Families of Israelis Killed at Munich Olympics Reach Compensation Deal
DÜSSELDORF, Germany — The German government has reached an agreement with the families of 11 Israeli athletes killed by Palestinian militants at the Munich Olympics in 1972, the Israeli and German governments announced on Wednesday.
The families had said they would boycott a memorial service commemorating the 50th anniversary of the attack over insufficient financial compensation.
“We welcome the fact that soon before the 50th anniversary of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, an agreement has been reached for a historical inquiry, the taking of responsibility and suitable compensation for the victims’ families,” President Isaac Herzog of Israel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany wrote in a joint statement.
A last-minute deal came together after months of negotiations, and the absence of the athletes’ families from the memorial would have been a bitter reminder of a major crisis in the modern relationship between Israel and Germany.
Israeli officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic issues said that after the families’ announcement that they would not attend the ceremony, the Israeli president’s office informed Germany that Mr. Herzog would visit the country as planned but would not attend the ceremony in Munich. That situation that could have been embarrassing to Germany, and the possibility served as a catalyst for finding a solution.
The families also raised the possibility that they would attend a parallel ceremony to be held in London at the same date, the officials said.
The sum offered in this latest round of compensation is 28 million euros (about $28.1 million), according the Israeli officials. The bulk of the money comes from federal coffers, but the state of Bavaria and the city of Munich have chipped in, in recognition of their roles in the tragedy.
The German authorities have long been accused of botching the response to the attack in Munich on Sept. 5, 1972 — which left the athletes and a German police officer dead — and of withholding information and documents from the families for decades. The response, and its aftermath, is considered one of the biggest diplomatic rifts in the special relationship that the two countries have tried to build since starting a diplomatic relationship in 1965, 20 years after the end of the Holocaust.
The agreement was first announced on Wednesday morning by Gerhart Baum, a former federal interior minister who helped represent the victims’ families as a private lawyer, five days before the memorial service was scheduled to take place.
Mr. Baum told the DPA, the German news wire, that the agreement allowed for “a dignified commemoration on Sept. 5” in the presence of the country’s presidents and “the bereaved families who have agreed to participate in the ceremony under the new circumstances.”
The families initially hesitated to accept the sum agreed upon in the end, but under pressure and after requests of Mr. Herzog, they agreed, the Israeli officials said.
Over the years, the families have received a total of €4.8 million in compensation, according to a German government memo seen by The New York Times. Germany was offering €5.4 million in total in additional compensation to 23 remaining family members.
Ankie Spitzer, the widow of the Israeli fencing team’s coach, Andrei Spitzer, who died in the attack, told The Times this month that initial compensation offers were “a joke.”
Besides not adequately guarding the athletes during the event, the German authorities did not allow Israeli forces to help in the rescue of the kidnapped athletes. After a botched rescue attempt — during which the militants killed nine athletes — Germany refused to halt the Games despite demands by the Israeli government.
“They didn’t make a minimal effort to save lives; they didn’t take a minimal risk to try to save people, neither theirs nor ours,” Zvi Zamir, then the head of Israeli’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, told Israeli government ministers at the time, according to a transcript of the meeting obtained by The Times and first reported this month.
It was not just money at stake, according to the athletes’ families, but also the fact that Germany has not always granted access to files about the event. According to recently declassified documents seen by The Times, the German authorities had ignored explicit warnings about the attack.
In addition to the financial compensation, Germany wants to establish a German-Israeli history commission, with full access to all records, “to scrutinize all available sources” and come up with a “scholarly account and assessment of the events,” Mr. Steinmeier’s office said this month.
Both countries’ presidents, who are said to be friends, got involved in the compensation negotiations.
“My thoughts are with the bereaved families,” Mr. Steinmeier said in the statement. “I am grateful and relieved that a solution was found that opens the door to a joint commemoration. I also thank my friend and colleague Isaac Herzog for his trust and engagement, and for keeping the conversation open.”
Mr. Herzog, invoking Germany’s leader, Chancellor Olaf Scholz, said, “I want to express my appreciation for this important step by the German government, led by Chancellor Scholz, taking responsibility and making reparations for the historic injustice done to the families of the victims of the Munich massacre.”
He continued, “I believe that 50 years after this catastrophe, the time has come to find relief for the bereaved families and to reaffirm the lessons of this tragedy, including the importance of fighting terror, for future generations.”
Christopher F. Schuetze reported from Düsseldorf, Germany, and Ronen Bergman from Tel Aviv.