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45 years later, murdered Israeli Olympians get a memorial

By Toby Axelrod

(JTA) – Forty-five years after the murderous PLO attack on Israeli Olympic team members at the 1972 games, a memorial dedicated to the victims, has opened in Munich. The memorial – largely realized through the persistent efforts of family members – features the biographies of the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches and a German police officer killed in the attack on panels with texts in German, Hebrew and English.

“We wanted to give the victims their identity back in the eyes of the public,” Bavarian Minister of Culture Ludwig Spaenle told the media on Monday during a preview of the site, which is cut into a hillside in the former Olympic park.

In his remarks at the opening ceremony, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin addressed those victims.

“[W]e march together with your children, your grandchildren, your relatives and your fellow Olympic delegation, all those who haven’t forgotten you for a moment,” Rivlin said, adding that he hoped a moment of silence would be introduced at future Olympic Games in their memory.

Rivlin also called out Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party for glorifying terrorism.

“There are still those who see in the murder of sportsmen a heroic deed,” he said. “Just last year Fatah marked the massacre of the sportsmen as an ‘act of heroism.’”

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the monument is a place of remembrance and healing.

“Only when Jews in Germany feel safe here, feel at home, only then has Germany become whole,” Steinmeier said. “Becoming German means to be aware of this history, to understand this history and to accept this history.

Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach were among those attending the ceremony. The high-level delegation planned to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial site later in the week.

The memorial cost 2.35 million euros, or about $2.8 million. The funding came primarily from the State of Bavaria, the German federal government, the City of Munich and the International Olympic Committee. Until now, the main memorials have been a sculpture and plaque.

The memorial was designed by a team under the auspices of the Bavarian Ministry of Culture in consultation with family members of victims, the consul general of Israel, experts from the concentration camp memorial at Flossenburg, the Jewish Museum in Munich and the Bavarian State Ministry for Political Education. An additional as yet incomplete element of the memorial will include a “school of democracy” to be located in the tower at the Fürstenfeldbruck airport, site of the botched rescue attempt.

Ankie Spitzer, who was 26 years old when she lost her husband, the coach and fencing master Andre Spitzer, in the attack, told Deutschlandfunk radio that she could not deal with the fact that her loving husband had been brutally murdered and “no one regretted it.”

“It took 45 years, but I don’t regret the long and lonely journey that brought us to this day,” she said. “This is what I wanted.”

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