Germany Names Panel to Investigate 1972 Munich Olympics Attack

BERLIN — Germany named an international panel of experts on Friday to review the 1972 Munich Olympics attack by Palestinian militants that killed 11 Israeli athletes, completing the last step in a deal with the victims’ families to assess and apologize for the failures of the German authorities to prevent the bloody assault.

A panel of eight historians, made up largely of academics from Israel and Germany, as well as experts from the United States and United Kingdom, has been commissioned to create a “comprehensive scholarly account and assessment of the events,” Germany’s Interior Ministry said.

In September 1972, a group of Palestinian militants called Black September broke into the Olympic Village for athletes in Munich, killed two Israeli athletes and kidnapped nine others. The kidnappers were seeking the release of more than 200 Palestinians held by Israel and two imprisoned German left-wing extremists.

An attempt by the German police to rescue the hostages ended in a bloody shootout that led to the deaths of all 11 Israeli athletes being held hostage.

Their families have long blamed the German authorities for not sufficiently protecting the Israeli delegation during the Games, despite apparent warnings about the potential dangers they faced. They also blamed German officials for the botched rescue attempts, for a decades-long refusal to allow access to all relevant files from the era and for Germany’s inability to take responsibility for its failures in handling the tragedy.

Germany only offered its first official apology last September, at the 50th anniversary of the attack, under an agreement mediated by the presidents of Israel and Germany. That deal also included a last-minute agreement for Germany to pay 28 million euros in compensation to the victims’ families, as well as the pledge to set up a historical commission.

Germany’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, apologized for the country’s multiple failures before, during and after the attack as he joined his Israeli counterpart and relatives of the slain athletes at the ceremony marking the attack last September.

“It is shameful that agonizing questions were left unresolved for far too long,” Nancy Faeser, Germany’s minister of interior, said on Friday. “For too many years, there was a lack of understanding or reappraisal of the events, transparency about them or acceptance of responsibility for them.”

Ms. Faeser said the commission would also examine the period before and following the attacks, as well as the treatment of the victims’ families afterward.

The attack and its aftermath caused a rift in the special relationship that Israel and Germany have tried to build since the end of the Holocaust.

“The families of the victims are very pleased that our request to open the archives and establish a commission of historians has been honored,” said Ankie Spitzer, whose husband, Andrei Spitzer, a fencing coach, was killed in the attack. She subsequently became a spokeswoman for the victims’ families.

“This is of the utmost importance to the families and hopefully will bring justice to history, ” she added.

Germany had hoped its hosting of the 1972 Olympic Games would show a more benevolent side of the country nearly three decades after the end of World War II. As part of that plan, police officers wore light blue host uniforms and were unarmed. The compound where athletes stayed was gated, but apartments were left unlocked.

Once the Black September group announced that it was holding hostage the Israeli delegation, the German authorities carried out a number of awkward rescue attempts, which culminated in an hourlong shootout at a Munich air base, from where the terrorists had been planning to fly the hostages to Cairo.

In its statement on Friday, the Interior Ministry said all the commission’s findings would be “documented transparently” for the public. The first meeting of the panel is planned for next autumn, around the time of the 51st anniversary of the attack.

“We want to learn from this history, and we must learn from it,” said Ms. Faeser, the interior minister. “We must treat people whose lives have been dramatically altered by attacks with greater empathy and support.”

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, welcomed the creation of the panel.

“The appointment of the historical commission is an elementary and long overdue step in coming to terms with the Palestinian terrorist attack on the Israeli Olympic team in Munich in 1972,” he said on Friday. “The event was accompanied by a comprehensive and shocking state failure. Coming to terms with the events is not only in the interests of the victims’ relatives, and I thank the Federal Ministry of the Interior for taking this step.”

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