Sydney memorial honors slain Israeli athletes


SYDNEY, Australia, Sept. 27 (JTA) — Twenty-eight years to the day after Arab terrorists murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, a memorial was unveiled at a Jewish school here.

Israeli Sports Minister Matan Vilnai was among some 800 guests who gathered around a plot in the heart of Moriah College, where an 11-sided white marble base bears the names of the victims.

Around it are 11 cypress trees, and topping it a block of Israeli basalt volcanic rock in the shape of an extinguished Olympic flame.

Another memorial to the slain athletes was unveiled last year in Sydney’s Olympic Park.

Among the guests at the ceremony were members of the 1972 Australian Olympic team; Walter Troeger, who was mayor of the Olympic Village during the Munich Games; representatives of numerous countries, including Germany, the United States, Argentina and France; and Israeli Olympians participating in the Sydney Games.

Monument designer Ze’ev Bashan wrote in the program accompanying the ceremony that the rock in the form of an extinguished flame symbolizes “the fact that the Olympic Torch will never burn again for the 11 athletes.”

But the memory of how and why they died will endure in the form of the segment of rock unveiled by Israeli Olympic Committee President Zvi Varshaviak and International Olympic Committee Secretary-General Yoram Oberkovich.

As a light drizzle fell, Vilnai called on the IOC to institute a minute’s silence in memory of the Munich 11 at the opening ceremony of every Olympic Games.

“We all know that life goes on, for there is in human society a vitality that even the most evil act can’t suppress. Still, we have an obligation to remember the victims of criminals, murderers and terrorism that continue to threaten people all around the world, especially Jewish people and the people of Israel,” he said.

His call was echoed by the families of the victims, a letter from whom was read by an Australian Jewish National Fund president, Peter Smaller: “We will never forget how our husbands, fathers and sons left for the Olympic Games filled with expectations and hope, proud to represent Israel in the Olympic dream. And we will never forget how they returned in coffins, massacred by those who wanted to destroy the Olympic dream.

“We still believe in that dream, we still believe that it is possible to achieve peace and brotherhood through sport. It is friends like you who help us remain steadfast in that belief. It is a comforting thought that Jews across the ocean did not forget what happened in Munich.

“We hope that a memorial for the 11 slain athletes will become a permanent and official part of future Olympic Games so that the world will never forget. The world must learn from the past while reaching for the future.”

After the ceremony, the Sydney Games’ Finance Committee chairman, Brian Sherman — a prime mover behind an official memorial for the Munich 11 erected at Olympic Park last year — told the Australian Jewish News that he doubted whether the IOC would heed their call.

“I think the reality is that there are a lot of calls on the IOC, a lot of people wanting things for different causes, and I don’t think we’ll get a dedicated one minute’s silence for the 11 on a permanent basis,” he said.

But the poignancy of the day’s events overshadowed any controversy over any future memorials.

Candles for the 11 — Andre Spitzer, Mark Slavin, Yaacov Shpringer, Kehat Shor, Amizur Shapira, Yosef Romano, Eliezer Halfin, Yoseph Gutfreund, Ze’ev Freedman, David Berger and Moshe Weinberg — were lit around the memorial by current Israeli Olympians, together with young representatives of Sydney’s Jewry.

At the same time, while the somber strains of the Metarim String Ensemble echoed throughout the grounds, the cypress trees were planted.

Commonly seen at cemeteries, the trees are known in Israel as the “Tree of Life” because once cut, they do not grow back.

A consortium of public organizations and private donations helped make the memorial possible, and a similar memorial is slated to be erected in the Australian Olympic Forest near Jerusalem.

A face in the crowd was that of Shlomit Nir, for whom the proceedings were particularly poignant. A former swimmer, she was one of two female members of the Israeli Olympic team in Munich.

“When our athletes were killed, I thought the Games would stop. I thought it was impossible to continue after such a tragedy. But the world went on. Years later, I understood that the Games had to go on so as not to allow the terrorists to use the most unifying event in the world as a political stage.

“Today I feel so good, so proud, that the Sydney community did this. This is something I will never forget.”

Recommended from JTA