Munich 1972

The Attack on the Israeli Olympic Team – History and Memory

Beginning in summer 2023, an international commission of historians and the Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History have been working together on a project to “examine and reappraise the attack on the Israeli Olympic team of 5 September 1972, during the Olympic Games in Munich, including its background and aftermath.”

On 5 September 1972, eight members of the Palestinian terrorist organization Black September attacked the Israeli men’s team during the Summer Olympics in Munich. Eleven Israeli athletes, one policeman, and five hostage-takers died in the attack and during a failed rescue attempt by the Bavarian police. The events in the olympic village and at the airfield in Fürstenfeldbruck have been the subject of films, television documentaries, journalistic coverage, media reports, and academic accounts. Many unanswered questions, however, still remain about what exactly happened there, in addition to its pre-history and subsequent impact.

The Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community has commissioned the Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ) to bridge this gap in cooperation with an international commission of historians. The IfZ has established a research team for the three-year project, with the aim of examining the immediate background, the attack itself, the actions of West German security authorities and politicians, the consequences of the attack for West German Middle East policy, and its aftermath with regard to domestic politics and commemoration culture.

Open questions remain, for example, regarding the exchange of intelligence during the period leading up to the attack, the perpetrators’ background and networks, and possible support on the part of German left- and right-wing extremists. Information on the course of events and the police operation in Fürstenfeldbruck continues to be inconclusive so that the events in both the olympic village and the airfield need to be examined in detail. This includes the work of the crisis team and its communications with the hostage-takers and with the Israeli government. Additional investigation is necessary to understand the reasons behind the rejection of the Israeli government’s proposal to deploy an elite unit to free the hostages. There has been considerable speculation concerning the hijacking of a Lufthansa airplane in October 1972, which led to the release of the surviving perpetrators. A pivotal objective of the project is to attain the most comprehensive understanding possible of these events. The perspective of the victims’ bereaved relatives also forms part of the project’s focus, as well as their communications with authorities and politicians, and subsequent efforts to obtain information and compensation.

The complete disclosure of sources is necessary for any comprehensive and transparent research, and yet documents still continue to be classified over five decades after the attack. This applies to the relevant Bavarian authorities and archives as well as to federal ministries and agencies, and intelligence services in particular. The Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community has pledged its full support to the project to this end.

The commission of historians includes eight internationally renowned researchers:

  • Prof. Ofer Ashkenazi (Professor of History and the Director of the Richard Koebner Minerva Center for German History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
  • Prof. Michael Brenner (Professor of Jewish History and Culture, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and Director of the Center for Israel Studies at American University in Washington D.C.)
  • Prof. Shlomo Shpiro (Director of the Europa Institute and Paterson Chair in Security and Intelligence at the Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel)
  • Prof. Margit Szöllösi-Janze (Professor, ret., for Contemporary History at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich)
  • Prof. Dr. Petra Terhoeven (Professor for European Culture and  Contemporary History at the University of Göttingen)
  • Prof. Shulamit Volkov (Professor em. for Modern European History at the University of Tel Aviv)
  • Prof. Klaus Weinhauer (Professor for Modern History at the University of Bielefeld)
  • Prof. Christopher Young (Professor for German Studies at Cambridge University)

The director of the IfZ, Prof. Andreas Wirsching, and head of the Research Department in Munich, Prof. Johannes Hürter, bear overall responsibility for the project at the IfZ.

The IfZ research team is headed by PD Dr Eva Oberloskamp.

Further experts will be involved in the project as well. The research results will be provided to the public in a transparent manner and are intended to be published in the form of a report to the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community, in addition to a detailed academic presentation.

Contact: olympia1972[at]

Photo Credit:

  • Header: Bundesarchiv, Bild 145 Bild-00006457/ Fotograf(in): Wegmann, Ludwig
  • Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-L0906-0205 / Fotograf(in): Kohls, Ulrich
  • Amos Ben Gershom / Government Press Office, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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