As the Western world recovers from the echoes of terrorism in Paris, in Munich Germany, occupants of the Olympic Village argue about how the acts of terrorism during the Olympic Games 1972 are remembered.
In autumn 2014 the inhabitants of the Olympic Village in Munich rejected the proposal for a memorial site to commemorate the slaughter of almost the entire Israeli Olympic team. Signatures were collected to prevent the winning design to be erected on a hill near the former Israeli team house in the Olympic Village.
Many journalists and camera teams followed the unfolding drama in 1972 from precisely that hill, which gives full view of the Israeli house in Connollystreet 31. Nearly half of the Olympic village’s current inhabitants, mostly private owners of the many flats in which once the Olympic teams lived, argued, that the memorial site would destroy the hill on which their children engage in snow fun activities during the winter months (see www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/streit-um-gedenkort-fuer-olympia-attentat-das-ist-unser-schlittenberg-1.2163074). The Bavarian State has now proposed to erect the memorial slightly more to the East, and yet again there was hostility. This, it was argued, was the „students hill.“ On Monday the 12th of January 2015 the city of Munich is hosting a civic meeting in which residents can make decisions about the memorial site. Amongst the invited guests are Bavarian Minister for Culture, the Munich Jewish Museum, Nazi Concentration-site Flossbuerg Memorial Site and the chosen architects Brueckner and Brueckner whose design was chosen as the best amongst a handful of independent international proposals.
Journalist Daniel Zylbersztajn, now based in London, grew up in the Olympic Village when his parents moved there in 1973. As far as he knows his was the only Jewish family there. He writes about the controversy concerning the memorial site and growing up Jewish there.
Part of this text was lead column (Feuilleton) of the German Jewish Jüdische Allgemeine on 8//1/15
Snow Fun Hill
When, back in 1972, members of the radical Palestinian Black September Movement killed and blew up eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team, the „happy games“ were to “go on” after a day of mourning, although some had requested that the games should be stopped.
The fun was not to be interrupted equally these days, when the post-Olympic residents of the Munich Olympic village protested against a proposal to establish a permanent memorial site at the edge of the Olympic Village. They argued that the site was “their snow fun hill” and that “no one could protect such a site against vandalism”
I am a former resident of the Olympic Village and also Jewish. In 1973, when I was only three years old, my parents moved into the village, as they had planned prior to the tragic events of September 1972. Most of the flats of the village were for sale to the general public. My father did not want to change plans because of what had taken part, Quite to the contrary, he even considered the purchase of flats opposite the Israeli House to rent out. Nobody wanted to buy these flats then, and hence they were particularly affordable. In the end, he did not go ahead with that.
I explain the behaviour of my father, a Shoa survivor, as him having thrown in the towel. Any hope he must have had for a new Germany, symbolised by state of the art modern international Olympic Village, and without loaded history, was gone after September 1972. By then one street of the Olympic village was no longer different from other Munich streets, whose Jewish residents had vanished during the Third Reich. I say that knowing full well that Germans were not the key perpetrators in 1972, yet the burden of guilt lay still on them, having not been able to adequately protect the Israeli Olympians. Not to say that German lack of power did not in some form or shape relate to 1945. Fatally wrong decisions on political and police levels amongst German leaders were contributory factors.
The new post-Olympic residents of the village enjoy and enjoyed life in the Olympic Village. It is an oasis of good living. On its top-level residents live without motorised traffic, children can play without danger. I did so too. And in the winter we all went for snow fun activities like on sleighs. The hill opposite Connolly Street, on which now the memorial site was planned, was the highest, standing approximately 20 Meters tall. But there was an even better hill, a walk of 15 minutes further into the Olympic Park, the Olympiaberg (transl. Olympic Hill), over double in height, created from the rubble of the Munich that was destroyed during the second world war. The proposed construction of a memorial site on the Connolly Hill is hence not the end of childhood fun, at most perhaps inconvenient. If one considers that so far there were only 10 days of snow in Munich this winter, the protests regarding the hill are deeply questionable.
Forgetting and Remembering
During the first 20 years in the 1970s and 80s, the village’s new occupants liked to forget what happened here. It was rarely mentioned, nor was it visible, except for those who lived in Connollystreet near the former Israeli House. Every 5th of September state and city officials and representatives of the Munich Jewish community put down flower wreaths in front of a memorial stone at Connollystrasse 31, which lists the name of the deceased in German and Hebrew.
