Israeli Olympian shares survival story at JCC from '72 terrorist attack
By Sean Barron
Despite the passage of nearly 40 years since eight Palestinian terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches, the memories of that day remain raw for Yehuda Weinstain.
Weinstain, 57, of Reut, Israel, is a former Israeli fencer who competed in the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. He and five team members also were staying in an apartment on Sept. 5, 1972, when several members of a terrorist group called Black September jumped a fence encircling the Olympic Village and took hostages in two neighboring apartments.
“We weren’t sure whether to stay in our flat or get out,” Weinstain said while sharing his survival story during a 90-minute presentation Tuesday at the Jewish Community Center on the city’s North Side. “I wanted to get out; I opened my window, took a big breath and ran as fast as I could.”
Soon, Weinstain found a police officer who took him and others who fled to police headquarters, then to a safe apartment, he recalled.
The terrorists’ main demand was the release of 234 prisoners in Israeli jails, something Israeli officials refused, he noted, adding that the standoff led to the deaths of the 11 hostages, as well as five terrorists.
Weinstain, who also became a fighter pilot in the Israeli military and is a pilot for Arkia Airlines, noted that security at the Games was lax, despite hijackings and other terrorist acts in the early 1970s by leftist groups.
“They were just hoping everything would be all right and that there would be no problems,” he recalled.
The evening before the attack, known as the “Munich Massacre,” several Israeli team members attended the popular play “Fiddler on the Roof,” though Weinstain opted not to go, he said.
Early the next morning, a knock on his door alerted the 17-year-old fencing champion that terrorists were in the building, though they passed Weinstain’s apartment because they thought it was unoccupied, he recalled.
Weinstain also told his audience of roughly 120 about having grown up with modest means, as well as his introduction to fencing, saying that a fencing traveling show came to the town in which he was raised. Soon, a class got under way, he said.
“The first question my parents asked me when I wanted to go to the class was, ‘How much will it cost?’” he said to laughter.
A professional fencer saw the teenager and encouraged him to keep going, Weinstain said, adding that he competed in England, Madrid and elsewhere before being chosen to participate in the 1972 Games.
Last month, Weinstain visited the area where he stayed during the Olympics and reflected on his experiences during an interview on the History Channel.
“I cannot forget the past. … For me, Germany is responsible for what happened in Munich,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t forget and I don’t forgive.”