Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Archive for December 16, 2013

1972 Munich Olympic Massacre


The Munich massacre is a common reference name for an attack that occurred during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Bavaria, in southern West Germany, when 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually killed, along with a German police officer, by the Palestinian group Black September. Shortly after the crisis began, they demanded the release of 234 prisoners held in Israeli jails, and the release of the founders (Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof) of the German Red Army Faction, who were held in German prisons. Black September called the operation “Ikrit and Biram”, after two Christian Palestinian villages whose inhabitants were expelled by the Haganah in 1948.

The attackers were apparently given logistical assistance by German neo-Nazis. Five of the eight members of Black September were killed by police officers during a failed rescue attempt. The three surviving assassins were captured, but later released by West Germany following the hijacking by Black September of a Lufthansa airliner. Israel responded to the killers’ release with Operation Spring of Youth and Operation Wrath of God, during which Israeli intelligence and special forces systematically tracked down and killed Palestinians suspected of involvement in the massacre.

This photo of the hooded terrorist on the balcony of the Israelis’ hotel room, taken by AP’s Kurt Strumpf, is considered to be one of the defining images of international terrorism. Clad in a nondescript pull-over, his face hidden by a sinister looking balaclava with cut-out slits for eyes, he looked more like a dehumanized monster than a young man from a Palestinian refugee camp that he was. We don’t know for certain who he was, yet this faceless individual personified the very image of the modern terrorist: someone who is not like us, does not look like us, and comes from some faraway place of which we knew little; someone different, alien, and inherently evil.

The XXth Olympic Games were held in Munich, Germany in 1972. Tensions were high at these Olympics, because they were the first Olympic Games held in Germany since the Nazis hosted the Games in 1936. The Israeli athletes and their trainers were especially nervous; many had family members who had been murdered during the Holocaust or were themselves Holocaust survivors.

 Israeli Team At Munich

The first few days of the Olympic Games went smoothly. On September 4, the Israeli team spent the evening out to see the play, Fiddler on the Roof, and then went back to the Olympic Village to sleep. A little after 4 a.m. on September 5, as the Israeli athletes slept, eight members of the Palestinian terrorist organization, Black September, jumped over the six-foot high fence that encircled the Olympic Village.

The terrorists headed straight for 31 Connollystrasse, the building where the Israeli contingent was staying. Around 4:30 a.m., the terrorists entered the building. They rounded up the occupants of apartment 1 and then apartment 3. Several of the Israelis fought back; two of them were killed. A couple of others were able to escape out windows. Nine were taken hostage.

By 5:10 a.m., the police had been alerted and news of the attack had begun to spread around the world. The terrorists then dropped a list of their demands out the window; they wanted 234 prisoners released from Israeli prisons and two from German prisons by 9 a.m.


Negotiators were able to extend the deadline to noon, then 1 p.m., then 3 p.m., then 5 p.m.; however, the terrorists refused to back down on their demands and Israel refused to release the prisoners. A confrontation became inevitable.


At 5 p.m., the terrorists realized that their demands were not going to be met. They asked for two planes to fly both the terrorists and the hostages to Cairo, Egypt, hoping a new locale would help get their demands met. The German officials agreed, but realized that they could not let the terrorists leave Germany. Desperate to end the standoff, the Germans organized Operation Sunshine, which was a plan to storm the apartment building. The terrorists discovered the plan by watching television. The Germans then planned to attack the terrorists on their way to the airport, but again the terrorists found out their plans.


Around 10:30 p.m., the terrorists and hostages were transported to the Fürstenfeldbruck airport by helicopter. The Germans had decided to confront the terrorists at the airport and had snipers waiting for them. Once on the ground, the terrorists realized there was a trap. Snipers started shooting at them and they shot back. Two terrorists and one policeman were killed. Then a stalemate developed. The Germans requested armored cars and waited for over an hour for them to arrive.

When the armored cars arrived, the terrorists knew the end had come. One of the terrorists jumped into a helicopter and shot four of the hostages, then threw in a grenade. Another terrorist hopped into the other helicopter and used his machine gun to kill the remaining five hostages. The snipers and armored cars killed three more terrorists in this second round of gunfire. Three terrorists survived the attack and were taken into custody.

