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Olympics officials accused of anti-Semitism over Munich remembrance

Jim Seida / NBC News

Ankie Spitzer, the widow of a Munich attack victim, addresses a memorial event Monday at the Guildhall in London.

LONDON -- At a ceremony Monday to remember 11 Israeli athletes and coaches killed at the 1972 Munich Games, top Olympics' official Jacques Rogge came under sustained attack over the refusal to honor the dead with a minute’s silence at the opening ceremony of London 2012.

As he sat among a crowd of some 850 people in London’s Guildhall, Rogge heard several speakers condemn the International Olympic Committee’s decision to reject calls from the Israeli, U.S. and other governments for a tribute to the victims of a Palestinian terrorist group to be held during a prominent part of the Games.


The Guildhall ceremony was organized by the Olympic Committee of Israel, the Israeli Embassy to the U.K. and the Jewish community. U.K. politicians including a cabinet secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, lit candles in memory of the dead Olympians.

They were killed in September 1972 by members of the Black September group who broke into the Olympic Village and took several members of the Israeli team hostage. Two Israelis died as they tried to fight the attackers; nine others and a German police officer died during a failed rescue attempt.

At the Guildhall ceremony, Ankie Spitzer, widow of fencing referee and coach Andre Spitzer, 27, received a standing ovation after an impassioned speech in which she accused Olympic officials of anti-Semitism.

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Eleven Israeli athletes and coaches were killed by Palestinian gunmen during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.

“Shame on the IOC because you have forsaken the 11 members of your Olympic family. You are discriminating against them because they are Israelis and Jews,” she said.

'Gentle and peaceful' husband
She said she remembered the “excitement and dreams” of her “peaceful and gentle” husband when he was chosen to go to the Olympics.

They were “probably the same dreams Jacques Rogge and [former U.K. athlete and chairman of the London 2012 Games] Sebastian Coe had when they went to the Olympic Games -- the only difference is our loved ones came home in coffins,” Spitzer said.

She said support for a minute of silence in memory of the Munich Massacre had come from all over the world and “only the International Olympic Committee remained deaf and blind,” prompting a cry of “shame, shame” from the audience.

Widow of Munich Olympics massacre victim: Switch off IOC chief's speech

Ilana Romano, widow of weightlifter Yossef Romano, 31, spoke of how she had told her children -- then ages 6, 4 and 18 months -- that their father had been killed.

“I will never forget that moment when I hugged them, and I could see their lips trembling and their eyes welling up and one question in their mouth: Mom, will dad never come back?” she said, according to a translation of her speech. “I answered in tears: Correct.”

She said they had been asking for 40 years for “one minute of silence in honor and remembrance of the dead sons of the Olympic movement.”

Romano said she had asked Rogge, the IOC president, during a face-to-face meeting if any other nation’s athletes had been killed “would you have kept quiet.”

She said he had replied that this was a “very difficult question,” a reply she said had “hurt and offended” them. “One could feel the discrimination in the air,” she added.

Olympic ideals 'violated'
Romano said Rogge would be remembered as an athlete – present at the 1972 Games – who became president and “violated the Olympic Charter calls for brotherhood, friendship and peace.

Rogge also spoke briefly and was applauded politely when he took to the stage and also when he left.

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“We share a duty to these innocent victims and to history to make sure that the lessons of 1972 are never forgotten,” he said, without addressing the calls for a minute’s silence during an official Olympic event.

Jim Seida / NBC News

An audience of 850 at the event, including many members of the Jewish community, listens to speakers talk about their experiences during the 1972 Games in Munich and their desire for the IOC to formally recognize those killed during the Games in London.

At the start of the Guildhall ceremony, the Israeli Olympic team competing in London took to the stage to applause from the crowd.

Speaking earlier, Israeli swimmer Gal Nevo, who reached the semi-finals of the 200 and 400 individual medley events at London 2012, told NBCNews.com that “you always, as an Israeli, worry a little bit when you travel, especially when you represent Israel.”

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“This whole ceremony … I wish it was on a bigger stage, not just for the Israeli and Jewish community,” he said. “I think it’s very important everybody remembers what happened and to tell everyone that it can happen again if we’re not aware.”

However Nevo said the level of security in London was such that “I personally – and I can speak for the rest of us – feel very safe… we feel that someone is taking care of this.”

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