SA (Sturm Abteilung or “Brownshirts”) call for the boycott of Jewish shops in Friedrichstraße, Berlin; April 1, 1933.
The sign says: “Germans, Attention! This shop is owned by Jews. Jews damage the German economy and pay their German employees starvation wages. The main owner is the Jew Nathan Schmidt.”
Why couldn’t the Jews just “blend in” during World War Two?
There are a number of issues for Jews just “blending in”, which broadly speaking worked differently in Eastern and Western Europe.
In Western Europe, maltreatment of Jews was mostly incremental. The Nazis didn’t start mass murdering people right out of the gate (though it was clear that things were going to get bad for the Jews, and people did openly speak in the ’30s of the possibility of Jews being killed en masse, albeit not on the scale it actually occurred). First, citizenship was revoked, certain rights were rolled back, Jews were de-integrated from society, etc. Eventually you got things like the famous yellow stars. The penalties for pretending not to be Jewish were pretty steep, and being killed for being Jewish wasn’t an immediate threat. Additionally, records were used over time to make it difficult to hide Jewish lineage. While Jews “passing” would’ve been relatively easy in Germany, the environment pre-war made it an unlikely choice.
In Eastern Europe, the Germans essentially rolled in followed by killing squads and created ghettos in cities. However, there were a couple of issues. First, you did have some of the same effect as in Western Europe, where people feared the Germans finding them unregistered more than they feared what’d happen if they didn’t. Creating ghettos and killing everybody wasn’t announced.
In Kiev, for instance, Jews were told that they had to assemble with their possessions for resettlement a few days after the occupation began–anyone violating the order would be shot. But upon their arrival, they were all shot in a ravine at Babi Yar–only a few who managed to slip away survived. While some Jews might’ve feared what would happen, the prospect of being hunted down was present, and culturally speaking restrictions on Jewish residence in Europe wasn’t exactly a new phenomenon.
Additionally, in Eastern Europe much more than western, Jews weren’t very integrated. It’d be a dead giveaway if someone could only speak Yiddish (which would’ve happened in rural areas, though most people could probably converse in the local language) or couldn’t find non-Jews to vouch for them or couldn’t document a name that wasn’t Jewish.
In all these cases, the penalty for trying to “pass” was death, and the Nazis had whatever historical records were available to hunt down those who tried.
However, some people did. While it was difficult to do it, among the millions of Jews some were bound to try it, and some succeeded. Just yesterday I heard someone asking about documenting Jewish genealogies because their Litvak (Lithuanian-Jewish) ancestors intentionally obfuscated their Jewish heritage. And I know a woman (this anecdote is illustrative, not a source–that’d be against the rules) who survived the war as a girl in a Belgian orphanage–it was assured that there was no documentation tying her to being Jewish, and by all appearances she was just a young girl who was abandoned.
A better-known example is the French village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, which sheltered thousands of French Jews (and others escaping Nazi persecution). Note that France had an integrated Jewish community (so people could “pass”) and didn’t have the incremental persecution increases in Germany, so there was more incentive to try to avoid the Germans figuring out you were Jewish at all. It required a organized effort, and lots of forged documents–if you mysteriously had no record of birth in the local church, the Nazis wouldn’t just shrug and move on.
So in short, you’d have to decide way in advance to pass in Germany, and it’d be difficult to in Eastern Europe. In either case, the incentive to hide being Jewish wasn’t immediately apparent, but the risks of it were.
The Holocaust as occurring in three stages:
The important thing to know about the general European context of Jewish-Gentile relations is that Jews were considered an existential ‘other” and were persecuted in varying levels at varying times. This period roughly from the end of the Roman Empire to the end of the 19th century can be thought of as anti-Judaism because as opposed to anti-Semitism there was no racial component. Jews were hated because of their religion and/or religious heritage (deicide –killing of Christ — using blood of Gentile children in the making of matzah — blood libel — etc.) What this meant is that if a Jew converted or stopped practicing then they could “potentially” be accepted. There are some examples of this not being the case, especially during the Inquisition, where Spanish Catholics feared the rise of secret Jews that would corrupt their faith. The point in bringing up this is that the Nazis along with others in Europe changed the reason for hating Jews. With the rise of modern thought, old religious prejudices were archaic and antiquated. Instead, Nazis saw Jews as racial antagonists, born with the goal of destroying the Aryan people. This grew out of a horrible misinterpretation of Darwin, and morphed into a battle of the races. Germans as well as other European host societies in the late 18th early 19th century that hard large prominent Jewish populations often talked of Jews as being parasites or cancers. Given this context, killing Jews wasn’t so much murdering innocent people as it was a simple medical operation to make the German people healthy again. The other thing this meant was that even if a Jew converted, they would still be a Jew “by blood”. If you genetic code or your blood is what causes you to be bad or want to destroy Aryans, then there is nothing you can do, it’s just a simple fact of biology. Even babies have to be killed if you follow this logic. Although the baby can do no harm now, it has the “biological potential” to destroy you and it is evolved to do exactly that. Kill it or be killed yourself. As you will see as wee progress throughout these stages, one of the overriding causes of prejudice is fear. This absolutely fear and feeling of being hard done. Everything bad that has ever happened can be wrapped up and blamed on the Jews. And when everything is the fault of the Jew it is very easy to go from simply denying them rights, to eventually extermination. But I am getting ahead of myself here.