“They’re all gone.”

In the end, 17 people died during the Black September attack: six Israeli coaches, five Israeli athletes, five of the eight terrorists and one West German policeman. Three terrorists were captured, but less than two months later, the three remaining terrorists were released by the German government after two other Black September members hijacked a plane and threatened to blow it up unless the three were released. According to multiple reports (long denied by Israel) Israeli security agents later tracked down and killed many of those believed to be responsible for the Munich attack.

Detailed Timeline:

Sept. 4, 8 pm: The Israeli delegation attends a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof,” presented in German and starring Israeli actor Shmuel Rodensky. Simultaneously, the six trained terrorists gather at the Munich Central Railway Station, 10 minutes away from the theater. The men eat dinner at the station restaurant, where they are joined by Muhammad Massalha, 27, and Yussef Nazzal, 25, who possess secret orders for the operation. A plan is revealed to kidnap Israeli athletes for use as leverage in the exchange of some 200 Palestinian prisoners from the Jewish state.

9:30 pm: The Israeli team is invited backstage during intermission to meet the “Fiddler” cast. The group takes a picture with the performers, the last they will ever pose for.

Midnight: The Black September terrorists locate specified lockers at the Munich railway station and remove an arsenal of weaponry that has been stored there for them.

Sept. 5, 4 am: Eight members of the Palestinian terror group Black September quietly scale the fence of the Israeli Village, as athletes inside sleep. The terrorists head to 31 Connollystrasse, a dormitory containing five apartments that house the Israeli men’s team.

4:42 am: Black September enters 31 Connollystrasse.

The terrorists come upon wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg at Apartment 1. Weinberg struggles with one terrorist, getting shot in the process. The wounded coach is ordered to take the men to the rest of the team. Forced by gunpoint, Weinberg leads the terrorists past Apartment 2, where field athletes are housed, instead heading to Apartment 3, where the weightlifters and wrestlers sleep. Weinberg’s hope is that the stronger athletes may have a chance of overpowering the gunmen.

Hostages in Apartment 3 are rounded up and marched back to Apartment 1. Weinberg makes a final attempt at stopping the terrorists, knocking one out and stabbing at another with a fruit knife. The scuffle allows wrestler Gad Tsobari to escape via an underground parking garage. Weightlifter Yossef Romano (who is injured and on crutches, planning to fly back to Israel in one day to undergo surgery) joins his friend Weinberg in attacking the terrorists. Both Israeli men are shot and killed. The terrorists now have nine living hostages.

5:10 am: Shmuel Lalkin discovers the naked body of Weinberg in a hallway and alerts authorities, who arrive on the scene.

6 am: Israeli news outlets pick up the story. What would become a media frenzy begins.

7:40 am: The terrorists demand the release of 236 Palestinian prisoners, giving a 9 am deadline.

9 am: The first deadline passes. Authorities are able to secure extensions to continue negotiations, pushing the deadline time back to noon, then 1 pm, then 3 pm, then 5 pm. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir is in constant communication with German officials, but insists that Israel will not give in to terrorist demands.

3:50 pm: Zvi Zamir, head of the Mossad, arrives in Munich, despite German protests that Israel does not need to send its own security team over.

4 pm: German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, realizing the negotiations are turning futile, offers himself up in exchange for the Israeli athletes. Massalha, who acts as representative for all the Black September members, refuses.

4:30 pm: Hostage Andre Spitzer pokes his head out a window and speaks to German authorities. He says all but one of the hostages is okay.

4:50 pm: Genscher and a police chief are permitted entrance to the hostage location to speak face to face with the terrorists. Their first person account leads to misinformation that there are only four terrorists. The two Germans will later report that the Israeli athletes were “not very hopeful” that their lives could be saved.

5 pm: German officials put into place a covert initiative, called Operation Sunshine. Due to Bavarian law, German military are not legally allowed to deploy. Instead, a team of 38 volunteers dressed as athletes plans to storm 31 Connollystrasse, with machine guns hidden in canvas bags. However, thanks to live television cameras trained on the site, the terrorists see the attack coming and the plan is foiled.

