For many of the Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972, the Olympics promised respite from tension at home, where every day’s news seemed to carry accounts of terrorist bombs or hijackings. But Henry Hershkowitz, a competitor in rifle shooting, was uneasy. He had been selected to carry the Israeli flag on opening day—an honor, he worried, that could make him a target for a sniper. The first training days he remembers as quiet, if somber, because of a trip to the site of the concentration camp at Dachau for a memorial service. But at the opening ceremony, Hershkowitz felt satisfaction as he marched around the stadium. “It was a great thing,” he says, “to be walking on German soil carrying a flag with the Star of David for all the world to see and not with a Star of David pinned to my clothing” as the Nazis had required of Jews.
His own event lasted three days, and he placed 21st, “about as well as I expected” considering that, with a wife and two daughters to support, he practiced only twice a week. The day after he finished, he was awakened at 5 a.m. by an ominous sound: “I heard an automatic weapon being cocked outside.” Crouching, he peered out the window and spotted an unfamiliar man wearing a white hat emerge from the Israeli apartment next door. Hershkowitz had his rifle, but, unsure about how many other intruders were involved and about the danger to possible hostages, felt he shouldn’t use it. Then he saw an ambulance arrive and watched the body of wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg being carried out. Later, Hershkowitz, at 45 the senior member, was chosen to tell the three surviving team members that 11 Israelis had died. “It was a night without end,” he recalls.
Hershkowitz, now 69, returned to his watch repair shop in Tel Aviv, which he still runs. Munich is never far from his thoughts. “Outside of Israel, I’m careful about speaking Hebrew in public,” he admits. “I’m no longer so carefree.” He will not go to Atlanta, but the Israeli delegation has invited the 14 children of his fallen teammates.