostages who tried to fend off their murderers with their bodies, bare fists and a kitchen knife. What remains is the not-so-vague impression that the terrorists had, after all, a cause.
And at the end of the day, the good are bad as well and the bad are good too!
So what did REALLY happen in September 1972 – in REAL Munich?
For decades, Germany had walled off any questioning into the Munich massacre. In the Nineties, when Ankie Spitzer, Dutch wife of murdered fencing coach André Spitzer, received an anonymous parcel that hold documents, reports and files, silence couldn’t be kept any longer. In the meantime, authorities and other researchers have dug into the matter and although the complete truth will remain unknown forever, there is enough knowledge in the open by now to give a fair account of what happened.
When preparing the security layout for the Olympic Games, Polizeipräsident Manfred Schreiber ordered the drawing-up of a catalogue of possible disturbances and disruptions. One of the points in the report was Scenario 21, which predicted fairly exactly what finally happened. At that time, however, the scenario was thought unrealistic and discarded. When Dr. Georg Sieber, the police psychologist who wrote the scenario, persisted, his employment contract was discontinued.
Just weeks before the Games, Interpol issued a warning that Palestinian militants were gathering in Europe, and German federal intelligence informed Munich police of Palestinian plans to do "something" at the Games. Polizeipräsident Schreiber was notified but did nothing to protect the dangerously exposed Israeli competitors.
On September 4, 1972, the Israeli team had had a night out, watching a performance of Fiddler on the Roof. At 04:30h on September 5, eight members of the Palestinian terrorist gang Black September, clad in tracksuits and carrying their weapons in holdalls to fool the guards, climbed over the two-metre chain-link fence round the Olympic Village with the help of some unsuspecting American athletes who had botched the curfew and were, too, sneaking into the village. The terrorists had stolen keys to get into the two apartments at Connollystraße 31 where the Israeli team stayed.
Israeli wrestling referee Yossef Gutfreund heard a noise at the door of the first apartment and saw the door opening. He shouted "Hevre tistalku!" (Hebrew חברה תיסתלקו — Guys, get out of here!) and threw his nearly 135 kg weight against the door to try to block the entrance for the murderers for some decisive seconds, allowing his roommate, weightlifting coach Tuvia Sokolovsky, to break a rear window and flee to safety. Wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg, age 33, was shot and killed when he tried to attack one of the kidnappers with a fruit knife. Weightlifter Yossef Romano, 31 of age, a father of three and a veteran of the Six Day War, was walking on crutches because of a recent injury, but threw them away and tried to grab a weapon from one of the terrorists before being brought down by a torrent of fire from automatic guns.
The terrorists rolled Weinberg's dead body into the street as a sign that they meant business.
At 05:08h, two sheets of paper flew down from the balcony of the besieged Israeli quarters. A communiqué listed the names of 234 prisoners held in Israeli jails, and those of German terrorists Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof. If they weren't released by 09:00h, one hostage each hour would be "executed".
But, to quote Simon Reeve [see endnotes], the callousness of the terrorist murderers palled "before the epic ineptitude of the German authorities".
The Germans assembled a crisis team that included Munich Polizeipräsident Schreiber and federal interior minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. Conscious of the Nazi past and to emphasize at any (but ANY!) cost that Germany wouldn’t throw around any "centralist" weight, the team also included Genscher's Bavarian opposite number, Bruno Merk.
In the meantime it had became clear, that Israel wouldn’t give in to any of the terrorists’ demands. The Germans, however, desperate for time, fed the terrorists excuses, some members of the Israeli cabinet couldn't allegedly be reached, not all the prisoners could be located, phone lines to Israel had broken down.
The terrorists knew all along that the Israelis would not give in to their demands, but extended their deadline to noon. Their spokesman emerged from the building from time to time to talk to German officials, usually with a noticeable grenade in his shirt pocket, its pin sometimes pulled.
The crisis team grappled for a strategy. First, Schreiber offered the terrorists an unlimited amount of money. Then Genscher pleaded "not to subject Jews once more to death on German soil", then offered himself as a substitute hostage. Other prominent Germans, Munich’s mayor Hans-Jochen Vogel, Schreiber, Merk and Walther Tröger, the ceremonial mayor of the Olympic Village, followed suit in that offer, predictably to no avail.
