In the early morning hours of September 5, 1972, members of Black September broke into the Israeli quarters of the Olympic Village. After seizing the coaches in the first apartment and wounding wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg in the face, the hostage takers forced Weinberg to lead them to other potential hostages in another apartment. There, they seized six wrestlers and weightlifters. As the athletes were being led back to the coaches’ apartment, Weinberg attacked the hostage takers, which allowed wrestler Gad Tsobari to escape but resulted in Weinberg’s death by gunfire. Once inside the apartment, Yossef Romano, a weightlifter, attacked the intruders, slashing Afif Ahmed Hamid in the face with a paring knife and grabbing his AK-47 away from him before being shot to death. Romano’s bloodied corpse was left at the feet of his teammates all day as a warning. The other nine Israeli athletes were killed during a bungled German rescue attempt later that night.
The Olympic organizers put the massacre behind them very quickly, as if it happened on a different planet; after a memorial service that was held for the athletes at the main Olympic stadium, International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage ordered that the games continue, using the excuse that the show must go on, to show that the terrorists hadn’t won.
However, despite the organizers efforts to distance themselves, and the Munich Olympics, from any responsibility to what had happened under their watch, the Munich Olympic games will be always remembered for this massacre. It changed the way major sport events are conducted ever since. Preparations for a modern Olympic event, includes a security force which engages thousands of policemen, military personnel, and security experts, and cost millions of dollars. None of this was available in the Munich Olympic games.
In retaliation to the attack and the lack of adequate response by the international community, Golda Meir, the prime minister of Israel at the time, ordered the Mossad to execute the people responsible for the massacre. Mike Harrari, the head of the Mossad’s special operations division, Caesarea, was assigned to lead this mission. It took more than 20 years, but when it was over, the people who were involved in the planning of the massacre paid for that with their life.
The message Golda sent was clear; there will be a heavy price to pay for attacks on Israeli citizens. This message was heard loud and clear by terrorist organizations and by the rest of the world. Israeli athletes continue to participate in international competitions including the Olympic games without fear. In 2004 the Israeli Gal Fridman won the first (and only so far) gold medal for Israel. In total Israel won 7 Olympic medals; a sliver and bronze medals in the 1992 games in Barcelona, a bronze medal in 1996 in Atlanta, abronze medal in 2000 in Sidney, gold and bronze medals in 2004 in Athene, and a bronze medal in 2008 in Beijing.
Mike Harari, the Mossad commander, who was in-charge of the revenge operation died on September 21, 2014, in his house in Israel, at the age of 87. This article is dedicated to his memory and to the memory of the 11 Israeli athletes, who were murdered in the Munich Olympic games in 1972. One of them, Ze’ev Friedman, was my gym teacher.
Harari, born in Tel Aviv in 1927, joined the Mossad in 1954, but he began fighting for Israel when he enlisted at 16-and-a-half in the pre-state Palmach elite fighting force. He later worked for the illegal immigration organization Mossad Le’aliyah Bet in Europe after World War II, joined the Shin Bet security service, founded the Foreign Ministry’s security and protection service, and smuggled Jews out of Eastern European countries. In 1970 he was appointed head of the Mossad’s special operations division, Caesarea, and established within it the Kidon (Spear) unit that among other things specialized in targeted assassinations. He led the fight against Palestinian terrorist organizations for a decade.
Harari commanded Operation Wrath of God against the Black September terrorist group, which was behind the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. He was responsible for collecting the intelligence leading to the Aviv Ne’urim (Spring of Youth ) operation in Beirut in 1973, in which three senior Fatah leaders were killed; and commanded the operation in which Hassan Ali Salameh, a senior member of the Black September organization, was killed in 1979.
In July 1973, a team from the Mossad’s Kidon unit killed Ahmed Bouchiki, an innocent Moroccan waiter, in Lillehammer, Norway after mistaking him for the real target: Salameh. Several Mossad agents were caught and served time in jail, but Harari and then-Mossad chief Zvi Zamir, who supervised the operation on the ground, managed to get out of Norway. Harari submitted his resignation after the failed operation, but it was denied.
