Germans 'Did Nothing to Save Lives' in Olympics

40 years after Israeli athletes were murdered, government documents on debacle are unsealed.

Gil Ronen ,

Memorial to slain athletes
Memorial to slain athletes
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Germans did nothing to save lives during the massacre carried out by Arab terrorists in the 1972 Munich Olympics, according to then-Head of Mossad, Tzvi Zamir, who was at the scene.

Zamir's assessment was included in government documents unsealed Wednesday, 40 years after the debacle.

Mossad reported to the government on the German authorities' handling of the event, when he returned to Israel on September 6, 1972.

"Human lives have no value for them. Neither theirs nor others," he told the cabinet. "In my opinion, and I say this with full responsibility, they did not make a minimal effort to save the lives, they did not take a minimal risk to try and save the people, neither theirs nor ours."

"I cannot avoid noting that it was the poor and faulty execution of the rescue that led to the tragic result," he added.

"My impression was that the whole thing went to their heads and they wanted to go on with the Olympics and finish it one way or another," he continued. Germany's police and minister of interior treated him with "impatience and unwillingness," he complained. The minister even tried to prevent Zamir from joining his helicopter flight to the airport near Munich where the final standoff took place.

Zamir said that he felt encouraged when he saw that the Germans had an operational plan, but his optimism faded soon afterward. "What can I tell you? One felt like climbing the walls." The sharpshooters used pistols instead of guns and the armored vehicles arrived 40 minutes into the event. The Germans lacked the lighting equipment to locate the terrorists who had taken positions in the dark.

Prime Minister Gold Meir tried to present a softer position. "Look," she said. "I was not there, and we need to be accurate in our assessment. When they planned, when they went into action, they wanted to do it. The intent was to save human lives."

Zamir would have none of this. "They did not take minimal risks," he argued. "They fired Turkish-style. They lay behind cover and they fired, but none of them could be made to move from behind his cover… There are wounded people from their force and they could have driven a jeep to extricate a casualty. He was crawling on his stomach and it was clear that he would die of blood loss, but they do nothing to save him."