In Mu­nich, a trib­ute to Is­raeli ath­letes and fam­i­lies’ per­sis­tence

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gov­ern­ment for years to erect a com­pre­hen­sive me­mo­rial and mu­seum at the Olympic Park, where the Is­raeli team mem­bers were taken hostage. Two team mem­bers were killed there, and the rest, as well as the Ger­man po­lice­man, died dur­ing a chaotic res­cue at­tempt at a nearby air base.

Un­til now, a sculp­ture and plaque have been the two pri­mary memo­ri­als in the Olympic Park. But for decades the me­mo­rial re­quest was largely ig­nored, un­til more-sym­pa­thetic ears ar­rived in the lead­er­ship of the Olympic com­mit­tee and the lo­cal gov­ern­ment.

“It is late,” said Lud­wig Spaenle, the Bavar­ian min­is­ter of cul­ture, whose of­fice led the project. “But it is not too late.”

The new me­mo­rial rests unas­sum­ingly along a quiet path in Mu­nich’s Olympic Park. Vis­i­tors de­scend a short set of steps to en­ter the main space, which has the ef­fect of step­ping into a sanc­tu­ary. The ex­hi­bi­tion area, which mea­sures about 1,700 square feet, seems al­most like a cave, rest­ing un­der a thick mound of grass and blend­ing into a back­drop of lin­den trees.

Along the back wall, an LED screen, about 36 feet long, will play a 27-minute loop of news footage broad­cast dur­ing the cri­sis. In the cen­ter of the me­mo­rial, a tri­an­gu­lar col­umn will dis­play bi­o­graph­i­cal pro­files of each vic­tim in Ger­man and English, with pho­to­graphs.

“Our de­sign idea was to cut into the hill, to take some­thing away from the land­scape,” said Stephan Graeb­ner, an ar­chi­tect at Brück­ner & Brück­ner, the Ger­man firm se­lected in 2014 to de­sign the me­mo­rial. “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.”

Among the most poignant el­e­ments of the ex­hi­bi­tion are the per­sonal ef­fects, one for each vic­tim, that were pho­tographed for the me­mo­rial.

There is, for ex­am­ple, a post­card that ath­lete Ze’ev Fried­man sent to his par­ents from Mu­nich be­fore the at­tack. It ar­rived in their mail­box days af­ter his death. There is a copy of a tele­gram that Golda Meir, the for­mer Is­raeli prime min­is­ter, sent to the United States to the par­ents of David Berger, an Is­raeli weight lifter who grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio. “I know that no mor­tal word can as­suage your grief,” Meir wrote to the Berg­ers, adding that “the pain is not only yours but that of a whole na­tion.”

Werner Karg, an of­fi­cial in the Bavar­ian min­istry of cul­ture, said it was un­for­tu­nate that haunt­ing images of masked ter­ror­ists were more prom­i­nent in the public con­scious­ness to­day than the mem­o­ries, and the faces, of the vic­tims. The me­mo­rial, he said, could help change that.

“We can show that these were in­di­vid­u­als, or­di­nary peo­ple, not just names,” Karg said.

At the 2012 Olympics in Lon­don, the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee shut down wide­spread calls for a tele­vised mo­ment of si­lence dur­ing the open­ing cer­e­mony to mark the 40th an­niver­sary of the mas­sacre, a de­ci­sion that drew crit­i­cism from many quar­ters and im­pro­vised mo­ments from oth­ers. On NBC’s broad­cast of that cer­e­mony, for in­stance, an­nouncer Bob Costas paused his com­men­tary for 12 sec­onds when the del­e­ga­tion from Israel en­tered the sta­dium, ef­fec­tively cre­at­ing his own mo­ment of si­lence.

“Ter­ror­ist at­tacks and other out­rages hap­pen, sadly, on a con­stant ba­sis,” Costas said in an in­ter­view. “But this one struck the Olympics it­self. That’s what sep­a­rated it: not that it was more tragic or more sig­nif­i­cant than oth­ers, but that it was di­rectly tied to the Olympics.”

Progress started to come shortly there­after. Spaenle, the Bavar­ian cul­ture min­is­ter, met Spitzer and other vic­tims’ fam­i­lies in 2012, months af­ter the Lon­don Games, at a cer­e­mony at Fürsten­feld­bruck Air Base, where the hostage sit­u­a­tion came to its tragic end. At that meet­ing, he pledged to work on the me­mo­rial project, and he met again with Spitzer and Ro­mano sev­eral times in Germany and Israel.

Thomas Bach, who was elected pres­i­dent of the Olympic com­mit­tee in 2013, proved more sup­port­ive of the fam­i­lies’ cause than his pre­de­ces­sors and backed the project, too. Bach, who won a gold medal in fenc­ing for West Germany at the 1976 Games, also green­lighted the cer­e­mony in the Olympic Vil­lage in Rio, where he read the names of the Mu­nich vic­tims.

“The mur­dered Is­raeli Olympians were vic­tims of an at­tack at the heart of the Olympic Games and against all the Olympic val­ues,” Bach said. “It is there­fore fit­ting that these in­no­cent vic­tims should be re­mem­bered for­ever with a dig­ni­fied me­mo­rial at a place close to the Olympic Vil­lage. It will be a sym­bol of re­mem­brance and our shared grief.”

The me­mo­rial and ex­hi­bi­tion cost about 2.4 mil­lion eu­ros (more than $2.8 mil­lion), ac­cord­ing to Karg, with con­tri­bu­tions from the Bavar­ian gov­ern­ment, the Ger­man fed­eral gov­ern­ment, the Olympic com­mit­tee and the Foun­da­tion for Global Sports Devel­op­ment, a U.S. or­ga­ni­za­tion fo­cused on pro­mot­ing sports­man­ship.

The project will fin­ish a year be­hind sched­ule. Push­back from lo­cal res­i­dents twice forced or­ga­niz­ers to move the project site, mak­ing the ar­chi­tects re­design the me­mo­rial each time. The site will be open to the public af­ter a cer­e­mony Sept. 6 at­tended by mem­bers of the Ger­man and Is­raeli gov­ern­ments, the Olympic com­mit­tee and the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies.

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