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An Olympic silence 40 years after Munich

THIS SUMMER marks the 40th anniversary of the darkest chapter in modern Olympic history. At the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by Palestinian terrorists. For decades, the families of the slain athletes have implored the International Olympic Committee to remember their loved ones with a public moment of silence, but the committee has always refused. The families’ request is eminently reasonable, and declining it dishonors the humanistic spirit of Olympic movement. When the London games open in July — the 10th Summer Games since Munich — committee President Jacques Rogge should declare a moment of silence.

So far, the IOC’s position has been that Rogge has previously attended memorial commemorations hosted by Israel’s Olympic committee, so there is no need for the international committee to pay tribute to the murdered athletes at the games themselves. But the Munich 11 weren’t killed at a private Israeli event. The terrorists invaded their dormitory in the Olympic Village, blindfolded and manacled them, and then killed them after a 20-hour standoff intently followed by a worldwide audience watching on television.


“These men were sons, fathers, uncles, brothers, friends, teammates, athletes,” writes Ankie Spitzer, whose husband — fencing coach Andre Spitzer — was among those killed. The massacre was not just a tragedy for Israel; it was an attack on the games and the ideal of global brotherhood they are supposed to represent. The murdered athletes, in fact, were natives of seven countries. Only three of the 11 had been born in Israel; the others came from Poland, Romania, Libya, the Soviet Union, and the United States. (The American was weightlifter David Berger, who grew up in Ohio and attended Tulane University.)

Suggestions that a moment of silence would somehow politicize the Olympics or alienate governments that are hostile to Israel are irrelevant. By definition, silence expresses no statement and takes no position. It would be simply a quiet act of solidarity with innocent victims of terrorism.