Most of the operations Harari commanded in the decade from 1970 to 1980 are still secret. In 1981 he retired from the Mossad and went into private business. He served as Panama’s honorary consul in Israel and as an adviser to Panama’s former president, Manuel Noriega, who was ousted and arrested in 1989 after the United States’ invasion that year. In 2007 Harari received a medal for a secret project he undertook for the Mossad during Meir Dagan’s time, purportedly related to the Iranian nuclear weapons project.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Harari belonged to that “rare breed of builders of the state.” Ya’alon wrote that “most of Mike Harari’s actions for the security of the State of Israel as a fighter and a commander in the Mossad are unknown and will never be known. [Haaretz Spetember 22, 2014]
Ze’ev Friedman was born in Poland in 1944. In 1960, he moved from Poland to Israel with his family, Holocaust survivors. He began his sports career as a gymnast, but later switched to weightlifting. He was a member of Hapoel Kiryat Haim sports club. He was seven times Israel’s weight lifting champion in his weight group. In 1969 in the world championship in Warsaw, he was placed 7th. In 1972, Ze’ev Friedman competed at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany as a weightlifter. He placed 12th, after breaking 3 Israeli records and matching one. It was one of the best achievements of any Israeli athlete at the time. He was 28 years when he died.
Was a wrestler and a weightlifting coach and judge.He was born in Poland and immigrated to Israel in 1956 after a successful career as wrestler and weight lifter. He was a gym teacher and the coach of the Israeli weight lifting team. He came to the Munich Olympic games as an official judge. He was 51 years old when he died.
David Mark Berger
Berger was an American-born Israeli weightlifter for the Israeli Olympic team in 1972. He was a lawyer by education. David was born in Cleveland, Ohio to wealthy parents. A noted student-athlete. He attended Tulane University from 1962 to 1966 where he was an honor student and a weightlifter. While a junior at Tulane, he won the NCAA weightlifting title in the 148-pound class. Berger earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Tulane in 1966. He earned a master’s degree in business administration and a doctor of laws degree from Columbia University (both in 1969). In addition to working toward his degrees, Berger was able to devote time to weightlifting, competing as a light-heavyweight. After competing in the 1969 Maccabiah Games, where he won a gold medal in the middleweight weight-lifting contest, Berger emigrated to Israel, intending to open a law office inTel Aviv after completing his compulsory military service. He met and became engaged to an Israeli student. Continuing his weightlifting competitions, he won a silver medal at the1971 Asian Weightlifting Championships, and made the 1972 Israeli Olympic team. In late August of that year, Berger flew to Munich with his teammates. On September 2, 1972, Berger competed, but was eliminated in an early round. He was 28 years old when he died.
Kehat Shorr was born in Romania. There, he devoted himself to marksmanship and became an expert marksman. He moved to Israel in 1963 and lived in Tel Aviv with his wife and daughter. He joined the “Hapoel” team and quickly became its coach, training many young Israeli marksmen. He trained the national team for the Twentieth Olympics Games in Munich. He was 53 years old when he died.
Israeli hostages Kehat Shorr (left) and Andre Spitzer (right) talk to German officials during the hostage crisis.
Spitzer was born in Romania. After his father died in 1956 when he was 11, Andre and his mother made aliyah to Israel. He served in the Israeli Air Force and attended Israel’s National Sport Academy, where he studied fencing. In 1968, he was sent to the Netherlands for further instruction in fencing for further training in The Hague. He was offered a position, but returned to Israel. He became the country’s top fencing instructor. He helped found the National Fencing Academy, and became chief fencing instructor at the Wingate Institute. He was 27 when he died.
