Munich memorial marks 1972 Olympic Games attack on Israeli team

MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - Victims of the attack on the Israeli team at the 1972 Olympic Games were remembered by Germany and Israel on Wednesday with a memorial, following a long campaign by their relatives.

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German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin attended the inauguration of the “Munich 1972 massacre memorial” at Munich’s Olympic Park, 45 years after the attack by Palestinian gunmen.

“Relatives of the victims and the state of Israel waited almost half a century for this moment,” Rivlin said. “45 years have passed for an official Israeli delegation to return to this place. The Munich Olympics became the blood Olympics.”

Members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage on Sept. 5, 1972, at the poorly secured athletes village by Palestinians from the Black September group.

Eleven Israelis, a German policeman as well as five of the Palestinian gunmen died after a stand-off at the village and then a nearby airfield, as police rescue efforts failed.

The memorial offers some comfort for relatives who have also long demanded a minute’s silence at the Opening Ceremonies of Olympics Games, only to be consistently turned down by the IOC.

Steinmeier said it had taken too long for the memorial to be built.

“It is high time and we owe it firstly to you, the relatives,” Steinmeier said. “The Olympic village became a place of Palestinian terrorists, a stage for their boundless hatred for Israel. It should never have happened.”

Ankie Spitzer, whose fencing coach husband, Andre, was one of the victims, and Ilana Romano, wife of weightlifter Joseph Romano, have waged a decades-long campaign to get a commemoration at the Games’ opening ceremony.

“We wanted this memorial. In the years after we heard voices that us Israelis brought war to Germany and the terrorists were hailed as freedom fighters,” Romano said.

“That hurt so much but we did not give up. We knew our way was the right one ... for the future of our children and the next generations,” she added.

The IOC, whose president Thomas Bach was also present, has said opening ceremonies are not the appropriate platform and has instead made other gestures to remember the victims.

At last year’s Rio de Janeiro Games the IOC inaugurated “the Place of Mourning”, a small park which will be a feature at every Olympics.

Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Alison Williams