JERUSALEM — The wife of one of 11 Israeli Olympians killed by Palestinian gunmen at the 1972 Munich Games has disclosed new details of her husband’s final moments, saying that his body was mutilated by his captors.
After years of remaining silent, Ilana Romano said Wednesday that photos she obtained from Germany in 1992 showed that the body of her husband, weightlifter Yossef Romano, known by his nickname Yossi, was mutilated after he was shot while trying to resist the attackers. She said the Palestinian attackers had beaten up other athletes and forced them to watch her husband die while refusing to allow doctors into the room.
"Some said the Palestinian terrorists were freedom fighters. Not only were they not freedom fighters, they were cruel," she said.
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The Munich Olympic Games were meant to right a historical wrong. They were the first held in Germany since the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which were tainted by Nazism.
But before dawn on Sept. 5, 1972, eight members of Palestinian armed group Black September climbed over the unguarded fence of the Olympic village, burst into the building where the Israeli team was staying and took the athletes hostage.
Five athletes, six coaches and a West German policeman were killed at the village or during a botched rescue attempt. The Palestinian attackers had demanded the release of prisoners held by Israel and two German left-wing extremists in German jails.
Romano said that she and Ankie Spitzer, whose husband Andre, a fencing coach, was also killed, petitioned the West German government in the years after the attack for more details but were rebuffed.
She said she managed to obtain some German documents about the events from a person she said she could not identify to protect that person’s privacy. The documents were later authenticated by a former agent from Israel’s Mossad spy agency.
Faced with the evidence, German authorities eventually conceded possessing information. In 1992, Ilana Romano’s lawyer returned from Germany with photographs and documents, she said. The lawyer tried to persuade her not to look at the horrific images but she insisted.
"I was shocked and traumatized when I saw them," she said. "Yossi was sprawled out on the floor and they were mutilating his body."
She declined to elaborate, saying it was too painful for her. But the New York Times, which first reported details of the abuse this week, said the Palestinians had castrated him, apparently after he had died.
"I carried this trauma on my shoulders for so long. Seeing the photo that erased Yossi’s smile and Yossi’s dimples and to see a face in such pain was really difficult," she said.
The rest of the documents were only delivered years later after the election of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, she said.
The athletes’ widows kept the horrific details to themselves for 23 years to prevent further pain to relatives. Romano said that after much agonizing she decided with Spitzer to reveal the details so that "what happened in Munich in 1972 will never be forgotten."
For decades, the bereaved families have been petitioning the International Olympic Committee to commemorate the victims with a moment of silence during the opening ceremony, but their pleas have repeatedly been rejected.
She said that after 40 years of fighting for the victims to be remembered, the new president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, has decided to have the names of those killed engraved on a stone and have a memorial at the Olympic Village in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. The memorial will travel to Olympics after that, she said.
Bach has taken "a great step forward and we are grateful," Romano said, adding she is hopeful one day the victims will be remembered with a moment of silence.