This week marks 47 years since the Munich massacre – the appalling murder of 11 Israeli Olympic team members by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, West Germany.
Before the massacre, members of the Israeli Olympic delegation openly discussed their concerns about the lack of security assigned to them. Tragically, their concerns were mostly ignored.
During the early morning hours of Sept. 5, the members of Black September used stolen keys to break into the apartment where the Israeli team was staying. They had been scoping out the apartment and surrounding areas for weeks preparing for their attack.
Two Israelis were murdered during the initial stage of the attack, and the remaining nine were taken hostage and later murdered during a failed rescue mission.
Tragedies like the Munich massacre cannot and must not be forgotten.
First, we must honor those who were killed. But we must also learn how to keep such attacks from happening again.
The attack on representatives of the Jewish state of Israel terrified the world, but didn’t generate the outrage it warranted. The Olympics at first continued but were eventually suspended for just 36 hours, under public pressure.
Nor did the massacre prompt sufficient tightening of security measures around the world to prevent other deadly terrorist attacks in the years ahead.
As has often happened in history, Jews and the state of Israel tend to become the targets of a “first try” to find out what kind of damage can be caused around the world. Even today this is seen with a global rise in anti-Semitism and a lack of leadership to take action to stop it.
We are also seeing this with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. This blatantly anti-Semitic movement has the goal of destroying Israel, a vibrant democracy and close U.S. ally.
Why should we pay attention to what is happening in Israel? Because if we don’t stand up for Israel when it faces these kinds of attacks today, America will be next.
The danger of complacency in the face of attacks on others was described by Martin Niemöller, who was a submarine officer in the German Navy in World War I and later became a Lutheran pastor. At first he supported Nazi leader Adolf Hitler but then became a fierce opponent and was imprisoned in concentration camps from 1938 to 1945, narrowly escaping death.
Blaming himself for not opposing Hitler sooner, he made remarks after World War II translated into several versions in English as a poem. The best-known translation states:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist / Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist / Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist / Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew / Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.
These moving words tell us how necessary it is to learn from one’s mistakes and to keep certain parts of history from ever repeating themselves.
This anniversary of the Munich massacre must remind us that we should be vigilant to the suffering of others. The massacre shows us that violence that may seem directed only at Israel and Jews will eventually come back to haunt all of us as well.
Take a look at our world today and the threats that we are facing.
Iran has made it clear that its immediate enemy is Israel, but that is never where it ends. Iran also demonizes the United States and calls for our destruction.
We must protect Israel as our ally and a partner in the democratic values that our two countries share, and stay vigilant about the threats Israel faces every single day.
We must learn what we can from the acts of terrorism that we have been forced to witness in recent years – including the Sept. 11, 2001 mass murders here in the U.S. almost exactly 18 years ago – and stand up to those who proudly sponsor terrorism and wage war against our allies and ideals.