What Went Wrong:
A Timeline of Events
This timeline illustrates the timing of events around the Terrorist Attack on the Munich Olympics in 1972
Select dates/events to expand information
September 4, 1972
- 08:00 PM - Fiddler on the Roof
The Israeli delegation attends a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof,” presented in German.
- 08:00 PM - Terrorists Gather
Simultaneously, the six trained terrorists gather at the Munich Central Railway Station, 10 minutes away from the theater. The men eat dinner at the station restaurant, where they are joined by Muhammad Massalha, 27, and Yussef Nazzal, 25, who possess secret orders for the operation. A plan is revealed to kidnap Israeli athletes for use as leverage in the exchange of some 200 Palestinian prisoners from the Jewish state.
- 09:30 PM - Israeli Team Pose For a Picture
The Israeli team is invited backstage during intermission to meet the “Fiddler” cast. The group takes a picture with the performers, the last they will ever pose for.
September 5, 1972
- 12:00 AM - Terrorists Retrieve Weapons
The Black September terrorists locate specified lockers at the Munich railway station and remove an arsenal of weaponry that has been stored there for them.
- 04:00 AM - Terrorists Scale the Fence
Eight members of the Palestinian terror group Black September quietly scale the fence of the Israeli Village, as athletes inside sleep. The terrorists head to 31 Connollystrasse, a dormitory containing five apartments that house the Israeli men’s team.
- 04:42 AM - Black September enters 31 Connollystrasse
The terrorists come upon wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg at Apartment 1. Weinberg struggles with one terrorist, getting shot in the process. The wounded coach is ordered to take the men to the rest of the team. Forced by gunpoint, Weinberg leads the terrorists past Apartment 2, where field athletes are housed, instead heading to Apartment 3, where the weightlifters and wrestlers sleep. Weinberg’s hope is that the stronger athletes may have a chance of overpowering the gunmen.
Hostages in Apartment 3 are rounded up and marched back to Apartment 1. Weinberg makes a final attempt at stopping the terrorists, knocking one out and stabbing at another with a fruit knife. The scuffle allows wrestler Gad Tsobari to escape via an underground parking garage. Weightlifter Yossef Romano (who is injured and on crutches, planning to fly back to Israel in one day to undergo surgery) joins his friend Weinberg in attacking the terrorists. Both Israeli men are shot and killed. The terrorists now have nine living hostages.
- 05:10 AM - Body Discovered
Shmuel Lalkin discovers the naked body of Weinberg in a hallway and alerts authorities, who arrive on the scene.
- 06:00 AM - Israeli News Pick Up the Story
Israeli news outlets pick up the story, what would become a media frenzy begins.
- 07:40 AM - Terrorists Issue Demands
The terrorists demand the release of 236 Palestinian prisoners, giving a 9 am deadline.
- 09:00 AM - First Deadline Passes
The first deadline passes. Authorities are able to secure extensions to continue negotiations, pushing the deadline time back to noon, then 1 pm, then 3 pm, then 5 pm. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir is in constant communication with German officials, but insists that Israel will not give in to terrorist demands.
- 03:50 PM - Israeli Secret Service Head Arrives
Zvi Zamir, head of the Mossad, the Israeli secret service, arrives in Munich, despite German protests that Israel does not need to send its own security team over.
- 04:00 PM - German Foreign Minister Offers to Take Hostages Place
German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, realizing the negotiations are turning futile, offers himself up in exchange for the Israeli athletes. Massalha, who acts as representative for all the Black September members, refuses.
- 04:30 PM - Hostage Allowed to Communicate Directly
Hostage Andre Spitzer pokes his head out a window and speaks to German authorities. He says all but one of the hostages is okay.
- 04:50 PM - German Officials Speak Face to Face With Terrorists
Genscher and a police chief are permitted entrance to the hostage location to speak face to face with the terrorists. Their first person account leads to misinformation that there are only four terrorists. The two Germans will later report that the Israeli athletes were “not very hopeful” that their lives could be saved.