*The introduction of race and modern thought changed the hatred of Jews from old religious prejudice, to racial biological opposition.
Another pre-stage issue that ought to be discussed is many of the stereo-types of Jews as well as the historical circumstances that caused them to develop. Even today everyone knows of the “banker Jew” or the “rich greedy Jew”. This develops directly as a response to two issues: First, Jews are barred from owning land throughout much if not the entirety of the pre-modern period. One of the few occupations that Jews could work in was as money-lenders or “court-Jews” where unlike their Christian counterparts who could not charge interest due to religious law regarding usury, Jews were able to loan money for profit and a very very select few were able to become successful this way. I make an emphasis of how small this group is specifically because some people misconstrue this and interpret this as all Jews were successful bankers. Not only is this far from the truth, but Jews also had a stereo-type for being poor and dirty and ruining cities because of the condition of their ghettos. I believe Goethe even remarks on this when discussing the city of Frankfurt and the appalling condition of Frankfurt’s Jewish quarter. I bring this up to emphasize that stereo-types of Jews are created with pre-conceived notions of their being something wrong with Jews. When they are successful it is because they are greedy and steal from the poor average Christian. When they are poor it is because they did not accept Christ and they are stupid and what have you. No matter what Jews did, it was always bad. Specifically though, this becomes even more important in the modern period with the unbridled expansion and revolution of capitalism and industry. I don’t know why but for some reason people seem to gloss over how revolutionary (in the sense of completely changing the accepted order) the advent of capitalism and industry were for the average person. When in the course of a single generation you go from small family in home production to the massive factories of coal and steel, where children lose arms and families can barely afford to eat while behemoths of iron race by you with the power of a hundred horses and can take you across entire nations to distant lands and different peoples … it is quite simply too much for some people. In this age all of these problems and new developments seem awful and people wonder why this is all happening. People fall back on their old prejudices but with a new flavor. The Jews did this. They are the ones that invented capitalism and are profiting from it. Look at all these rich Jewish businessmen and bankers. They are the ones that have destroyed the traditional European economy and family. They are the ones that force your husband to work in the mines while the rich live lives of luxury beyond your comprehension.
This part is where it gets tricky though. Jews also get blamed for the anti-thesis of capitalism as well: communism. Marx being a Jew as well as many younger radical Jews such as Trotsky being a part of the movement means that the whole project becomes a Jewish conspiracy. Once again, anything and everything that can and does go wrong is blamed on the Jews. Secret military documents leaked to your enemy? Blame Dreyfuss the Jew. Hate the excesses of capitalism? Blame the Rothschilds and join a nationalist socialist party. Hate communism as well or more? Hate Trostky and Marx and join a nationalist socialist party. It is a completely self-containing and self-fulfilling system. If you go looking for a Jewish conspiracy you will find one whether its there or not.
*Old prejudices with a new modern twist create a nasty environment.
Okay so hopefully you get the sense now that Jew-hatred has always been a thing, but it is changing at a critical juncture in time and it is doing so with some nasty effects. There has always been pogroms where killing Jews is okay, but this is small scale. I think what you want to get to is the wholesale slaughter and destruction of the Jews. I am trying to only hit the major points, but there is so much to know (Influence of WWI, Failings of the Weimar Republic and how that relates to anti-Semitism, why the most progressive moments for Jews were also the most fraught, the developments of Eugenics and the Zyklon B program etc.)!
Stage 1: Legal Persecution (ca. 1933 – 1938)
This period from roughly when the Nazis and Hitler take power to Kristallnacht are important because it codifies into law the differentiation between Jew and German. The most obvious example is the Nuremburg Laws of 1935 which banned Jews from public office and government jobs (a really big deal in Germany), denied them equal citizenship, boycotted Jewish businesses, and a host of other legal implications both nationally and locally. The idea was that if the Nazis could deprive Jews of their rights they would be able to control them and prevent their scheming and influence from infiltrating important aspects of German society. But for all this is worth, this is far from the mass extermination of Jews. What begins to change the equation is the introduction of violence — kristallnacht.
