Munich 11 Postscript

August 12, 2012 § 2 Comments

It seems pressure remains high on IOC Chairman Jacques Rogge to honor the Munich 11.  I couldn’t be gladder.  I am not deluded enough to believe he will bow to international opinion, but I am heartened by the attention the issue has received.

In “Doing the Right Thing” and “Bearing the Torch”, Ken Kovacs and I presented our own reasons we felt honoring the Olympians slain in Munich in 1972 was a societal and moral imperative.  We were far from alone in our pleas, and our voices joined many others, some of whose actions spoke louder than words.

Here are some examples of how people from all corners of the globe have made their opinions known.

1.  Bob Costas followed through on plans to hold his own moment of silence during the opening ceremonies, while the Israeli athletes entered the stadium, in protest of the IOC’s refusal to do so.

2.  At least 200 people held their own tribute in Trafalgar Square to the fallen athletes on the morning the London Olympics began.  Over 20,000 were reported to participate in other venues throughout the host city.

3.  More than 30 members of the Italian delegation held it’s own tribute to show solidarity with Israel and the familes of the slain athletes.  They stood with members of the Israeli delegation outside the quarters of the Israeli athletes for a minute of silence.

4.  18-year-old Aly Raisman, the Jewish-American girl who captured gold with her floor routine (fittingly performed to “Hava Nagila”,) paid tribute to the Munich 11 in her interviews with reporters after her victory.  She diplomatically, but pointedly, said she would have supported and respected a moment of silence had the IOC chosen to hold one.

5.  Finally, ever the optimist, Former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler wrote to Mr. Rogge.  He insisted it is not too late to do what is right.  He asked Rogge to redeem himself by holding a moment of silence for the slain Israeli athletes and coaches during the Olympics’ Closing Ceremony.  It’s a moving and poignant plea, which at the same time, pulls no punches in its analysis of what denying this request would signify.

I am not holding my breath.  I am, however, moved and comforted that so many around the world have rallied to the sides of these families who suffered through the ultimate loss while the Games went on.  From the bottom of my heart, I thank them.


Bearing the Torch – Part 2 of 2, by Ken Kovacs

July 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

Here is Ken Kovacs’ piece on remembering the Munich Massacre.  He is a Pastor at Catonsville Presbyterian Church.  The piece also appears in The Catonsville Patch.  It was a pleasure to work with him, and an honor to be his partner in writing about this important event in our history and how to heal.

As Aliza Worthington reminds us, this summer marks the 40th anniversary of the “Munich Massacre.”  I was seven years old when it occurred. I vividly remember watching the images on television coming from the Olympic village.  Members of the Palestinian terrorist group, “Black September,” killed two members of the Israeli delegation and took nine other Israeli athletes and coaches hostage.  The nine were then eventually murdered as well.

It is unfortunate that this coming week, as athletes and coaches and all lovers of sport (as they say in the United Kingdom, always in the singular) gather in London for the 2012 Olympics, there will be no official remembrance of this tragic loss, no memorial, not even a moment of silence.  As Aliza shared, there have been repeated requests over the years, each time it’s been denied by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

On this Friday, at 11:00 a.m. (GMT), the same day as the opening ceremony there will be a commemoration held in Trafalgar Square, in the heart of London.  However, it won’t be organized by the IOC.  “Everybody is welcome, regardless of colour or creed,” the organizers claim.  It won’t be a political rally for Israel.  It’s designed to publicly commemorate the murder of the eleven athletes, “to remind people that this atrocity occurred and to honour the memory of those who were killed – something the IOC has refused to do.”

NBC news Sports anchor Bob Costas plans to have his own on-air commemoration during the opening ceremony.  He also plans to mention the IOC’s denial when the Israeli athletes enter the Olympic Stadium.  On Tuesday this week, the Washington Post weighed in with a critique of the IOC.

The IOC claims the games are apolitical, they are celebratory in nature, they are expressions of unity, of nations coming together despite their differences to unite the human spirit around something of a shared passion, namely athletic training and competition.   Still, the Olympic games, as everyone knows, have always been about more than the games. There’s always a political subtext to them – this was especially so during the Cold War.  Denying all of this doesn’t change the reality; it actually distorts reality, turning the Olympics into something fantastical and imaginary and out of touch with human experience.

I’m particularly struck by the IOC’s policy of denial with regard to the Munich Massacre – nothing, not even a moment of silence.

In talking about this issue with Aliza, I had an image of the IOC taking the whole affair and placing it in a dark room and throwing away the key. It was the image of the IOC taking the whole affair and throwing into shadow, into the dark.  If it’s in the dark, you can’t “see” it.”  If you can’t “see” it, then you don’t have to acknowledge it.  If you don’t talk about it, it didn’t happen.  If you don’t recognize it, then you don’t have to deal with it, don’t have to come to terms with what transpired.

