Munich massacre, Palestinian terrorist attack on Israeli Olympic team members at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich.
The Munich Games marked the first return of the Olympics to a German city since the 1936 Games in Berlin. Adolf Hitler’s use of those Games as a platform for the propagation of Nazi ideology was roundly criticized, as was the blatant racism and anti-Semitism that characterized the Games. The West German invitation had been extended, in part at least, to offer the world a contrast to the horrifying spectacle of Berlin.
The helicopters arrived about 10:30 PM, and two terrorists went to inspect the jetliner. Finding it empty and becoming aware of the deception, they shouted to their comrades, at which point West German police fired upon them. A gun battle ensued, and several terrorists and one police officer were killed. The helicopter flight crews ran for cover, but the Israeli athletes were bound together and trapped. After the initial fusillade, in which the terrorists also shot out the floodlights that had been illuminating the tarmac, the scene settled into a tense stalemate punctuated by sporadic gunfire. Onlookers surrounded the airfield, and sportscaster Jim McKay, who was anchoring Olympic coverage for the U.S. network ABC, provided television viewers with preliminary updates. At midnight, a German official announced that all the hostages had been freed and all the terrorists had been killed, a report that proved to be tragically premature. Just after midnight, a terrorist tossed a hand grenade into one of the helicopters, killing all but one of the Israeli hostages aboard; David Berger, an American-born wrestler, succumbed to smoke inhalation before rescue personnel could reach him. A second terrorist sprayed the interior of the other helicopter with bullets at close range, murdering the five remaining Israelis.
Too late to aid in the rescue effort, the armoured cars finally reached the runway, but their crews had no knowledge of the deployment of police personnel in the field and no way to communicate with them. A gunman ran toward a position where one of the helicopter pilots and a police sniper had taken cover. The terrorist was shot and killed by the sniper, but the movement on the darkened runway drew fire from one of the armoured cars, and both the pilot and sniper were seriously wounded by friendly fire. By 12:30 AM on September 6, the shooting had stopped, and the 20-hour reign of terror was over. Eleven Israelis had been killed, along with one Munich policeman, and five terrorists lay dead. Three of the gunmen were captured. At 3:00 AM McKay, who had been broadcasting from the Olympic Village for 14 straight hours, summarized the tragic outcome of the botched rescue with the words “They’re all gone.” For the first time in history, the Olympic Games were suspended, for 24 hours, in tribute to the murdered athletes.