ISIS operatives are hardly pioneers. Their sadistic barbarism that seems so unprecedented in our era, has already happened -- in civilized countries. Consider the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics where we just learned from the secretive Germans that the Israeli athletes had been terrorized by the Palestinian jihadists who castrated one and viciously tortured the others.
When I read last week about these PLO-sanctioned horrors -- on the sports page of all things -- my heart turned over.
This is because I was there.
I had been a United Press International reporter covering the 20-hour siege. The raft of stories I had written tried to capture every detail or so I thought. But I hadn't known the half of it. Nobody had. Even though the kidnapping ended in the athletes' deaths, it was somehow a murky, one- dimensional tragedy. For 20 years afterwards, the Germans wouldn't release the records of exactly what had happened inside the Israeli compound, nor had they revealed details of the West German police incompetence in the crisis. Finally, they gave the reports and photos to the dead athletes' families, who were so distraught, they waited until now to make the information public.
All I knew back in 1972 is that these faceless athletes had been tied up inside their rooms and eventually killed at an airport shootout. I hadn't even known their names.
At the time, I had been in reporter mode, my pen racing across my notebook like a sprinter. I wanted to get the best story. Caught up in a rush of adrenalin, I lost myself, lost the inner ability to stop and identify with the victims.
At five in the morning of Sept 5, 1972. I had been wrapping up my stint on the UPI graveyard shift when I got a tip that there was a scuffle over at the Israeli compound... Luckily, I was wearing my souvenir track suit, and I ran to the Olympic village as only a 26-year-old could run. I slipped in through the gates just as they were closing them. I wasn't the only one posing as an Olympic runner. Palestinian Fedayeen also in track suits had just climbed over the chain link fence, their grenades and Kalasniikovs hidden in duffel bags.
I reached the Israeli apartments and stood there in shock, listening to screams and fighting coming from a second floor window. I saw a person clad in black from head to toe, lunging back and forth behind the window, waving an assault rifle. Little did I know what horrors they were committing.
I was apparently the only reporter there and I hid behind a bush, but it wasn't long before a horde of other reporters and photographers had scaled the nearby fence. German security guards herded us all behind barricades.
For nearly half a century, those moments of the siege were an emotional blank for me. I remember only flashes of feeling, as when crowds pressed against the chain link fence and sang the mournful Israel anthem, "Hatikvah," in hopes the hostages would hear them.
The terrorists finally marched the athletes onto an airport-bound bus, but they were just a blur and the mayhem at the airport, a hazy media image. Now, I dug through my boxes and found a London Observer's article about the security mistakes made by the Germans and Israelis, and their botched rescue plan. I saw the athletes come alive on the newspaper page; I saw them lined up in a team picture with their strong, content faces that spoke of what they were made of. I learned how Yossef Gutfreund, a wrestling referee, shouted a warning and threw his 300 pounds against his door, delaying the masked intruders so that his roommate could break a window and escape. How Moshe Weinberg, the tall wrestling coach with chubby cheeks and a boyish smile, in spite of being shot through the face, heroically led the terrorists astray as they looked for other athletes' rooms. And how Joseph Romano, a weightlifter and veteran of the Six-Day war, smiling widely in the picture with a mop of hair like one of the Beatles, fought and wounded an intruder. In the recent news, I now knew he was shot to death and had his penis knifed off. Then they threw down his dead body like a rumpled bag of clothes to scare the bound up athletes
Since the television coverage of the Vietnam war, the public has grown used to brutal images. As I read, however, the Munich event took on a reality it didn't have when it was happening. What had remained unreconciled in my mind, split off from my emotions, now came together to make sense.
I felt for the wives and families who had to wonder for decades about the last hours of their loved one's lives, for the brave Israelis who were resigned to their fate, trying to save others before themselves.
I located the folder of stories I had done during those horrific days, and one stood out. I had gone round asking the young guards what they thought and felt about the tragedy. Most became defensive, exclaiming "Why are you asking me? I had nothing to do with it. Don't try to pin this on Germany."
Then I found Hans, As I looked at the quotes in my piece by this unusual young steward, I heard his shame and sorrow more profoundly than I ever had back then;
"I'm often asked how my people could let 6 million die so I applied to work at the Olympics. I wanted to be proud of my country, erase the nightmare.
We adopted a casual non-militant stance, even the police. The games were so important to me and my friends... we had a chance to show people from around the world that we were just people like them.
I guess that will not matter now, nothing we do will matter because they will say we allowed 11 Jews to die. They won't forget it."
And neither will I.