5:46 pm: Eventually accepting their prisoner exchange demands will not be met, the terrorists request a plane to transport themselves and the hostages to Cairo, where they expect easier negotiations. German authorities agree to supply the plane, but do not intend to let the terrorists actually leave the country with the Israeli athletes.

10:30 pm: The terrorists and hostages are brought by helicopter to Furstenfeldbruck, a military airport. A decoy plane waits with a police squad disguised as flight crew planning to overpower the Palestinians. Five snipers sit at a tower, as authorities expect only four terrorists to arrive with the Israelis.

Realizing their mistake, authorities decide the plane crew is undertrained and abandon the decoy mission. Instead, the terrorists and hostages land on the ground, where the snipers begin shooting. Two terrorists and one German policeman, Anton Fliegerbauer, are killed immediately.

11:30 pm: Reaching a stalemate, the Germans order armored cars and wait over an hour for the vehicles to arrive. Once delivered, the terrorists enact a scattered offensive. One jumps onto a helicopter, shooting four more of the Israelis and firing off a grenade. Another Palestinian jumps into the second helicopter, killing the remaining five athletes. Snipers hit three of the terrorists, then finally take the last three Palestinians into custody.

Midnight: German government spokesman Conrad Ahlers goes on the air to falsely announce to the world that all of the terrorists are in custody and all of the Israeli athletes are alive. He calls the event an “unfortunate interruption” and says, “It will be forgotten after a few weeks.”


Sept. 6, 3:24 am: American reporter Jim McKay makes history, telling the world, “When I was a kid my father used to say, ‘Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.’ Our worst fears have been realized.” He announces that all 11 Israeli athletes are dead.

Members of family cry during the funeral

10 am: A memorial is held in the wake of the killings. Flags of participating Olympic nations are lowered to half-staff. Ten Arab nations object, and their flags are raised back to full height.

Afternoon: The games continue. The Israeli team flies home with its murdered teammates. An international cry to suspend the Olympics goes unheeded, prompting athletes of various nationalities to drop out of their own accord. Dutch distance runner Jos Hermens says, “You give a party and someone is killed at the party, you don’t continue the party. I’m going home.”

October 29, 1972: The three surviving terrorists are awaiting trial when a Lufthansa jet is hijacked over the Mediterranean Sea. The new terrorists, also Palestinians, demand the release of the Black September gang in exchange for the passengers on board. The German government immediately agrees.

There are only 12 passengers onboard the jumbo jet, all adult men. Conspiracy theories persist that the hijacking was a setup by Germany as a way to get the Palestinians off its hands and prevent further attacks aimed at retrieving the men. In 1999’s documentary “One September Day,” German General Ulrich Wegener, who was on the scene for the entire tragedy, says, “I think it’s probably true, yes.”

The three surviving terrorists, Mohammed SafadyAdnan Al-Gashey and Jamal Al-Gashey, return to Libya to a hero’s welcome.

The months following: Under the authority of Golda Meir and led by Mossad head Zvi Zamir, Israel enacts a response initiative called Operation Wrath of God. It is widely believed that two of the three remaining Munich terrorists are tracked down and killed as part of the covert mission. The third, Jamal Al-Gashey, is still alive today and resides in North Africa with his wife and children. He has given few interviews in the last decades, but spoke during the filming of “One September Day.” He says to the camera, “I’m proud of what I did in Munich.”




Women’s experience during the siege of Leningrad: Leningrad’s women, 16-45, were mobilized by the thousands. Women were the majority of the half-million civilians who dug anti-tank ditches and defense fortifications and1,500 women were mobilized to work in peat bogs to provide the city with fuel.

The long-suffering women of Leningrad suddenly realized that on them lay the fate not only of their family, but of their city, even of the entire country. Aware of the burden placed upon them to protect their city, able-bodied Leningradian women between 16- and 45-years-old were mobilized in numbers reaching the hundreds of thousands. Women formed the vast majority of the approximately half-million civilians assembled to build anti-tank ditches and defense fortifications along the Pskov-Ostrov and Luga rivers, and 1,500 women were mobilized to work in peat bogs to provide the city with fuel.