Stage 2: Violence, War and Ghettoization (ca. 1938 – 1941)
Kristallnacht is a weird thing. Nazis tried to portray this event as the organic rising up of the average German against the Jewish oppressor and heroically destroying their sources of power. Actually, this was an orchestrated pogrom of sorts with national offices specifically telling party members to wear ordinary clothes so that it could seem like it was natural even though it wasn’t. In fact, there were many cases of fire departments being called out to contain the flames only to synagogues or Jewish businesses and many German families were outraged that they would not put out the fires in the Jewish buildings. For the most part though it was a successful experiment in mobilizing Germans to attack Jews while the average German passively accepted it. There was some outcry granted, but nothing massive. We know this because even in the latter stages Nazis seem to react to democratic impulses. A famous case being Germans protesting their Jewish husbands/wives being deported to concentration camps and succeeding in getting their shipments stopped. The major point that one should draw from Kristallnach is that violence is okay now. One last thing to note is that at this time, it was still possible to get out of Germany. Even people as high up the Nazi command as Eichmann advocated for forcing the Jews to immigrate to Israel. The point is that while things are getting bad for Jews, extermination is still way off in the distance. This period ends with the start of the war. The war radicalizes and changes everything.
Germany had a large population of Jews prior to the war and it is important to note that a majority of German Jews survive the Holocaust. This is not true in Poland. With Germany’s invasion of Poland, Germany suddenly has added millions of Jews to its empire and something has to be done about it. It is decided that the already existing system of concentration camps for political prisoners and some Jews is to be expanded massively. However, even with this expansion there is simply not enough room for all the of these Jews to be successfully controlled and so it is opted that the ghettos of Warsaw and Krakow are to be utilized as well. Here is where ghetto, concentration camp, and extermination camps need to be differentiated. Concentration camps are nothing new, they were used in South Africa well before the war, and are used in the U.S. during the war for Japanese prisoners. The idea is that if you have an enemy, if you concentrate them all in one place, you can contain them and prevent them from doing anything bad. Ghettos are a little bit different. While the same principle of concentration is being applied, they are actually massive walled off sections of cities that Jews were already living in. The issue with ghettos unlike concentration camps is that as the war progressed Nazis began to massively overcrowd them and massively under-supply them. There is still not a lot of organized killing, although it does happen, especially during the uprisings that take place in some of the ghettos, but most Jews in these ghettos are dying of disease and starvation. To the Nazis, this seems like the “Jewish Problem” is solving itself. The issue becomes completely compounded and un-manageable after the invasion of the Soviet Union in ’43.
*Kristallnacht introduces violence and concentration begins prior to the war, but the war begins the actual killing of Jews although it is mostly passive through starvation and disease in the ghettos.
Stage 3: Einsatzgruppen and Death Camps (1943 – 1945)
With the invasion of the Soviet Union which includes much of Eastern Europe, Ukraine, Russia Germany now controls almost the entirety of the Jews of Europe. There is simply no resources, time, or interest in concentrating Jews and slowly waiting for them to die out. The war is raging and Germany is becoming stretched thin. In addition, due to the structure of the Nazi government, unlike many caricatures of the Germans of being extremely efficient and organized, Hitler ran the empire very loosely and would hold meetings with his top staff and make suggestions. These suggestions were then made into policy by his officials who were all competing for Hitler’s favor and affection. As the war went on this competition became more intense as generals and different branches sought to out do each other. When Hitler would muse on the Jewish issue, top leaders would attempt to find the easiest way to get rid of the Jews. This is how the Final Solution began.
Now as for the specifics, many of the Jews that were killed in the Holocaust were murdered by Einsatzgruppen. These were groups of typically reservists called up into SS units with the task of rounding up Jews in towns where the main German army had already advanced through, recording names and taking valuables, and then individually taking them out into a forest or field outside the town and putting a bullet in the back of their head. This is where you start to see some of the mass graves and it is gruesome work. Average Germans with no other options are forced to wipe out entire villages and populations of Jews.
