Nearly fifty years ago, on September 5, 1972, Palestinian terrorists took the Israeli delegation hostage at the Munich Olympics. It ends in a bloodbath: all eleven Israelis are murdered. Three of the hostage takers survive the escape attempt. Two of them are later killed, but the third is still alive somewhere in hiding. At least, that’s the well-known story.
According to a documentary by KRO-NCRV, a second hostage-taker, Mohammed al-Safady, is also still at large. His cousin and a senior Palestinian official tell the documentary makers that he is still alive. According to the documentary makers, Safady is staying in Lebanon, hiding from the Israeli secret service.
Until now secret documents from the Munich Archives show that Safady killed five Israelis during the escape attempt. One of them was fencing trainer Andre Spitzer. His widow, Nieuwsuur and VRT correspondent Ankie Rechess-Spitzer, belongs in the documentary Ankie after fifty years who is responsible for her husband’s death.
“Looking back now, it’s surreal that I had to search for those answers for 50 years,” Rechess-Spitzer says. “It has been made extremely difficult for us as relatives by the Bavarian and German governments. Through this documentary I learned things that I would never have found out otherwise.”
According to the West German government at the time, no information was documented about the hostage situation and the rescue attempt. Over the years, more and more information came out. This showed that the German government and police made major mistakes, during and prior to the hostage crisis.
It is now clear that detailed reports are in the Munich Archives. “That’s where our question came from: can we find out who was behind Andre’s death?” says Evert-Jan Offringa, who made the documentary together with Twan Huys.
View excerpts from ‘Ankie: the Olympic widow’ here. The full documentary will be broadcast in two parts on NPO1 on 4 and 5 September.
‘He did it, and he’s proud of it’
The records say that Safady was the one who shot the hostages. Spitzer’s autopsy report, which states how he died, is also in the file. “These are documents that Ankie has never seen in all those fifty years,” says Offringa.
Alive or dead?
There are several stories about Safady. Rechess believed that the Israeli secret service Mossad had liquidated him in an act of revenge. According to a book by Israeli journalist Aaron J. Klein, it is also possible that he was killed by a Christian militia in Lebanon.
In the same book, Palestinian official Tawfik Tirawi claims that Safady is alive, a claim he repeats in the documentary. His cousin, Fareed, confirms this. He claims that his uncle lives in secret because he is wanted by the Mossad.
According to Fareed, Safady shot the athletes dead at the behest of the hostage leader. If anything went wrong, the deal was to kill the hostages. He also says that Safady is proud of his actions: “He is happy that he did it”, according to his cousin.
Rechess reacts resignedly. “That shows what kind of person it is. Of course I want him to appear in court, but for me this chapter is over. I wanted to know exactly what happened for myself and my daughter. That is now over.”
Still, the story for Rechess isn’t quite finished yet. She and other relatives have made three demands on the German government: public apologies, the opening of all archives about the hostage situation and the aftermath and compensation for the next of kin. The first two requests were granted by President Steinmeier, according to Rechess; the third is still under negotiation.
Until that last demand is granted, Rechess and the other relatives boycott the official commemoration in Munich on September 5. The Israeli president and the head of the Olympic committee will also not be present.
“It will never be completely over for me, of course,” Rechess says. “I wake up with Munich and go to bed with it. After fifty years we now know more about what happened, it is time for everything to become clear.”
Here’s a look back at Munich’s hostage drama:
Looking back: the Munich hostage drama in 1972