But back in 1984, I think it was – I was in the midst of my identity forming teenage years – I felt that nobody really cared about what happened in the village. And so I decided on my own account to write it on the village’s walls: “Vergesst nicht 5.9.1972”!, – Don’t forget 5th Sept. Due to my efforts at night this little sentence emerged repeatedly in black letters at various strategic points in the village that I had chosen. Amongst them one at the entrance of the university sports centre located at the rear of Connollystreet, as well as near the entrance into the village, past the underground station. My childhood, my growing up, part of my Jewish identity was in these few words on the wall, a childhood that was quite different to that of all other residents of the Olympic village, yet nobody would notice. How many others were Jewish I would never quite know, at least I thought for a long time, that I was the only Jewish youth. As I wrote slogans on the village’s wall, somebody once caught me and emptied my pot of black colour over my head. He was angry that I smeared the walls, I shouted back, that I only tried to make sure people would not forget what had happened here.
A slim man wearing a facial masque stands on the top level of Connollystreet 31: Men behind him stare timidly out of a window. These stills are not my childhood’s first. But I do remember them from quite early on. They stem from the live TV reports of the unfolding drama of 1972 and they are deep in my memory. How sad and uncertain my parents must have felt, as it became clear in the morning hours of the 6th of September 1972 what had happened, given that my parents had
decided to move into the village, and earlier still, some 25 years earlier, in fact for my dad and mum, to move to Germany in spite of all that the Germans had done to their families. Children notice these kinds of things even at the tender age of two to three years, and the many documentaries and films about 1972 that would follow only deepened my memory thereof.
When later Israeli relatives came to visit us, we often walked with them to Connollystreet 31, where we would stand for many minutes in front of the memorial stone. It were difficult moments for them. I knew very early on that here something must have happened that moved my family members deeply, although I would only understand it later. Often they would discuss if it was right that we lived there. Many years later, and having left the village, I would myself become that visitor with obligatory visits to the memorial stone.
The Good Life
But it would be a lie, if I could not affirm that it was otherwise a very good childhood in the Olympic Village, with its modern flair and its many play and sport options and a good primary school and if I was not Jewish, perhaps I would also like the original vintage poster from 1972 that residents have hung up in one of the hallways of the village for of nostalgic reasons,
depicting Olympic Shooting, How ironic, for it was the blunder of the armed Bavarian policemen, who were supposed to liberate the Israelis, that significantly contributed to the tragic end. Maybe I would even join those protests against the new memorial site because it takes away the fun of kids, and forces them to deal with something nobody can change.
The Olympic Park in Munich and all that is part of it is today part and parcel of life in Munich. Many sports and leisure activities take part here. But if you travel outside of Munich through the world, I myself have lived in London since 1991, one encounters a different picture of Olympia 1972. Munich 1972 runs parallel to Mexico 1968, Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984. Neither the medals once earned here nor the good life is what people know here. Munich is referenced for nothing but the terror act, at best, as a former home ground of the soccer club F.C. Bayern. Not that the residents of the village welcomed the potential construction of the new soccer stadium, which was initially planned, East of the village. A campaign of theirs prevented that and caused the stadium’s alternative location in the far North of Munich. They are thus an engaged lot, these residents, with protests also against a magnetic railway link near the village, that was to speed up the journey between the airport of Munich and the city, and the purchase of shares by residents of the village’s shopping mall to determine what shops can take a footing there, and then most recently those signatures against the memorial site. Many people can learn from them, such citizens’ initiatives are exemplary, but they do not always see the wider picture. They seem not to realize that many outside of Munich believe that a memorial site that deals with the terror of 1972 in depth is expected by many and yet missing. No positive residential engagement here.
Yet today is not 1984. There were compensation payments to the relatives of the murdered victims, and whilst one or the other apology is still missing and may never be made, nobody can say the victims have been forgotten. Whilst I was still discussing the lack of a memorial in the village with Ankie Rekhess-Spitzer, the wife of the murdered Israeli Olympian Andre Spitzer in 1990, a second memorial stone was erected in front of the Olympic Stadium in 1995, which mentions all 11 killed athletes and one policeman who also lost his life in 1972. For a couple of years, a public signpost is welcoming visitors as they leave the underground station on which visitors can learn in German, English, French and Hebrew about the events that took part in the village in 1972 and where they took place in the village. This is important because all who venture into the village have to pass the signpost, and in that sense, it is similar to my graffiti of 1984.