This still isn’t fast enough for the Nazis and the war has taken a very dour turn for the Germans by 1944. It is in this period that the extermination camps are increasingly utilized although they were actually constructed and being utilized to an extent as early as 1942. People are often surprised at how late this occurs considering how many Jews die in camps and the fact that many believe that this was Hitler’s plan all along. This just goes to show how radicalized and efficient the Germans had to become. Death camps as opposed to the labor or concentration camps are simply factories for murder. There are two lines, one for those who might be able to provide some labor temporarily, and on for women, children, the sick, the elderly, etc. The lines were usually decided by a doctor who would give a cursory look and decide if you would live or die. If you were in the line marked for death you would be march into a locker room of sorts where you would be told to remove all valuables and clothing and prepare for showers and decontamination. They would then be herded into rooms with what looked like shower heads but were actually dispersal agents for the gas. The doors would be locked, the gas administered, the gas would be released and then the bodies would be collected and sent to the massive incinerators to be burned. It was a conveyor belt of unceremonious carnage and the culmination of old world hate and modern ingenuity and efficiency.
*Towards the end of the war Germany pushes for more efficiency and a quicker solution to the “Jewish Problem” beginning with simply shooting individual Jews, to the gas chambers and incinerators of Auschwitz II.
So that’s basically how they did it. Another major issue that I did not address is the role played by non-Jews in the Holocaust. Jews were not the only ones killed in the Holocaust and it is important to understand why. It was really cathartic for me to write all of this out and try to address this massive topic and do it the justice it deserves. Some people think that the Holocaust is this horrible thing that we can’t even begin to comprehend because it is so evil, but it is our moral obligation to look at human events even when they are the most difficult and attempt to look at the evidence and analyze what happened. Part of the reason I study and talk about this topic is because I think of history as a sort of justice. People should know how and why they died. It wasn’t because of some unimaginable evil. It was the actions and choices of human beings just like you and me effected by the currents of thought and history just like you and me.
- “The Pity of It All” by Amos Elon
- “The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History” by Paul Mendes-Flohr & Jehuda Reinharz
- “Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland” by Christopher Browning
- “Night” by Elie Weisel
- “If This is A Man” by Primo Levi
- “Because of Romek: A Holocaust Survivor’s Memoir” by David Farber
R.I.P. Alice Herz Sommer
…whose music saved countless lives during her two years at the Terezin-Theresienstadt concentration camp.
The Night of Broken Glass marked the beginning of the Holocaust.
Kristallnacht, also to referred to as the Night of Broken Glass, and also Reichskristallnacht, Pogromnacht, and Novemberpogrome, was a pogrom or series of attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria on November 9–10, 1938.
Jewish homes were ransacked, as were shops, towns and villages, as SA Stormtroopers and civilians destroyed buildings with sledgehammers. Around 1,668 synagogues were ransacked, and 267 set on fire. In Vienna alone 95 synagogues or houses of prayer were destroyed.
Martin Gilbert writes that no event in the history of German Jews between 1933 and 1945 was so widely reported as it was happening, and the accounts from the foreign journalists working in Germany sent shock waves around the world. The Times wrote at the time: “No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenseless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday.” (Source)
The day after the attacks, on November 11, 1938, both Hitler and his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, appeared at a press conference for foreign correspondents in Munich. There Goebbels announced, “We shed not a tear for them [the Jews.]” He went on to comment on the destruction of synagogues saying, “They stood in the way long enough. We can use the space made free more usefully than as Jewish fortresses.”
“Kristallnacht” provided the Nazi government with an opportunity at last to totally remove Jews from German public life. It was the culminating event in a series of anti-Semitic policies set in place since Hitler took power in 1933. Within a week, the Nazis had circulated a letter declaring that Jewish businesses could not be reopened unless they were to be managed by non-Jews. On November 15th, Jewish children were barred from attending school, and shortly afterwards the Nazis issued the “Decree on Eliminating the Jews from German Economic Life,” which prohibited Jews from selling goods or services anywhere, from engaging in crafts work, from serving as the managers of any firms, and from being members of cooperatives. In addition, the Nazis determined that the Jews should be liable for the damages caused during “Kristallnacht.” “The Decree on the Penalty Payment by Jews Who Are German Subjects” also imposed a one-billion mark fine on the Jewish community, supposedly an indemnity for the death of vom Rath.
Although the atrocities perpetrated during the Night of Broken Glass did arouse outrage in Western Europe and the United States, little concrete action was taken to help the Jews of Germany. At a press conference on November 15th, President Roosevelt said, “The news of the past few days from Germany has deeply shocked public opinion in the United States… I myself could scarcely believe that such things could occur in a 20th century civilization.” The president also instructed that the 12,000-15,000 refugees already in the U.S. on temporary visitor visas could remain in the country indefinitely. (Source)
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.
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.
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.
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 Safady, Adnan 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.”