The Munich Eleven: CUA’s Moment of Silence Initiative
A group of sixty-one students at the Catholic University of America is spearheading a campaign asking the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to consider holding a moment of silence during the opening ceremony of this year’s Olympic Games in London, England to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 1972 tragedy at Munich, when the terrorist group Black September broke into Connollystraße 31, the apartment complex within the Olympic Village in Munich, Germany where the Israeli Olympic team had been domiciliated, taking hostage and eventually killing eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team.
The suggestion to hold a moment of silence during the Olympic Games was brought to the attention of the University community by Dr. Leszek J. Sibilski, a former member of the Polish National Olympic cycling team and now an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Sociology here at Catholic University. Sibilski and his team of students from his Sociology 345 course, “Sociology of Sports,” have worked long and hard to continue the campaign, which was first started by the family of the killed and by those who survived the tragedy at the Munich Olympic Games.
“I believe that this moment of silence is long overdue. For years, our society has paid tribute to men and women who have lost their lives under unexpected situations and it is time for us to honor the fallen members of the athletic community. This initiative goes way beyond our classroom in D.C. and it is time for the rest of the world to join us and give these heroes one more minute of respect and dignity,” said Erin Flynn, senior theology major.
The initiative, which these CUA students had taken upon themselves, has drawn great responses from around the globe. A major Israeli newspaper, “Yediot Aharonot,” upon hearing this movement to silence the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games for one minute, even titled their piece “Lesson from America.” As noted by Sibilski and his students and mentioned in the Israeli press, the student initiative is doing its best to drop any politics from its activities and focusing solely on Olympism, and the greatness of the Olympic Games.
The sixty-one students from Sibilski’s sociology classes, who are currently pleading with the IOC to mark the anniversary of the tragedy by holding the moment of silence during the Opening Ceremonies, were inspired to join the cause after viewing the motion picture “Our Greatest Hopes, Our Worst Fears, Tragedy of the Munich Games.”
The picture, which was created by the American Broadcasting Company–the only television network to broadcast the events in Munich back to the United States–features a collection of interviews and news footage of ABC’s original broadcast from the Olympics, seen worldwide in 1972, and showcases television personalities such as the late Jim McKay, ABC’s head sports anchor at the time, who delivered the live coverage for fourteen of the sixteen continuous hours of the broadcast with a raw emotion that the public had never seen before from a newsman.
Also included in the documentary are interviews with late legends such as anchorman Peter Jennings and sportscaster Howard Cosell, who were both live at the attacks in Germany, relaying, in vivid detail, the horror that occurred during those few days in September, allowing viewers to feel as if they were part of the action in the Olympic Village.
Released in 2002, the fifty-six minute motion picture presents the emotion captured during the fateful hours of the assault: the calamity that surrounded the Olympic Village as well as the melancholy that encapsulated the survivors and family of the slain Israeli athletes ever since. The documentary also airs dialogue between the people most affected by the tragedy, namely, the family members and the survivors left behind by the deceased. This group has formed a close-knit bond over the feelings that will never dissipate, emotions still felt from the effects of the events that occurred during the two days in September 1972, and the group discusses its plight to persuade the International Olympic Committee to add their one minute of silence to the Olympic Opening Ceremonies in London on July 27, 2012.
“September 5, 1972 [is] a day which should always be remembered,” said Sibilski. “The families of the slain Israeli athletes and coaches and the survivors pleaded for a moment of silence at the opening ceremony in one of the future Olympics, but this has yet to happen. We are making sure that they are not forgotten. For us, this is not about the political means, or whether we hit our target and obtain the moment of silence. It is about the journey. It’s important that we all learn from this experience, and grow from it. All of my students learned about Munich for the first time from this class.”
CUA student participation in this extracurricular project to honor those slain in the massacre did not occur by pure happenstance. Learning about the original plea to hold the moment of silence from the picture shown by Sibilski in his classes, pupils from either the current spring semester or this past autumn decided to participate after hearing that the family members and survivors left behind by the murdered Israelis had their request denied by the IOC for being too political although a moment of silence was granted for the terrorist attacks of 9/11 during the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The students decided to partake in the initiative themselves, hoping to garner enough manpower and enough attention to make the dream into a reality. They began with a draft of a plea letter, which took them four to five weeks to complete. Finally, after seventeen rough drafts, it was completed and ready to send out. The initiative at CUA has received support from Israelis overseas as well as members of the Jewish community here in the District of Columbia. Sibilski and his team of undergraduates would now like to gain the support from their peers at the University.
“This initiative serves to remind the world that we cannot let something like this happen again, that violence is never an acceptable way to encourage dialogue. That’s really what we’re called to do, and this is an opportunity to do it,” said David Bauman, senior sociology major.
The 2012 London Games are paramount to any other for marking the massacre at Munich, not only because this year marks the fortieth anniversary of the tragedy that prevented eleven athletes from returning home to their native country, but also because the next generation of citizens, who will be viewing Games and entering the workforce in the upcoming years, have the closest connections than any other group of people to the form of terrorism that shook the world back in 1972 apart from those directly affected by the murders of the Olympians.
The tragedy that took place during the 1972 Olympic Games, held in Munich, took the lives of five athletes and six coaches of the Israeli Olympic team on September 5th and was the first terror attack of its kind. For to-day’s generation, a terror attack brings to mind the events of September 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City collapsed after a pair of airplanes, hijacked by a group of terrorists, were flown directly into them.