The majority of the flats in which the Israeli Olympic team was accommodated in 1972 are today the property of the Max Planck Institute, a Munich based scientific institute. They serve as their „guest housing.“ If anyone can sleep in these rooms remains an open question. It was Max Planck who remained in Germany during the Third Reich, where he kept a soft status quo, whilst his Jewish colleges had to leave Germany or suffered worse. Adjacent to the flats of the former Israeli Olympic Team live ordinary people. During my last visit in December 2014, a jolly and bright Santa Clause lamp welcomed visitors in front of Connollystreet 31, right next to the memorial stone in front of the house. Some years ago there was also a note in Hebrew, requesting that mourners do not pluck flowers. Visiting mourners as the real nightmare for locals. No wonder there is hostility.
In Israel, there are many streets in which terror acts happened, in which bombs or suicide bombers exploded taking innocent people with them. And still, life continues Israelis are famous to get up again after terrible events. Often it is but a small plaque that reminds one of what once happened here or there. Why should it be different in Munich at the site of terror against Israeli athletes?
It is because the murder of the Israeli Olympians in 1972 is of particular relevance, just like Mexico City 1968, which stands as a symbolic point in African American history. Olympic Games should not be politicized, but are political anyway, last so in Sochi concerning LGBT rights. But sport is at times also a surrogate for conflict and also a way to overcome it and engage even between supposed enemies in a game with clear rules, and so it allows young men and women of all creed, nationality, colour, ethnic or religious identity to participate in sports activities with each other. The Olympic Movement likes to believe that this creates ties beyond narrow confinements and therefore represents hope. Still, Israeli athletes and teams, in particular, are often subject to boycotts by others, something that carries particular echoes in Germany and the Olympic Games of 1936.
No organisation may see athletes as political trophies, whose lives are risked or even violently ended in order to make a political point. That is why Munich 1972 serves as a warning. It is the very reason why one should not forget and why a big educational memorial site has been suggested, one that can be true to the gigantic dimensions of the Olympic site and the greatness of loss of life. It is certainly more important than the vast starship like construct the car manufacturer BMW was able to erect in celebration of its vehicles on one of the former Olympic car parks in Munich.
That is why the flats owned by the Max Planck Institute ought to be sold and changed into a memorial site or museum. The era of a rather embarrassing and grotesque guest house must end. But due to the fact that the village is a protected national monument since 1998, any such construction within the building could prove tricky. Luckily there is an alternative if the hill design is really to be rejected too. Above the Olympic underground station lies a large disused bus station, that was once hoped to become the site for a new hotel. It seems ideal as a memorial site and museum, given its accessibility, even though it is not within direct sight of Connollystrasse 31
Whether it is on the grounds of the old bus stop, on the Connollyhill or a few 100 meters East as has recently been argued, it is right that the village bears more than just a plaque or memorial stone. Lightness and happiness are intermixed in the village with lives’ darkest hours. This fact is just as important in the good education of children who grow up in the village, as is their right to carefree winter fun when they are younger.
Democracy and Citizenship Education
Nobody can bring back to life those who have died back then. But the names of the lost Israeli Olympians will remain linked with the village and the 1972 Olympics. Residents of the village cannot escape this fate and must share it actively. Beyond a memorial site and museum, a foundation could assist in encounters in sports by people who are otherwise in conflict with each other.
May they live conscious and good in the village. Yes, they are allowed to show that in its conceptualisation and reality the Olympic Village and Olympic Park is a place in which life is very good, without cars, a shopping mall, artificial springs, and much green. But there must be clear sight of the fact what the village stands for around the globe, namely as the location of terrible unforgeable events.
Democracy must mean more than the collection of signatures, but also to understand history beyond local contexts and to act accordingly. On the evening of Monday 15th of January 2015 the Munich residents of the local area, including all residents of the Olympic village will meet in a civic meeting to discuss the memorial site and vote on it.