Israelis Ilana Romano, left, and Ankie Spitzer, widows of two Israeli Olympians killed by Palestinian gunmen at the 1972 Munich Olympics, pose for photographers in front of the Olympic Stadium ahead of the 2012 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, July 25, 2012, in London. Relatives of the victims are calling on spectators to stage a silent protest during the opening of the London games, but the International Olympic Committee says the opening ceremony is not an appropriate arena to remember the dead, despite pressure from politicians in the United States, Israel and Germany. / Lefteris Pitarakis, AP
LONDON (USA TODAY) — Forty years ago this Sept. 5, Barbara Berger said good night to her brother David, a weightlifter who grew up in Cleveland but had just competed at the Munich Olympics for Israel. He went back to his room in the Olympic Village. Barbara and her other brother went back to their pension in town.
They never saw David again.
David Berger was 28 when he became one of the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches killed by Black September terrorists on the darkest day in Olympic history.
Incredibly, there has never been a moment of silence held in their honor at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. For decades, the International Olympic Committee has refused to do it. The organization would rather forget about the tragedy than commemorate it.
But this year, on the 40th anniversary of the attack, that terrible omission began drawing more attention than it ever has. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, along with many members of Congress, and other world leaders, spoke in favor of a moment of silence at London's opening ceremony. Petitions were signed. Family members spoke out as never before, demanding that the IOC finally do what's right on its grandest stage. Some even came to London to plead their case in person.
But the IOC turned its back on all of them. The organization has come up with substitute remembrances: a spontaneous moment in the village the other day, a ceremony away from the stadium in early August, other events in September. But the IOC would not budge from its obstinacy about its grandest event, the opening ceremony; it would steadfastly not include a word, a moment, a thought, about the 11 men who died solely because they were Olympic athletes and coaches in the IOC's care.
The opening ceremony, IOC President Jacques Rogge said, is "an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident."
What a ridiculous statement that is. The opening ceremony is exactly the place to remember that awful moment in Olympic history. When Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed the day of the opening ceremony in Vancouver in February 2010, Rogge demanded the evening's script be rewritten to include several tributes to that tragic incident. And when American leaders asked that opening ceremony protocol be changed to include the entrance of the World Trade Center flag at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, the IOC relented, and the tragedy of Sept. 11 was remembered in an unprecedented manner at an Olympic event.
But we can safely say the IOC will never take even a minute out of its opening ceremony for this tragedy — which happens to be its very own tragedy.
Few are willing to say it, but we all know why. The IOC doesn't want to do anything that might upset the nearly 50 Arab and predominantly Muslim nations that are competing in these Games.
"I would assume that if it had been 11 Americans, we would have had a moment of silence a long time ago," Barbara Berger said in a recent phone interview from her home in Maine.
Or 11 Brits. Or Australians. Or Japanese. Or pretty much 11 people from any country other than Israel.
"I'm very, very, very, very frustrated," Berger said. "I don't think it's a lot to ask. I would have been happy with a moment of silence for peace. It didn't even have to be about Munich. I thought this might be the year with the anniversary and the petition. There's been more external pressure than there's ever been."
And yet, all that pressure has failed. One of the athletes' widows has called for spectators in Olympic Stadium to stand in silence in the Israelis' memory as Rogge begins speaking. Even if it's only a few people, it could be a powerful moment — and a shameful one for Rogge.
Benjamin Berger heard the news of his son's death from commentator Jim McKay on ABC's telecast of the Munich Olympics. He will be 95 next month. His wife died nearly two years ago. For 40 years, he has worked behind the scenes to honor David and the others.
"Every four years, it's stirred up again," he said over the phone. "Every four years, I expect it will be different, and each year, I hope it will be different, but it's not. David was a pacifist at heart, so I would wish for just a moment of silence for peace between countries."
Even though their effort has failed once again, Berger found some solace in the outpouring the families received from the international community this Olympic year.
"It's been nice that there's been more help along the way, even if the result is the same," he said. "Usually, it's something we have had to do alone."