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The Olympic Rings on a white wall
On this day:

Israeli athletes taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympics

Image: ricochet64 /

On this day in 1972, at the Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany, a group of Palestinian terrorists storms the Olympic Village apartment of the Israeli athletes, killing two and taking nine others hostage. The terrorists, known as Black September, demanded that Israel release over 230 Arab prisoners being held in Israeli jails and two German terrorists. In the ensuing shootout at the Munich airport, the remaining nine Israeli hostages were killed along with five terrorists and one West German policeman. Olympic competition was suspended for 24 hours to hold memorial services for the slain athletes. After being founded in 776 B.C. in ancient Greece, the first modern Olympics were held in Athens in 1896, with 13 countries and 311 athletes competing.

The games were meant to foster peace and bring people together. Germany had hoped that the 1972 Olympics would be a celebration of peace, as it was the first time it had hosted the games since 1936, when Adolf Hitler, who used the games to promote his Aryan master race theory, was in power. The Munich Olympics opened on 26 August 1972, with 195 events and 7,173 athletes representing 121 countries. In the early hours of the morning of 5 September, Palestinian terrorists in ski masks ambushed the Israeli team. After negotiations to free the nine Israelis broke down, the terrorists took the hostages to the Munich airport. Once there, German snipers opened fire from rooftops and killed three of the terrorists.

A chaotic and ill-planned gun battle erupted and by 1.30 a.m. of 6 September, all the hostages, two more Palestinians and a policeman were dead. Three terrorists were captured. After a memorial service was held for the athletes at the main Olympic stadium, International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage ordered that the games were to continue, to show that the terrorists hadn't won. Although the tragedy deeply marred the games, there were numerous moments of spectacular athletic achievement, including American swimmer Mark Spitz's seven gold medals and teenage Russian gymnast Olga Korbut's two dramatic gold-medal victories. In the aftermath of the murders at the 1972 Olympics, the Israeli government and Israeli premier Golda Meir authorised covert action teams of Mossad agents to track down and kill the Black September assassins and its planners. In 2005, Steven Spielberg made a movie, ‘Munich’, about these events.