FRANKFURT, West Germany -- The 14 hours Walter Troger spent at 31 Connolly Street in Munich 15 years ago, live vividly in his memory and he still tries to draw some faint glimmer of consolation from the tragedy.
'I deeply regret what happened to my friends from Israel. I have been in the war and I have seen death. But I will never forget what happened in Munich,' said Troger, the general secretary of the West German National Olympic Committee who was Mayor of the Athletes Village at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
'No event anywhere in the world is safe now -- whether it is an Olympics or a Papal visit. At least Munich taught us to be alert. But it was a terrible lesson to learn.'
At the 1972 Games, Troger was charged with administering the village and seeing to the needs of 10,000 athletes and officials. But in the early hours of Sept. 5, he became a life and death negotiator when Arab terrorists stormed the Israeli living quarters.
The raid took place just 400 meters from where Troger, now 58, was living with his wife and teenage son and daughter.
Seventeen people -- 11 Israelis, four terrorists, one policeman and one helicopter pilot -- died in the siege which lasted nearly 20 hours and ended with a shootout at an airport where most of the victims died. Much of the tragedy was witnessed by televiewers throughout the world.
The siege began at 4:30 a.m. when the Arabs scaled a wall and entered the Olympic village. Armed with machine guns, hand grenades and pistols, they quickly went to No. 31 Connolly Street and broke into the building housing team members from Israel, Hong Kong and Uruguay.
'We were woken up by the police banging on our door at 5.30 a.m. My wife answered the door and called me,' said Troger, who is now sports director of the International Olympic Committee in addition to retaining his secretarial role with the German NOC.
'They (the police) said there was terrorist activity in the village involving the Israelis. There was an order from the terrorists saying that as it happened in the village, they wanted the village mayor to be included in the negotiations. They would not accept police unless accompanied by me.
'The first negotiations took place between 6 and 8 a.m., involving myself, a policewoman and the leader of the terrorists, who wore some sort of mask and also had their faces blackened. The Israelis were bound to beds and chairs and tied together.
'A man (weightlifter Joseph Romano) was lying dead in a pool of blood on the floor in the room and another man (weightlifting coach Moishe Weinberg) was injured outside the door. They later allowed us to take him away, but he died on his way to hospital.
'They passed a letter to the police demandingthe release of 200 or so Palestinian prisoners in Israel and also some member of the Baider Meinhoff Gang members.
'Whenever we talked with the head terrorist, who spoke fluent German, he had a hand grenade in his hands all the time and two men were on guard with machine guns. There were seven or eight terrorists, looking out of the window. 'At the beginning myself and the Mayor of Munich, Hans Jochen Vogel (now chairman of the Social Democratic Party), offered ourselves to be hostage in exchange for the Israelis, but they refused.
'Police chief Manfred Shrieber and I thought about trying to do something, but there was no way we could have overcome the terrorists ourselves or find a way for the police to storm in without exposing the Israelis. We also hoped to get their (terrorists) meals delivered by a policeman, but we were told to leave the food downstairs.'
Troger, recalled there were about 10 negotiating meetings at the door of the building.
'Mr. De Salis (Hong Kong NOC president) called me about the danger of his athletes. And at the second or third meeting we asked they be released and they were allowed to go.'
Troger said the terrorists set several deadlines -- 'We were always trying to gain time, there was always something behind the delays. We were trying to keep a dialogue and also buy time to think up a plan.'
The atmosphere changed as time wore on, Troger said -- 'They got very nervous in the afternoon, which was very worrying.'
Troger stayed on until shortly after 10 p.m. when a military bus drew up outside the building and drove the terrorists and their prisoners to a rendezvous with three helicopters.
'I decided to stay with the Israeli ambassador and the head of their delegation to wait for news. It was 3 a.m. before I finally got back home,' he said. 'I had no chance to think of the danger or how tired I was. I was too involved in what was happening.'
The airport shootout occurred while the Arabs and their hostages were attempting to transfer from the helicopters at Furstenfelbrucke, a NATO airfield on the outskirts of Munich, to a Lufthansa plane waiting to fly them out of the area.
Troger conceded the outcome might not have been so tragic with greater experience in dealing with terrorism. But no one was prepared for such a brutal act then. The British, Israelis and Germans now have specialist groups to deal with these things.
'Even Israel's own security officer could not help at the time, saying whoever and whereever we are we Israelies are all soldiers,' Troger said. 'They did not blame us for what happened. I am still good friends with the Israeli survivors, officials and athletes.
adv Friday, Sept.