Forty years ago, it was 4:30 in the morning on Sept. 5, 1972, when five Palestinian terrorists wearing track sweat suits climbed the six-foot six-inch fence surrounding the Olympic Village. Although they were seen by several people, no one thought anything was unusual since athletes routinely hopped the fence; moreover, the terrorists' weapons were hidden in athletic bags.
These five were met by three more men who are presumed to have obtained credentials to enter the village. The Palestinians then used stolen keys to enter two apartments being used by the Israeli team at 31 Connollystraße.
Israeli wrestling referee Yossef Gutfreund heard a faint scratching noise at the door of the first apartment. When he investigated, he saw the door begin to open and masked men with guns on the other side. He shouted “Hevre tistalku!” (Hebrew: "Guys, get out of here!") and threw his nearly 300-lb. (135-kg) weight against the door to try to stop the Palestinians from forcing their way in. In the confusion, coach Tuvia Sokolovsky and race-walker Dr. Shaul Ladany escaped and another four athletes, plus the two team doctors and delegation head Shmuel Lalkin, managed to hide.
Wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg, attacked the kidnappers as the hostages were being moved from one apartment to another, allowing one of his wrestlers, Gad Tsobari, to escape. The burly Weinberg knocked one of the intruders unconscious and stabbed another with a fruit knife before being shot to death. Weightlifter and father of three Yossef Romano, 31, also attacked and wounded one of the intruders before being killed. The Arabs then succeeded in rounding up nine Israelis to hold as hostages.
At 9:30, the terrorists announced that they were Palestinians and demanded that Israel release 200 Arab prisoners and that the terrorists be given safe passage out of Germany. The Palestinians were led by Luttif Afif (“Issa”), his deputy Yusuf Nazzal (“Tony”), and junior members Afif Ahmed Hamid (“Paolo”), Khalid Jawad (“Salah”), Ahmed Chic Thaa (“Abu Halla”), Mohammed Safady (“Badran”), Adnan Al-Gashey (“Denawi”), and his cousin Jamal Al-Gashey (“Samir”).
After hours of tense negotiations, the Palestinians, who it was later learned belonged to a PLO faction called Black September, agreed to a plan whereby they were to be taken by helicopter to the NATO air base at Firstenfeldbruck where they would be given an airplane to fly them and their hostages to Cairo. The Israelis were then taken by bus to the helicopters and flown to the airfield. In the course of the transfer, the Germans discovered that there were eight terrorists instead of the five they expected and realized that they had not assigned enough marksmen to carry out the plan to kill the terrorists at the airport.
After the helicopters landed at the air base around 10:30 p.m., the German sharpshooters attempted to kill the terrorists and a bloody firefight ensued. At 11, the media was mistakenly informed that the hostages had been saved and the news was announced to a relieved Israeli public. Almost an hour later, however, new fighting broke out and one of the helicopters holding the Israelis was blown up by a terrorist grenade. The remaining nine hostages in the second helicopter were shot to death by one of the surviving terrorists.
At 3 a.m., a drawn and teary-eyed Jim McKay, who had been reporting the drama throughout the day as part of ABC's Olympic coverage, announced: “They're all gone.”
In July 2012, German magazine Der Spiegel reported that Germany had in fact been warned about the possibility of a Palestinian terrorist attack at the Games but took no actions to secure the Olympic Village.
Five of the terrorists were killed along with one policeman, and three were captured. A little over a month later, on Oct. 29, a Lufthansa jet was hijacked by terrorists demanding that the Munich killers be released.
The Germans capitulated and the terrorists were let go, but an Israeli assassination squad was assigned to track them down along with those responsible for planning the massacre. According to George Jonas in Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team, eight of the 11 men targeted for death were killed. Of the remaining three, one died of natural causes and the other two were assassinated, but it is not known for sure if they were killed by Israeli agents.