Officials Ignored Warnings of Munich Olympics Massacre
Explicit warnings that a terrorist attack might take place at the 1972 Munich Olympics were ignored by German officials, according to previously classified documents seen by SPIEGEL. The new details also reveal efforts to cover up the extent of their failure to stop the brutal murders of Israeli athletes.
It is no secret that the German authorities’ handling of the massacre of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics was characterized by bumbling and cover-ups. But new documents seen by SPIEGEL reveal that officials concealed even more — and more blatant — errors than previously thought. Indeed, there were even several warnings prior to the Games that an attack was imminent.
Previously classified documents from investigative officials, embassy dispatches, and cabinet protocols released to SPIEGEL by the Chancellery, Foreign Office and state and federal intelligence agencies have revealed the lengths to which officials went to hide their mistakes.
In the attack on Sept. 5, 1972, Palestinian terrorists killed 11 members of Israel’s Olympic delegation, along with one German police officer. Five of the eight terrorists from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) terrorist group called “Black September” were also killed during the botched rescue attempt by German police at the Fürstenfeldbruck military airport, where the hostages were being held in two helicopters.
Already on Sept. 7, just one day after the memorial ceremony for the victims took place in Munich’s Olympic Stadium, a Foreign Ministry official told a special sitting of the federal cabinet what would ultimately become the maxim for both Bavarian and West German officials. “Mutual incriminations must be avoided,” a protocol for the meeting reads. “Also, no self-criticism.”
Just how closely this advice was followed can be seen in documentation from both the federal government and the Bavarian state government, which falsely described the “precision” with which the terrorists carried out their attack. In reality, officials knew that the “Black September” members were actually so poorly prepared that they even had trouble finding hotel rooms in Munich before their attack.