The terrorists postponed their deadline twice more, to 15:00h, then to 17:00h, fully aware that every delay would only increase their worldwide TV audience.
The legendary Israeli commando unit Sayeret Matkal offered to perform a rescue operation of their own. According to the unit’s then commander Ehud Barak they were not wanted because the Germans wouldn’t allow a foreign force to stage such an operation on German soil.
Devoid of an elite combat unit, the German authorities put together a hapless crew of police volunteers, oh-so-sneakily clad in Adidas tracksuits and WWII-era steel helmets and carrying submachine guns, and put them in a position to raid the Israelis' quarters. Then the raid was abandoned at the last moment. Only then did the policemen realise that the terrorists had been watching them all the time on television, because the entire manoeuvre was being broadcast live into the world's TV-networks.
In the end, German authorities conceded to the Palestinians' demand for a flight to Cairo with the ultimate motive to lay a trap at the airport. Instead of the civilian International Airport Riem, the terrorists and their surviving hostages were, unbeknownst to the terrorists, brought to the military air base Fürstenfeldbruck by helicopter.
The helicopter pilots darted around to provide the time to organize the trap and permit a third helicopter, carrying Schreiber, Genscher and Merk, to arrive at the airfield first.
Reporter Yarin Kimor in his documentary [see endnotes] tells the story of 17 or 18 German soldiers, ineffectively disguised as Lufthansa staff on the plane, that was waiting for the terrorists in Fürstenfeldbruck airfield. These soldiers deserted their posts 15 minutes before the terrorists and their hostages were due to reach the airfield by helicopter. Nobody was notified of their desertion. In Kimor’s documentary the commanding officer Reinhold Reich gave the reasons for the desertion: as:
1) The soldiers had nowhere to hide.
2) Fear of gunfire from outside of the plane.
3) The gasoline containers of the plane may have caught fire.
4) The disguise was imperfect and might have led to
. . .their discovery.
The soldiers held a vote. It was unanimous. German law allowed for them to refuse participating in an operation that could endanger their life. After it was all over, the soldiers were not reproached in any way.
Where is the BLITZKRIEG mentality, when we need it?
An alternative plan, an attack with armored personnel carriers, had to be aborted because six such carriers ordered to the scene had gotten stuck in the traffic pouring into Fürstenfeldbruck: bystanders out for a thrill. One carrier had mistakenly been sent to Riem on the other side of the city, so had hosts of police. The driver of one police car happened to hear the correct destination on the radio, slammed on the brakes and thus caused a minor accident and a huge traffic jam, which hold up things even further.
All this left five police snipers to deal with eight heavily armed terrorists.
"Lousy thing to happen at the last minute," Schreiber told his deputy Wolf when he found him. "What lousy thing?" asked Wolf. "That there are eight of them." Wolf: "What? You don't mean there are eight Arabs?" Schreiber: "You mean you're just finding that out from me?"
Wolf was indeed. For reasons unknown, he had assumed that there were only five terrorists. No one had told him that three postmen going to work that morning had seen the terrorists climbing the fence of the Olympic Village and had already provided the police with their guess as to the number of men involved: seven at least, twelve at most. A policeman, too, had counted eight terrorists boarding the bus that brought them to the helicopters. None of the information had reached the top.
The snipers had no walkie-talkies, no bulletproof vests or helmets, inadequate rifles and no high-end telescopic sights, let alone infra-red devices. Police marksmanship was abysmal. "I am of the opinion that I am not a sharp shooter", admitted one of them later. In fact, the "snipers" were chosen on the strength of the fact that they practised shooting at weekends as a sport.
Several nights later a reconstruction effort was made by members of a team from the Bavarian prosecutor's office. They positioned themselves exactly where the five hapless police gunmen had been positioned. With night-vision goggles, they were able to distinguish figures within the helicopters.
In a negligence suit, the families of the victims claimed that saving the hostages became secondary to Avery Brundage's want to remove the crisis from the Olympic Village and the Games. Ulrich Wegener, a lieutenant colonel in the Bundeswehr who served as Genscher's aide-de-camp that day and went on to lead the GSG-9, the command unit the West German government formed within two weeks of the Munich massacre, implied as much. "The Village," he said, "was like a church, a cathedral." It was almost as if the prevailing mood had been that as there's no way to save the hostages, let's at least save the Games.
