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A Painful Visit On a recent trip to Munich, victims' relatives endured a cold welcome and wrenching emotions

Aug. 26, 2002
Aug. 26, 2002

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Aug. 26, 2002

A Painful Visit On a recent trip to Munich, victims' relatives endured a cold welcome and wrenching emotions

The 25 relatives of the Israeli victims hadn't planned much for
their visit to Munich two weeks ago. Widows, children and
grandchildren--most of whom had never set foot in the city--simply
wanted to bear witness, to lay wreaths and light candles at the
two sites where their loved ones perished. Instead the pilgrims
had their emotions whipped back and forth in unforeseen ways.

This is an article from the Aug. 26, 2002 issue Original Layout

On the Saturday afternoon of their arrival, in a hotel bar less
than two miles from the Olympic Stadium, which happened to be the
site of the European track and field championships, they watched
as Israeli pole vaulter Alex Averbukh won his country's first
ever European gold medal in the sport. As the medal ceremony
played out on TV, the entire group stood and sang the Israeli
national anthem. Several cried with joy.

But the next day, a freakishly cold, rainy and windswept Sunday,
brought reminders of the weltered history that still enmeshes
the parties touched by the events of 1972. Hundreds of
policemen, weapons drawn, chaperoned the group during its visit
to 31 Connollystrasse in what was once the Olympic Village.
Snipers lurked on rooftops and helicopters hovered overhead. A
team of police officers scaled the facade of an adjacent
apartment block to cover with a blanket two Palestinian flags
and a poster with Arabic script that hung in a window. The irony
wasn't lost on Ilana Romano, widow of Yossef Romano, the
weightlifter who had been killed early in the siege at the
Village. "If these security officers had been there 30 years
ago," she said, "we wouldn't be here today."

At the airfield in Furstenfeldbruck, site of the botched rescue
attempt, the Israelis' bus pulled out on the tarmac near the
spots where the helicopters carrying the hostages had landed. A
German air force officer addressed the families, but he had been
a college student in 1972 and insisted that no one from 30 years
ago could be found to meet with the group. "I was so glad it was
raining," said Ankie Spitzer, widow of fencing coach Andre
Spitzer, who died at the airfield. "It kept me from falling to my
knees."

German authorities had tried to dissuade the families from
making the trip to Munich. Spitzer received word that officials
couldn't guarantee her safety." (To this, Spitzer says acidly,
her reaction was "No s---.") But she remains much more appalled
that the Germans still haven't released ballistics and pathology
reports that would answer the question of whether Palestinian or
German weapons killed her husband and eight of his teammates in
the airport shootout. Based on documents she has seen, Spitzer
believes that at least one hostage, track coach Amitzur Shapira,
was killed by German gunfire. "Absolutely, there are more
records," she says.

"I've been begging the German government to take in these people
[mastermind Abu Daoud and others involved in the attack] and put
them on trial so we can put all this behind us. But until they're
ready to do that, there'll be no end to this pain."

Germany has issued an international warrant for the arrest of Abu
Daoud, and a financial settlement between the Germans and the
families was reached in 2001. Without a trial more German records
aren't likely to become public--and as long as information remains
under wraps, Abu Daoud's claim that German bullets killed the
hostages at the airfield will go unrefuted. As Abu Daoud tells
SI, "If the Germans wanted to pursue me, they would have to tell
the world too many secrets."

In their shared anger at the German response that night and
since, Abu Daoud sees Spitzer as a potential ally. He has
extended an invitation to her to meet. Spitzer replied that the
only place she wants to meet Abu Daoud is a courtroom. "I want
justice," she says. "Thirty years later not one person has ever
sat in court for the murder of 11 innocent sportsmen on
international television. That should bother someone other than
us." --Don Yaeger

B/W PHOTO: NORBERT SCHMIDT Ankie Spitzer (right) and her daughter took in the Furstenfeldbruck monument.