Eliezer Halfin was a mechanic by profession and was born in Riga, USSR. He was placed 4th in the USSR junior championship. He came to Israel in 1969 and officially became a citizen 7 months prior to his death. Eliezer was a lightweight wrestler. He was a member of Hapoel Tel Aviv club. In 1971 he won 12th place in the world championships in Bulgaria. During 1971 he placed third place in the international competition in Bucharest, Romania. In 1972 in Greece he placed 2nd. Participating in the 20th Olympic Games was the highlight of his career and his dream. He was 24 years old when he died.
Yosef Gutfreund attended medical school in Romania, planning to become a veterinarian, but later took up wrestling. After immigrating to Israel, he joined the Hapoel Yerushalim club. He completed an international referees course and became successful referee. He was a referee in the 1968 Olympic games in Tokyo, and in the world championships in India and Bulgaria. He was invired to Munich as a wrestling referee. He was 40 years old when he died.
Amitzur Shapira was born in Israel and was a resident in Herzliya. He was one of Israel’s top short distance runners in the 1950s. In 1952 he was certified as a sport teacher. For many years, he served as a teacher and educator at the Wingate Institute. He was the coach of Ester Shachamorov. He traveled to the Munich Olympic games as the head coach for the Israeli track and field team. (Esther Shachamarov withdrew from the 1972 Olympics when she heard the news that her coach had been murdered. In 1976, she became the first Israeli to reach an Olympic final). Amitzur was 40 years old when he died.
Moshe Weinberg was the coach of the Israeli international wrestling team as well as being the coach of Hapoel Tel Aviv. He was the Israeli junior champion in wrestling and also the adult champion for a period of 8 years. He began his career in Hapoel Haifa, later becoming a certified coach at Wingate Institute. In his capacity as national wrestling coach, he was sent to the 1972 Summer Olympics at Munich. He was 33 years old when he died.
Yossef Romano was a Libyan-born Israeli weightlifter. He was the Israeli weight-lifting champion in the light and middle-weight divisions for nine years. Born in Benghazi, Libya, Romano and his family made aliyah to Palestine (later Israel) in 1946. He was an interior decorator by profession. Romano fought in the 1967 Six-Day War. Romano competed in the middleweight weightlifting division in the 1972 Olympics, but was unable to complete one of his lifts due to a ruptured knee tendon. He was due to fly home to Israel on September 6, 1972 to have an operation on the injured knee. Romano attacked the intruders, slashing Afif Ahmed Hamid in the face with a paring knife and grabbing his AK-47 away from him before being shot to death. Romano’s bloodied corpse was left at the feet of his teammates all day as a warning. He was 32 when he died
After the murder of her son, Romano’s mother committed suicide. Several years later his brother did as well. Romano was portrayed by actor Sam Feuer in the 2005 film, Munich, which was directed by Steven Spielberg. After viewing the movie, Ilana Romano, Yossef’s widow, said “We don’t have a problem with it; the opposite, we are glad that people are being reminded of what happened in Munich so it will never happen again”. Ilana Romano fought unsuccessfully for a moment of silence to be held at the 2012 Summer Olympics in memory of the Israeli athletes murdered forty years prior.
Mark Slavin was an Israeli Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler . Slavin was born in Minsk, USSR, and had taken up wrestling as a youth to defend himself against anti-Semitic attacks. Slavin soon became noted as a talented wrestler, and won the Soviet Greco-Roman wrestling middleweight junior championship in 1971. Slavin had moved to Israel just four months before the Olympic games.He joined Hapoel Tel Aviv and the Israeli Olympic Team. The 1972 Olympics was due to be his first international competition for Israel. Slavin had been considered Israel’s most likely medal winner at the Munich games. He was the youngest Israeli Olympian competing at the games. Slavin had been due to make his Olympic debut on the day of his capture. He was 18 years old when he died.
Yael Arad with Israel’s first ever Olympic medal (silver) she won in Judo in Barcelona in 1992.
Gal Freidman with Israel’s first Olympic gold medal he won in windsurfing in 2004 in Athene.
Israel’s Olympic team at the opening ceremony in Munich 1972
The Munich Massacre Memorial in Tel Aviv