Israel Releases Papers on ’72 Munich Killings, Part of Trove

The Israeli Olympic team in Munich in 1972. Members were later taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists and then killed.

JERUSALEM — The instructions from the Israeli government were clear in the hours after Palestinian terrorists killed two Israeli athletes at the Munich Summer Olympics in 1972, took nine others hostage and demanded the release of more than 200 Arab prisoners.

“The Israeli government does not negotiate with terrorists,” read the urgent cable, marked classified and sent to the Israeli ambassador in Bonn, the capital of what was then West Germany, on Sept. 5, 1972. “The government expects the German authorities to do everything in their power to rescue the hostages.”

But a German raid failed and by the early hours of Sept. 6, the hostages were shot dead, apparently by one of their captors as they sat, bound, in a helicopter that was then blown up by a terrorist grenade. One German police officer also died. That night, according to a formerly top secret document, Zvi Zamir, the Mossad chief who witnessed the botched rescue, told Prime Minister Golda Meir and other top officials, “They didn’t make even a minimal effort to save lives, didn’t take even a minimal risk to try to save the people, neither theirs nor ours.”

Now for the first time, these and dozens more classified documents relating to the killing of the athletes have been made public after four decades left sitting in cardboard boxes in the Israel State Archives, the repository of the country’s collective memory and many of its secrets. Their publication last week was timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre.

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