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Widow of Munich victim makes plea for Olympic minute of silence

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge rejected calls for a moment of silence at the opening ceremony.

Story highlights

  • Activists want a minute of silence at the opening ceremony for 11 Israelis killed in 1972
  • Rep. Eliot Engel of New York accuses the IOC of "playing political games" by saying no
  • The International Olympic Committee head says it's not the right venue for the tribute
  • 11 Israelis, a German policeman and 5 terrorists were killed in Munich 40 years ago

The widow of an Israeli Olympian killed in a terrorist attack on the 1972 Munich Games made an urgent plea Wednesday for a minute of silence at the opening ceremony to remember her husband and 10 other Israelis murdered 40 years ago.

Ankie Spitzer was joined by three members of Congress and top American Jewish community leaders in the effort to make the International Olympic Committee change its stance.

The head of the International Olympics Committee has rejected repeated calls for a moment of silence during the opening ceremony, despite the urging of President Barack Obama, his Republican rival Mitt Romney, and other public figures.

"We feel that the Opening Ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident," Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, said Saturday.

He reportedly participated in a small ceremony in the Olympic Village on Tuesday, but William Daroff of the Jewish Federations of North America said Wednesday that was not good enough.

"There is a need for a larger moment that the world can participate in," he said.

More than 106,000 people have signed an online petition calling for a moment of silence in memory of the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches killed by Palestinian militants at the games in Munich, Germany, 40 years ago. A German policeman and five of the attackers also died.

Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, Wednesday accused the IOC of "playing political games."

"For those of the IOC who say that this (moment of silence) is political, I would say just the opposite: If this were any nation other than Israel, there would have been a moment of silence long ago," he argued.

The 1972 attack "disrupted the sanctity of these Games, which are not supposed to be political," he said, calling a minute of silence "a matter of decency."

Engel, Rep. Nita Lowey of New York and Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida, all Democrats, have written a joint letter to the IOC urging it to allow the minute of silence on Friday.

Read more: Obama says yes to Olympic tribute

Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has also been a vocal proponent, campaigning on Facebook and Twitter for "Just One Minute" of silence.

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The refusal of the IOC to back the plan "told us as Israelis that this tragedy is yours alone and not a tragedy within the family of nations," Ayalon said in May.

Spitzer, whose husband, Andrei, was among those killed, was the first to sign the petition.

"They came to Munich in 1972 to play as athletes in the Olympics; they came in peace and went home in coffins," she writes in the online plea.

She says she has "no political or religious agenda. Just the hope that my husband and the other men who went to the Olympics in peace, friendship and sportsmanship are given what they deserve. One minute of silence will clearly say to the world that what happened in 1972 can never happen again."

Rogge said Saturday that the IOC would "be present" at the September 5 ceremony honoring the dead at the site where they were killed in Germany.

"We are going to pay a homage to the athletes, of course, as we always have done in the past and will do in the future," he said.

The attack began in the early hours of September 5, 1972, when eight Palestinian terrorists disguised in track suits broke into the Olympic Village in Munich.

Read more: Can we feel safe in a crowd anymore?

They stormed the apartments housing Israeli athletes and coaches, killing two and taking nine others hostage. Hours later, the world woke up to the image of a masked man on the balcony of the Olympic Village.

From the Olympic Village, the militants demanded the release of 200 Arab inmates from Israeli prisons or they would start killing the athletes in Munich, one every hour.

Israel refused to negotiate, and the terrorists demanded an airplane to Egypt. The German government then attempted a rescue at the airport. When it was over, all the Israelis, five terrorists and one German police officer lay dead.

The Munich Games were temporarily suspended, and a memorial service attended by some 80,000 people was held at the Olympic Stadium.

Opinion: Olympics, mark dark day in Munich