Just before midnight, the armored personnel carriers finally arrived to charge at the helicopters. Only then the hostages were killed. One of the terrorists shot at the four hostages inside one helicopter, killing Springer, Halfin and Friedman and wounding Berger. Then he jumped to the ground and flung a grenade back into the cockpit before being shot dead. Police killed the spokesman of the terrorists and a second one. A third one killed the remaining five hostages, Gutfreund, Schorr, Slavin, Spitzer and Shapira. In the investigation that followed, however, German authorities admitted that some of the gunfire that hit the hostages may have come from the German police, shooting at the terrorists.
But the incredible, legendary, monumental, lethal ineptitude didn’t end here. Weightlifter David Berger would be the last hostage to die – at least one hour after the abortive rescue attempt. According to the coroner’s report, he was only hit by two nonlethal bullets in his lower extremities, but died of smoke inhalation. Why? Because no one had thought of calling the fire department.
In the end, all hostages, five of the terrorists and Anton Fliegerbauer, a Bavarian policeman, were dead.
As if that had not been enough, at 23:00h, Conrad Ahlers, spokesman for the German federal government, told reporters that all the hostages had been freed. The newsservices sent this misinformation around the world and Israeli newspapers hit the streets repeating it in banner headlines. Only on the morning of the 6th the truth became known.
Yarin Kimor’s documentary [see endnotes] deals with the aftermath of the Munich massacre as well. Just 54 days after the bloodbath at Fürstenfeldbruck, terrorists hijacked a Lufthansa plane and demanded the release of the three terrorists who had survived the "rescue operation" and were in prison in Germany. The Germans didn’t mingle words much. All previous lip service about not giving in to terrorism was forgotten. The terrorists were released pronto. At the time, rumors that the Lufthansa hijacking was staged were regarded as preposterous. But Ulrich Wegener, then commander of the newly formed Combat Unit GSG-9, stated that the rumors could very well be true. This was supported by the commander and co-planner of the Munich massacre, Abu Daoud, who wrote years later that the Germans had offered them 9 million dollars to stage the hijacking in order to free the terrorists, and, of course, rid the Germans of a responsibility they were not willing to bear.
Bavarian Interior Minister Bruno Merk lumbered the Israeli security staff head-on with the blame. Dr. Georg Wolf, deputy chief of the Munich police, went even further. He blamed the Israelis for refusing to cower to the terrorists’ demands. Wolf: "Those responsible were those conducting the wars between Israel and Palestine, the Palestinians, I mean the Arabs." The interviewer is then heard saying: "As a host you are responsible for your guests." Wolf: "Yes, but as a host I expect my guests not to start a war in my home." Interviewer: "The Israelis did not start the war." Wolf: "That does not matter."
So far Kimor’s report.
Eight years and two Olympic Games later, 1980 in Moscow, Yassir Arafat was seen sitting in the VIP box next to Brezhnev during the opening ceremony.
So, my German compatriots, if you feel the urge to suck up to your pet savages again, and even if Spielberg has generously provided you with this great forward pass, in this case, just in THIS ONE SINGLE CASE, please have the decency and common sense to shut up.
Although I don't think you will.
A suggestion for the topic of Spielberg's next film anyone? Munich II, an epic about the heroic German efforts to save the Israeli hostages. And about as authentic as Munich the Original.
I based some of my writing about what happened in Munich on an entry in Imshin’s Not a Fish (provincially speaking) blog.
Imshin took the trouble to translate a documentary about the Munich Massacre by the reporter Yarin Kimor, which appeared on Israeli TV channel One, into writing and into English. I have left out the items from the Kimor documentary, or rather Imshin’s notes, that are disputed or not sufficiently backed by facts, or the German authorities would have looked even worse.
However, a big "Thank You" to Imshin. Click HERE to go to the homepage of the new Not a Fish (provincially speaking) blog.
The other main sources were Sydney ecstatic . . . except for Munich reminder by Simon Reeve and When The Terror Began by Alexander Wolff from the Time Europe Magazine.
Of course, there are countless other sources, though it wasn’t easy to dig out some decent information about the Munich massacre because Google is all clogged up and cluttered with "Munich - The Film".
Which is, of course, a symptom in itself.