What is true personally is also true collectively:  a lot of damage is done when we are caught in the grips of denial.  Yes, facing the truth, facing the light can be painful.  It’s easier to avoid the truth, avoid the light.  We often think, “out of sight, out of mind,” but this simply isn’t true.  That which is denied continues to have a hold on us, even when we don’t “see” it.  Denial never serves us well and it can be very destructive – for individuals, families, and communities, even nations.   What is being denied continues to exert influences over our conscious lives, often unconsciously – which is rarely a good thing.

A contrasting image came to mind: the Olympic torch, the flame, a symbol of light.   As I played with this image, I had a thought:  Here’s an opportunity for the IOC to extend some light into a dark corner of our past, but it chooses not to do so.  How ironic.

In the Olympics of ancient Greece, a flame was ignited by the sun and kept burning throughout the games.  It commemorated the time when Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humanity.  Fire is a spark of, an offspring of the sun and therefore a manifestation of divinity.  The fiery torch was a reminder that Prometheus enabled human beings to participate in “all things divine” and encouraged human beings to become like the gods themselves.  The Olympic torch is the light of the gods given to enable and ennoble human beings to strive for something beyond themselves.

The Olympic flame first appeared in modern Olympics in 1928 when the games gathered in Amsterdam.  At the Berlin Olympics in 1936, the torch became a propaganda tool of the Nazis.  Devious masters of ritual and the symbolic that they were, the Nazis “stole” the image from Prometheus to help fuel the flames of their devilish destruction in Europe.  “Sporting chivalrous contest helps knit the bonds of peace between nations,” Adolf Hitler declared.  “Therefore may the Olympic flame never expire.”

The Olympic torch relay was first introduced by the Nazis for the Berlin games. Carl Diem, organizer of the relay, said, “The Olympic torch is designed to shine through the centuries, a signal of peaceful understanding between nations, with the aim of arousing more and more enthusiasm for the ideal of humanity.”  The flame was lit in Olympia, Greece, and then relayed through Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany. In two years, the Nazis reversed the path of the torch, relaying its own hellish fire of destruction, starting with the Anschluss into Austria in 1938.

Juan Antonio Samaranch, the president of the IOC from 1980-2001, said that the Olympic Games, “Pay tribute first and foremost to the athletes. By demanding the best of themselves they encourage us to excel; by reaching the limit of their capabilities, they push back the limits of mankind.”

The IOC is missing an opportunity to shed some light into a dark corner of its past, as well as a dark corner of the human past.  It was not only a loss of Israeli citizens forty years ago; it was a human loss, a loss for humanity.  The IOC has an opportunity to help us “push back the limits of mankind” by modeling a way for humanity as a whole to respond with “the better angels of our nature.”  It’s an occasion to be angels of light, bearing the torch into the dark places in the world. It’s an opportunity to model for the world a different way, a better way of being human.  The IOC’s intentional act of denial hinders an expression of much-needed humanism in our day and obstructs an opportunity to bring healing to the wounds of the past.

“The sole purpose of human existence,” the Swiss psychoanalyst C. G. Jung claimed, “is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”   May we have the courage to do so.

Doing the Right Thing – Part 1 of 2

July 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Imagine those poor guys over there. Every five minutes a psycho with a machine gun says, ‘Let’s kill ’em now,’ and someone else says, ‘No, let’s wait a while.’ How long could you stand that?”

So asked Frank Shorter, an American long-distance Olympic runner.  It was a good question, and it wasn’t hypothetical.  He was talking about the Israeli athletes and coaches taken hostage in a nearby building in the Olympic Village.  The year was 1972, and it was the first time since 1936 the Olympic Games were held in Germany.

This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the “Munich Massacre,” wherein members of the Palestinian terrorist group, “Black September” scaled the fences of the Olympic village, killed two members of the Israeli delegation, took nine other Israeli athletes and coaches hostage.  Ultimately they slaughtered those nine hostages as well.

Professor Deborah E. Lipstadt puts the event in historical context very clearly in the article, “Jewish Blood is Cheap.”   In it, she calls the International Olympic Committee (the “IOC”) on the carpet for refusing to honor the memories of the slain athletes with a moment of silence during this summer’s games.  This is not a new request.  Families of the victims have made the same request over the course of many years, and have always been rebuffed by the IOC.

