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Widow urges Olympic goers to stand up for Munich dead

Israeli weightlifter Yosef Romano, one of 11 Israeli athletes murdered. Picture: Getty

Israeli weightlifter Yosef Romano, one of 11 Israeli athletes murdered. Picture: Getty

  • by BEN LYNFIELD
 

For organisers, athletes and sports fans, the countdown to the opening of the London ­Olympics builds anticipation and excitement.

But for Ilana Romano, whose weightlifter husband Yossi was one of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches killed during the Palestine Liberation Organisation terrorist attack at the Munich games 40 years ago, these are days of torment.

But for Ilana Romano, whose weightlifter husband Yossi was one of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches killed during the Palestine Liberation Organisation terrorist attack at the Munich games 40 years ago, these are days of torment.

Ms Romano brought up her three daughters alone – the youngest was only six months when Yossi was murdered – and she is now a grandmother of eight. But the retired restaurant owner still feels the pain caused when members of Black September, a wing of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, struck at the Olympic village in 1972.

“I am having flashbacks to that awful day,” she told The Scotsman in her Tel Aviv apartment. “I see the blood that was spilled and it is hard. For us, the families, the Olympics is always a painful memory.”

Much of this pain she attributes to the refusal of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to honour the victims’ memory at the opening ceremony with a moment of silence. It is a rejection she and Ankie Spitzer, widow of murdered Israeli fencing coach Andre Spitzer, have campaigned to overturn, but with no success.

“It is very hard for me that the IOC is not willing to mention what happened and not remind the athletes from all over the world of what took place. Those who died were sons of the ­Olympic movement, killed on Olympic ground.”

Since Munich, there have been private memorials by Israel or local Jewish communities at all the games, except Moscow in 1980, and on 6 August a memorial event will be held at London’s Guildhall. The IOC is planning to attend, but refuses to sponsor any memorial of its own or have one on Olympic grounds. In late May, IOC president Jacques Rogge announced “the IOC has officially paid tribute to the memory of the athletes on ­several occasions” and would not do so in London.

Ms Romano alleges the IOC refuses because it is afraid of the response of the 46 Arab and Muslim delegations. “The IOC has no courage. They don’t have to call them Israelis, they can simply say they were sons of the Olympic movement,” she says

Ms Romano also says that in her contacts with the IOC, she has been told that there can be no commemoration since there are no provisions for one in the IOC charter. “Was it written in the charter that my husband should come home in a coffin?” she asked. She recalled the knock on her door 40 years ago which brought the news that track-suited and hooded Palestinians armed with Kalashni­kovs had killed Yossi and wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg at the outset of their siege.

The terrorists threatened to kill one Israeli an hour, beginning at 9am, if Israel refused to release 234 Palestinian prisoners. These deadlines were postponed, but later the other Israelis were killed by the gunmen during a bungled West German rescue operation at an airfield after they demanded transport to Cairo on 6 September. At first, German officials wrongly said all the Israelis were safe.

Ms Romano recalled: “The day before the murder I received a film clip from Yossi of an international happening at the Olympics. He was pleased he had exchanged pins and memorabilia with Arab sportsmen. He went there to be part of an international happening in which people came for sports, not war.”

This year, 90,000 people have signed a petition calling for a moment’s silence, with Canada, the US, Australia and Germany backing the call. And Ms Romano has a request for those at the opening ceremony. “[They] should stand up when Rogge opens the games. Stand so he sees he made a mistake and so memories will be honoured.”

 
 
 

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