The death of men in Leningrad during the war made the siege of Leningrad a woman’s experience. In the face of the men’s absence, women were expected to replace men in the factories, prepare defense fortifications, and protect the city from incendiary bombs, among many other traditionally male duties. All the while, women also fulfilled their traditional responsibilities, such as maintaining home and hearth and preserving societal morality, all increasingly difficult tasks during the severe conditions of the siege. Women managed to assume both roles, all while suffering from starvation, the disintegration of relationships, and alienation from their own bodies. Their experience of the siege illustrates how the ideology of the “new Soviet woman” — woman as man’s professional equal, fulltime worker, loyal Communist citizen, and devoted mother and wife — persisted in the darkest days of the siege of Leningrad.

Survivor from the Siege of Leningrad

There are a ton of survivor testimonials on the siege of Leningrad on YouTube.

  • The siege of Leningrad lasted 872 days. Civilians in the city suffered from extreme starvation.  750 000 people died, which represented between quarter and a third of the city’s pre-siege population. It was the greatest loss of life experienced by a modern city.

I got 2 minutes into this one before I couldn’t take any more.

Howard Dully, age 12, receives a trans-orbital lobotomy from Walter Freeman, the procedure’s inventor, 1960

Aren't surgeons supposed to wear gloves?

Freeman recommended Dully receive the procedure after the boy’s stepmother sought his help with problems she was having with Dully at home.

(Dully had no mental problems and the lobotomy was completely unnecessary. His stepmother was basically a horrible woman who wanted to get rid of Dully, and his father sort of rolled over and went along with it. Amazingly, he had no mental problems from the procedure. He was sent to asylums and group homes for most of his childhood, but amazingly went on to live a relatively normal life.)

Dr. Freeman was a terrible person, who went around lobotomizing people for no particular reason, rendering most of them brain damaged for the rest of their lives.

From Freeman’s notes: “Howard is rather evasive about talking about things that go on in the home. Howard seems to have poor muscular control. He objects to going to bed, but then sleeps well. He does a good deal of daydreaming. He turns the room lights on when there’s broad sunlight outside. He hates to wash. He puts on a sweater on the hottest days and goes without an undershirt on chilly ones. I think it would be pretty much of a shame to wish Howard on anybody. I explained to Mrs. Dully that Howard was unapproachable by psychotherapy and that the family should consider the possibility of changing Howard’s personality by means of transorbital lobotomy. Mrs. Dully said it was up to her husband. I would have to talk to him and make it stick.”

The medical community had already turned against lobotomy at the time.

Information about Dully’s research on his own lobotomy

A general program about the rise of lobotomy in the US

A Swedish volunteer in the Winter War. Northern Finland, February 20, 1940.

Trigger finger mittens may be the single greatest invention ever. Sans the Mosin Nagant.

Trigger finger mittens may be the single greatest invention ever. Sans the Swedish Mauser.

I think people normally say that this is a photo of Simo Häyhä (since you can’t even flipping mention the Winter War on the Internet without people thinking of him.) But I compared the rifle, Häyhä used Finnish M/28 Mosin Nagant variant and the one in the photo is a M96 Swedish mauser in 6.5X55 (which is a truly amazingly accurate rifles and some of the best Mausers ever built.)

  • It should also be noted that while he undoubtably was an excellent shot, the circumstances of the Winter War gave him more opportunities to more or less have a duck-shoot of enemy soldiers than most snipers would ever have. The infamous Soviet human wave tactics were apparently used to a bizarre amount during this war because of the incompetence and desperation of the Soviet command.
    • Background: The Winter War was a military conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland in 1939–1940. It began with Soviet invasion of Finland on 30 November 1939 (three months after the outbreak of World War II), and ended with the Moscow Peace Treaty on 13 March 1940. The League of Nations deemed the attack illegal and expelled the Soviet Union from the League on 14 December 1939.

Dust storm approaching Stratford, Texas, 18th April 1935

Get them chickens in the cellar, Gladis!

Get them chickens in the cellar, Gladis!

One of my favorite books is called “The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan. It’s about the dust storms and resulting dust bowl in the 1930s and what precipitated them. And how people coped (usually by leaving.)

NOAA George E. Marsh Album, theb1365, Historic C&GS Collection