She makes a strong argument against their official excuses.  One reason given by the IOC for the refusal is that the games are apolitical and should remain that way.  (The IOC held a moment of silence in 2012 for the victims of 9/11 – as political a slaughter as you can imagine.)  Another reason given is that the games should be a celebratory event, not marred by something so somber.  (The IOC held a moment of silence in 2010 for an athlete who died during a training exercise.)  She is left to sadly conclude that the only logical reason for the refusal is that the victims were Israelis and Jews, and it isn’t considered worth risking offending countries who are against Israel’s policies by honoring their memories.

As often happens, Jewish people I know and don’t know are taking matters into their own hands.  They are asking their rabbis to read the names of the 11 slain Israelis on their yartzeits (anniversary of their death) before reciting kaddish.  Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks composed his own prayer to commemorate the deaths of these athletes, to be read in synagogues across the country on July 28th.  You can find the prayer and his article here.  A commenter on Professor Lipstadt’s article tells of an event being organized to take place in Trafalgar Square in London.  “(A)n informal gathering of people to honour the victims of the Munich massacre, to make the kind of public statement that the IOC should be making in the opening ceremony for the Games but which it refuses to do.”  He goes on to emphasize that the event would be “non-partisan, non-confrontational and non-controversial. No flags. No banners. No shouting slogans. No singing. No speakers. Just a dignified gathering of people…”  The crowd plans to have a moment of silence, then recite the kaddish and sing Hatikvah – the Israeli national anthem – the entire demonstration taking no more than five minutes from beginning to end.

I’m left wanting to be proactive, and asking myself, “Why accept asking only Jews to honor their memories?”  Why not continue to reach out to non-Jews as well, as the organizers of the Trafalgar Square demonstration are doing? Baltimore has a long history of interreligious cooperation and support.  I wrote my thesis (*cough*) years ago on the topic of Baltimore’s Catholic community’s response to Nazi Europe.  While taking pains not to minimize the anti-semitism that existed, I found many expressions of support in the Catholic community for Jewish refugees.  I found other examples of Catholic public expressions of outrage at Hitler’s policies.  Baltimore also had a very strong chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews – a group that formed after World War I in response to hate groups that were popping up.

As recently as last May, The Baltimore Sun ran an article about an Amahdi Mosque being built in the middle of Pikesville – the heart of Baltimore’s Jewish community.  “Jewish community leaders say they are trying to show the Ahmadi congregation that Pikesville will welcome them. After some people expressed fears about the mosque, neighbors reached out to the Muslim group and encouraged members to introduce themselves to people who live, work and worship nearby.”  According to The Sun, the behavior of both groups was high-minded, mature and kind.

Yet in the middle of July – in the year of 2012, a suicide bomber leaned into a busload of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, and detonated.  32 people were hospitalized, seven people were killed.  Five of those were Israeli – one was a woman pregnant with her first child.  One was the bomber himself, and the last was the Bulgarian bus driver.

Within 48 hours of the Bulgarian tragedy, a shooter opened fire in a movie theater in Colorado, killing 12 and wounding 50.  I don’t know the killer’s motivation, but regardless, it was a calculated, brutal act of terror.

I know I wouldn’t hesitate for a nanosecond to honor ANY of these victims with a moment of silence.  It wouldn’t make one bit of difference what race, religion or ethnicity the victims were.  Victims of terrorism deserved to be remembered.  Their memories deserve to be honored.  Their families deserve to be comforted.  I consider any act of terrorism a HUMAN tragedy to be mourned – a direct assault on HUMANITY.  The IOC seems not to.  Its refusal to hold a moment of silence over the 17-day course of the 2012 Olympics for Israeli Olympians slain DURING THE OLYMPICS of 1972 is nothing short of shameful.

Full disclosure – if you didn’t already know – I am Jewish.  As an act of faith (no pun intended), I reached out to Ken Kovacs – respected pastor of Catonsville Presbyterian Church and fellow Patch blogger.  He agreed to partner with me in writing about this topic.  His take on the IOC’s position will appear in the next few days.  As I pass the torch (pun intended) on this IOC issue to him, it’s fitting to point to a September 1972 Sports Illustrated article written by Kenny Moore – a long-distance runner in the 1972 Munich Olympics.

In his account of the hostage-taking, subsequent killings and their aftermath, he tells of a fellow American athlete named Tom Dooley.  In discussing whether or not the Games will continue after the murders, he asserted that they would go on – but for all the wrong reasons – financial, political, etc.  Mr. Moore asked him what the right reasons were.  Mr. Dooley responded, “Just one. To stay together. Who wins or loses now is ridiculously unimportant, considered against these men’s deaths. But we have to stay together.”

If you are so motivated, you can sign this petition at asking the IOC to honor the memories of those massacred in Munich forty years ago with a moment of silence.

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