Jewish Heritage Europe

Munich’s powerful (& innovative) new memorial to the 1972 Olympics massacre

The memorial to the 11 Israeli athletes & coaches, and a German police officer, killed in a terrorist attack at the Olympics in 1972

 

On JHE we don’t usually post about commemorative memorials per se, but we thought we would take a little time to describe the powerful, and innovative, new memorial in Munich that was dedicated in September, marking the 45th anniversary of the Palestinian terrorist attack at the Munich summer Olympics that left 11 Israeli athletes and coaches, and one German police officer, dead. (Five of the eight terrorists also were killed.)

Situated in the Olympics park within sight of the Olympics village where in the early hours of September 5, 1972  Black September terrorists stormed the apartment of the Israeli athletes — as well as within sight of the venues for the Games — the Munich 1972 Massacre Memorial uses location, narrative, personal stories, and new technology to both commemorate the victims and present a detailed description of the event, exploring its impact and bringing it into sharp focus for visitors. 

Munich Jewish Museum Director Bernhard Purin at the Munich massacre memorial

“Memory needs a place,” stressed JHE friend Berhnard Purin, the director of the Munich Jewish Museum, who was part of the team that designed the memorial and who accompanied JHE Coordinator Ruth Ellen Gruber on a recent visit to the site. The design team also included experts from the concentration camp memorial at Flossenburg and the Bavarian State Ministry for Political Education

The memorial is sited in a sort of open cave cut into one of the artificial hills that make up the Olympic Park. It thus evokes an open wound, or, as an introductory plaque at the memorial states, “manifests the deep scar the 1972 incident left behind on Germany and Israel.”

Stephan Graebner, of the architectural firm Brückner & Brückner that designed the memorial was quoted in the media as saying, “Our design idea was to cut into the hill, to take something away from the landscape. When you think about the massacre, it took something away, cutting into the lives of the victims, the families, the Olympic Games. We wanted to fill this void with memory.”

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin attended the inauguration of the memorial, which was constructed after decades of campaigning by family members.

 

 

Family members, Purin said, cooperated closely in the project, contributing family photographs of the victims as well as personal objects — they were asked to provide one item that summed up or evoked their loved one’s Olympics experience before the attack. These range from a special Olympics kippah, to a postcard sent home before the attack, to a stuffed dog, the Olympic mascot, that slain Olympic fencing coach Andre Spitzer had obtained for his daughter. It still has bloodstains on it.

The photos and biographies of the victims as well as photos of the items are displayed on a central wall-like triangular panel.

Against the inner wall of the memorial, a state-of-the-art LED screen around 11 meters long shows a continuous, 27-minute film loop that presents a collage of news footage and other material played against an hour-by-hour timeline of the crisis as it unfolded over the course of the next 20 hours. It includes footage of news anchors reading terror updates and then switching over to coverage of Olympic sporting events, and also, after the crisis ended with the death of all the hostages and five of the terrorists in a chaotic gun battle at Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base, International Olympics Committee president Avery Brundage drawing applause declaring that the games will go on.

The memorial cost €2.35 million, with principal funding from the State of Bavaria, the German federal government, the City of Munich and the International Olympic Committee.

To date, the Munich massacre had been marked by a simply sculpture and plaque, with a Hebrew inscription and little information (or no) about the attack or its victims.

 

Read an account of the Munich massacre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 comments on “Munich’s powerful (& innovative) new memorial to the 1972 Olympics massacre

  1. The first paragraph should mention thet five terrorists were killed, presumably in hand to hand struggle. were they killed by Israeli security guards or German police called to the scene? Does the memorial narrative say anything about how long it took for the police to arrive?

    • As I wrote, the 27-minute film loop presents a summary of the crisis as it unfolded, hour by hour (sometimes minute by minute).

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