The mayhem that occurred because of this violence eleven years ago still resonates with the public to this day–not only the physical gap in the New York City skyline, but also the deaths caused on that day, the two wars sparked by the attacks to bring justice, peace and closure, and the emotional ruin which was delivered to so many people. The generation which grew up in the midst of the attacks and the repercussions that they brought will forever be labeled as the 9/11 generation.
“It was the end of innocence for all of us, in the way that it was terrorism… nothing compared to that could ever, ever happen, but of course 9/11 did happen,” said Jim McKay in ABC’S documentary on the tragedy.
Before the events of 9/11, the idea of terrorism for many conjured the image of the man in the mask standing on a balcony in Munich. To-day, the same idea of terrorism now spreads into a world-wide evil, with the image of the Twin Towers and the rubble they left behind. Because of these events, which occurred well after 1972, there is no better generation of students than those of the present day. Sibilski’s group of sixty-one has lived through terrorism and understands what it is and what this evil can do.
“This story is not about 11 Israeli that were murdered. It is about 11 athletes that came in hope for friendship and fair play and in the name of sport, and came back in coffins. That’s not the Olympic idea, that’s not the Olympic dream, and it should never happen again,” stated Anouk Spitzer, the daughter of slain athlete Andre Spitzer, in her interview in the ABC documentary.
The 1972 Olympic Games hosted in Munich gave Germany a chance to recover and show the world that it had changed since it last hosted the Olympic Games, dubbed the “Nazi Games,” in Berlin in 1936, which were organized by the infamous Adolph Hitler, who was chancellor of Germany at the time. The Berlin Games were hosted to show the world the strength of Germany and to show off the size of Hitler’s army. The Munich Games, on the other hand, gave Germany another chance to show off to the world, but this time they did not display military vigor, but their lighthearted spirit, all in the hopes to diminish the stereotype of the overbearing German and to push the events of World War II behind them.
The Munich Games, in an attempt to separate itself from their predecessor in Berlin some thirty years before–which had soldiers positioned wherever and whenever possible–had a minimal amount of security, creating a serene environment that at the time seemed less constraining and much less threatening. The tranquil atmosphere was broken when a group of terrorists belonging to the group Black September climbed over the unmanned chain link fence surrounding the village and walked into the Israeli housing complex undetected, taking the Olympians hostage. Once negotiations between the Germans and the terrorists, who demanded that Israel release its Palestinian prisoners, hit a standstill, the terrorists tried to find a way out of the complex and out of Germany. After being transported to Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base, the terrorists, whose attempts to flee were unsuccessful when they met opposition from German authorities, executed all of the remaining hostages.
“When I was a kid my father used to say, ‘Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.’ Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They have now said there were 11 hostages; two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They’re all gone,” declared a somber McKay to the world as he delivered the news over the ABC airways that all eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team had been killed.
Sibilski and his students have been in contact with Olympic officials and with family members of the slain athletes, along with survivors from those Games, gaining support with each step they take. They are hoping not only to keep the memory of the tragedy alive, but also to give those involved closure. By garnering support from the CUA community as a first step and moving on to the world stage, their goal may see some success, even without official results from the IOC.
“We are not going to be able to return those lives, we know that, and we aren’t going to heal any pain. My students and I are completely aware of this fact,” declared Sibilski. “It is not about the results, but the awareness and the journey, what is experienced, what is learned. We would like to do our best to revive the memory of their Olympic values and ideals.”
Consequently, along with the students, Limor Livnat, the Israeli Ministress of Culture and Sport, has sent a request via post, asking the IOC to consider having a moment of silence in honor of the athletes during the Opening Ceremonies. Citing that the plea from family members for this has gone unanswered for almost forty years, Livnat, the students, and the family members of the Olympians do not want the world to forget what happened in Munich.
“I am taking a lot away from this experience but the most important thing is that when you are standing up for something you believe in you have to be relentless and the harder you work, the more people that will listen and join your cause,” said Flynn.
Most recently, in the past weeks, an e-mail arrived from the National Olympic Committee of Israel inviting a delegation of 11 members of the CUA community who partook in this initiative to join the memorial ceremony in commemoration of the assassinated Israeli Olympians that will take place on Monday, August 6, 2012 in London, England. Ideally, part of the journey will include a stop in Israel, where, before traveling to London for the Opening Ceremonies, the students will pay respects to the slain Olympians by visiting and laying flowers on the their graves. Sibilski and his students hope that this act, implemented by current students, will grow into a tradition for the upcoming Olympic Games for years to come.
“When I was inviting my students to take this notion into consideration,” explained Sibilski, “I was fully aware of the complexity, sensitivity, and poignancy of this endeavor as well as the magnitude that this encompasses. I must say that throughout the entire process, my students demonstrated the most exemplary behavior. My understanding is that the parents, teachers–elementary and high school–along with my colleagues here at the University did a phenomenal job in preparing them for their entrance into adulthood, with such a great sense of social justice and equality.”
The family members of the deceased have been urging the IOC to fit the moment of silence into the Opening Ceremonies over recent years as a way to give closure to the events in Munich, and as a way to keep the slain athletes’ legacy from fading into darkness. The survivors and family of the slain believe that the moment of silence is a good way to keep the world from forgetting what happened back in 1972. As each Olympiad passes by, they have repeatedly been refused this courtesy as the IOC believes that the start of the Olympic Games is not the place to make political statements.
“My dream would be that, that my father would get that one minute, that the stadium will stand up for one minute, [or] even less, and his name would be said in one sentence–not a lot–but just to say let’s not forget what happened there. That’s all. I think he deserves that–that would be my dream,” said Spitzer.