September 5: An Anniversary and an Excerpt

The terrorist attack on and subsequent massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics began in the early morning hours of September 5, 1972.

Although I was too young at the time to be aware of what had happened, I learned later about the episode. The 1992 anniversary brought extensive commemorative coverage, which I followed intensely. About a decade later, I researched the events still more extensively and incorporated them in my story, “Homecomings,” in which a woman who left Nazi Germany as a young adult returns to Europe for the first time in September 1972. The story won the David Dornstein Memorial Creative Writing Contest for short fiction on Jewish themes, and, in a revised form, appears in my collection, Quiet Americans.

Here is a brief excerpt from “Homecomings.”

May the memories of all the victims be for blessing.

They switched the television on. The screen showed athletes, winning more medals. Sunbathing by the pond. Playing ping-pong.

But there were bulletins. About something else. Something beyond comprehension.

Black September, the group was called. At least one Israeli athlete was dead. No one knew exactly how many were captive in Building 31, in that sunshiny Olympic Village.

Between the competitions—“How can the Games go on like that?”—she and Daniel and Simone kept asking each other, when they could speak at all, and when they weren’t mesmerized by the images of trucks marked with the all-too-familiar “POLIZEI” that suddenly seemed to fill Munich’s streets—they absorbed the interviews.

Including the one with the Israeli prime minister. More than anything else, more than appearing angry or vindictive or even fearful, Mrs. Meir looked deeply dejected. Grieving. But that old determination showed in her not-altogether downcast eyes when she refused to negotiate with the terrorists.

“If we should give in,” she said, her voice steady and sure, no Israeli would be safe. Ever. Anywhere. What had happened to the Israeli team during the night, she declared, what was currently underway, was nothing except “blackmail—of the worst kind.”

Simone sighed. “She’s right.”