- 05:00 PM - Covert Rescue Attempt Called Operation Sunshine
German officials put into place a covert initiative, called Operation Sunshine. Due to Bavarian law, German military are not legally allowed to deploy. Instead, a team of 38 volunteers dressed as athletes plans to storm 31 Connollystrasse, with machine guns hidden in canvas bags. However, thanks to live television cameras trained on the site, the terrorists see the attack coming and the plan is foiled.
- 05:46 PM - Terrorists Requests a Plane and Passage to Cairo
Eventually accepting their prisoner exchange demands will not be met, the terrorists request a plane to transport themselves and the hostages to Cairo, where they expect easier negotiations. German authorities agree to supply the plane, but do not intend to let the terrorists actually leave the country with the Israeli athletes.
- 10:30 PM - Terrorists and Hostages Transport to Airport
The terrorists and hostages are brought by helicopter to Furstenfeldbruck, a military airport. A decoy plane waits with a police squad disguised as flight crew planning to overpower the Palestinians. Five snipers sit at a tower, as authorities expect only four terrorists to arrive with the Israelis.
Realizing their mistake, authorities decide the plane crew is undertrained and abandon the decoy mission. Instead, the terrorists and hostages land on the ground, where the snipers begin shooting. Two terrorists and one German policeman, Anton Fliegerbauer, are killed immediately.
- 11:30 PM - Stalemate and Then Disaster
Reaching a stalemate, the Germans order armored cars and wait over an hour for the vehicles to arrive. Once delivered, the terrorists enact a scattered offensive. One jumps onto a helicopter, shooting four more of the Israelis and firing off a grenade. Another Palestinian jumps into the second helicopter, killing the remaining five athletes. Snipers hit three of the terrorists, then finally take the last three Palestinians into custody.
September 6, 1972
- 12:00 AM - German Government Spokesman Gives Wrong Information
German government spokesman Conrad Ahlers goes on the air to falsely announce to the world that all of the terrorists are in custody and all of the Israeli athletes are alive. He calls the event an “unfortunate interruption” and says, “It will be forgotten after a few weeks.”
- 03:24 AM - Jim McKay Announces "Worst Fears Realized"
American reporter Jim McKay makes history, telling the world, “When I was a kid my father used to say, 'Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.’ Our worst fears have been realized.” He announces that all 11 Israeli athletes are dead.
- 10:00 AM - Memorial Service Held
A memorial is held in the wake of the killings attended by 80,000 spectators and 3,000 athletes. Flags of participating Olympic nations are lowered to half-staff. Ten Arab nations object, and their flags are raised back to full height.
- Afternoon - The Games Continue
The remaining Israeli team flies home with its murdered teammates. An international cry to suspend the Olympics goes unheeded, prompting athletes of various nationalities to drop out of their own accord. Dutch distance runner Jos Hermens says, “You give a party and someone is killed at the party, you don’t continue the party. I’m going home.”
October 29, 1972
- Lufthansa Jet Hijacked
The three surviving terrorists are awaiting trial when a Lufthansa jet is hijacked over the Mediterranean Sea. The new terrorists, also Palestinians, demand the release of the Black September gang in exchange for the passengers on board. The German government immediately agrees.
There are only 12 passengers onboard the jumbo jet, all adult men. Conspiracy theories persist that the hijacking was a setup by Germany as a way to get the Palestinians off its hands and prevent further attacks aimed at retrieving the men. In 1999’s documentary “One September Day,” German General Ulrich Wegener, who was on the scene for the entire tragedy, says, “I think it’s probably true, yes.”
- Three Surviving Terrorists Released
The three surviving terrorists, Mohammed Safady, Adnan Al-Gashey and Jamal Al-Gashey, return to Libya to a hero’s welcome.
The months following
- Operation Wrath of God
- Under the authority of Golda Meir and led by Mossad head Zvi Zamir, Israel enacts a response initiative called Operation Wrath of God to hunt down and kill those responsible for the Munich Massacre.