No words for families of Munich victims

July 21, 1996|By KEN ROSENTHAL

ATLANTA -- One mention, that's all they wanted. One word, one sentence, any acknowledgment of the darkest moment in Olympic history at Friday night's opening ceremonies.

Was that asking so much?

One by one, the sons and daughters of the Munich 11 stood to face the congregation at the Ahavath Achim Synagogue yesterday, reciting their names along with the names of their late Israeli fathers.

Fourteen of them came to Atlanta to remind the world of what happened on Sept. 5, 1972. Some were only babies when their fathers were murdered by Palestinian terrorists. One wasn't even born.

Now, they've gathered together at an Olympics for the first time since the tragedy, virtually all of the children, three of the widows, even a 2-year-old grandson.

"We came to say to all the world, 'Here we are, you have to remember this,' " said Oshrat Romano, 30, the daughter of the late weightlifter Yoseph Romano. " 'If you remember it, it will not happen again.' "

But the International Olympic Committee doesn't want to remember. It doesn't want to do anything to spoil its party, even though nearly a quarter-century has passed, and terrorism is still a dominant issue at the Games.

One mention, that's all the Israelis wanted, one mention in a ceremony that lasted four hours. They claim IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch had promised to do as much in Atlanta, four years ago at the Barcelona Games. But on Friday night, they heard nothing.

Samaranch talked about the importance of peace in Bosnia, about rebuilding the war-torn Olympic city of Sarajevo. But he never mentioned the massacre in Munich, a massacre that took place in the Olympic Village.

His omission was par for the course -- Ankie Spitzer-Rechess, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer, said she has spent the past 24 years fighting for the IOC to recognize the Munich 11 at an opening ceremonies.

"The IOC will not forget what happened in Munich. The IOC fully shares the feelings of the Israeli National Olympic Committee," said Francois Carrard, director general of the IOC. "But the IOC has a policy not to organize events that commemorate dramas that are long gone."

Long gone?

Tell that to the children who grew up without fathers, and live with that emptiness every day.

Shay Shapira, 28, sat at the ceremonies with his sister, Shirley, 24. Their father was track coach Amizur Shapira. Shay was 5 when he was killed, Shirley 6 months old.

The Associated Press in Jerusalem reported that the children walked out of the ceremonies in anger, but Shay and others said they remained in the stadium, waiting for a moment that never came.

"I kept saying to Shirley, 'Maybe now, maybe now,' " Shay said. bTC "We waited until the end. I was very upset. We thought someone would say one word at such an important event."

It would be one thing if the Israelis were just another political faction, demanding recognition before a world audience. But as Spitzer-Rechess said: "This is not a political action. This is a human action."

Such words often ring hollow, but not in this case. The slain Israelis were sportsmen, not diplomats. This isn't a matter of dwelling on the past. If anything, the children are eager to move forward.

One would think that they might be opposed to the first Olympic appearance of Palestine. In fact, just the opposite is true. They support it.

"Why shouldn't they go to the Olympics?" said Gury Weinberg, 24, who was 3 weeks old when he lost his father, wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg. "They're individual athletes. They're not politicians.

"Why punish them because some other people who came before them decided to kill innocent people? It's very easy to blame a whole country over something. But it's not their fault."

Added Shay Shapira: "I want to fight with them only in sports, not in war. There's been enough wars with us. We want more education, to start developing economically, to stop all the fighting.

"I say this even though I know Yassir Arafat was in charge of the terrorists that killed my father. It would be difficult for me to shake his hand. But we've got political people in Israel to do it. They can make the peace."

The children are eloquent spokesmen, poignant symbols, powerful reminders of a tragedy that must never be forgotten. Samaranch should honor them. But, judging by his actions, it seems he would prefer that they just go away.

Not everyone is so callous. The children met with former %J President Jimmy Carter on Friday. They've requested an audience with President Clinton. Spitzer-Rechess, their impassioned leader, will not give up the cause.

She made her case to CNN the other day, and suddenly the IOC is promising to send three officials to a memorial service sponsored by the Atlanta Jewish Federation next Sunday.

One mention, that's all she wanted.

One sentence.

One word.

"What is he afraid of?" Spitzer-Rechess asked. "He told me he's afraid the Arab delegations would walk out. Why would they walk out? We have raised our children without hate in their hearts.

"When the Palestinian delegation walked into the Olympic stadium, they stood up and welcomed them. They see the Palestinians only as sportsmen. They can distinguish between sports and politics.

"Why can't the IOC do the same thing?"

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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