German president considers 50-year wait ‘shameful’ to compensate victims of Olympic bombing

German president considers 50-year wait ‘shameful’ to compensate victims of Olympic bombing
German president considers 50-year wait ‘shameful’ to compensate victims of Olympic bombing

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier admitted on Sunday that it was “shameful” that it took five decades for Berlin to agree on compensation for the bereaved families of Israeli victims in the 1972 Munich Olympics attack.

“That it took 50 years to reach this agreement is really shameful,” said Steinmeier, alongside his Israeli counterpart Isaac Herzog, with whom he will attend a memorial service in Munich on Monday.

A dispute over Berlin’s earlier financial offer to victims’ relatives threatened to sour the ceremony with the families initially planning a boycott.

But a deal was finally closed this Wednesday, around 28 million euros in compensation. It is also the first time that the German state has acknowledged its “responsibility” for the failures that led to the attack.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz “is very happy with the agreement reached with the victims’ families,” German government spokesman Steffen Hebesteit told reporters in Berlin.

“Germany is emphasizing its responsibility for the mistakes that were made in 1972, but also in the decades that followed,” he added.

On September 5, 1972, eight gunmen from the Palestinian militant group Black September broke into the Israeli team’s apartment in the Olympic village, shooting two to death and taking nine Israelis hostage.

West German police responded with a failed rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, along with five of the eight kidnappers and one policeman.

The Games were supposed to show a new Germany 27 years after the Holocaust, but instead they opened a deep wound with Israel.

In 2012, Israel released 45 official documents about the killings, including specially declassified material, which criticized the performance of German security services.

Included in the reports is an official account by former Israeli intelligence chief Zvi Zamir, who said German police “did not make a minimum effort to save human lives”.

Victims’ relatives have struggled over the years to obtain an official apology from Germany, access to official documents and adequate compensation beyond the initial €4.5 million.

Just two weeks ago, relatives of the victims said they had been offered €10 million – including the €4.5 million already given.

“I came home with the coffins after the massacre,” Ankie Spitzer, whose husband Andre Spitzer was killed in the hostage taking, told AFP. “You don’t know what we’ve been through in the last 50 years.”

Herzog underlined the pain faced by bereaved relatives, saying they had simply “hit the wall” whenever they tried to raise the issue with Germany or even the International Olympic Committee.

“I think there was a tragic crackdown here,” he said, noting the litany of “incomprehensible” flaws, such as “the fact that the hostages were being massacred and the Games went on.”

After an initial suspension, then IOC President Avery Brundage declared that “the Games must go on”. Steinmeier said he will address some of Germany’s shortcomings during his speech at the ceremony on Monday.

“I’m going to talk about… some errors in judgment, some inappropriate behavior and some mistakes made during the Munich Games,” he said.

Herzog expressed hope that the deal will bring “this painful episode to a place of healing”.

“I hope that from now on we will continue to remember, invoke and, most importantly, reaffirm the lessons of this tragedy, including the importance of fighting terror, for future generations.”

The article is in Portuguese

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