Germany and Israel mark 50th anniversary of Munich Olympics massacre

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Grieving relatives have hit a wall in their dealings with Germany and the IOC, Herzog says

INA FASSBENDER

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The German and Israeli presidents will lead commemorations marking 50 years since the Munich Olympics bombing on Monday, hoping a long-awaited compensation deal for bereaved families will finally help them begin to heal from the episode. sore.

A row over Berlin’s earlier financial offer to relatives of the victims had threatened to spoil the ceremony, with family members planning a boycott.

But an agreement was finally reached on Wednesday for Berlin to provide 28 million euros ($28 million) in compensation. It also sees – for the first time – the German state acknowledging its “responsibility” for the failures that led to the death of 11 Israelis.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier admitted on Sunday he was “shameful” that it took Berlin so long to reach an agreement with the families of the victims.

“For too long, we have refused to acknowledge the pain of those bereaved,” Steinmeier said at a state banquet for his Israeli counterpart Isaac Herzog.

“And for far too long we have been unwilling to acknowledge that we also bear our share of the responsibility. It was up to us to ensure the safety of Israeli athletes,” he said.

Ahead of Monday’s ceremony at Fuerstenfeldbruck airbase where the hostage crisis reached its tragic climax, German anti-Semitism official Felix Klein said it was “time to present apologies”.

“And I think the president will find the right words when commemorating on Monday,” he told the Funke News Group.

On September 5, 1972, eight gunmen from the Palestinian militant group Black September broke into the Israeli team‘s apartment in the Olympic Village, shooting two dead and taking nine Israelis hostage.

West German police responded with a failed rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, along with five of the eight hostage takers and a police officer.

The Games were meant to showcase a new Germany 27 years after the Holocaust, but instead opened a deep rift with Israel.

In 2012, Israel released 45 official documents about the killings, including specially declassified documents, which castigated the performance of the German security services.

Included in the reports is an official account by former Israeli intelligence chief Zvi Zamir who said German police “did not even make a minimal effort to save human lives”.

The bereaved relatives have fought over the years for an official apology from Germany, access to official documents and proper compensation beyond an initial €4.5 million.

Just two weeks ago, relatives of the victims said they had been offered 10 million euros, including the sum already paid.

Ankie Spitzer, whose husband Andre Spitzer was killed in the hostage crisis, had called the earlier offer “insulting”.

“I came back with the coffins after the massacre,” she told AFP. “You don’t know what we’ve been through for the past 50 years.”

Herzog highlighted the pain felt by grieving relatives, saying they “just hit a wall” every time they tried to raise the issue with Germany or even the International Olympic Committee.

“I think there was a tragic repression here,” he said, noting the litany of “inhumane and incomprehensible” failings like “the hostages being led to slaughter and the Games continuing.”

After an initial suspension, then-IOC President Avery Brundage said “the Games must go on”.

Herzog expressed hope that the deal would bring “this painful episode to a place of healing.”

“I hope that from now on we will continue to remember, invoke and above all reaffirm the lessons of this tragedy, including the importance of combating terrorism, for future generations,” the Israeli president said. .


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