21 Hours at Munich (1976)





Director:     William A. Graham. 

Starring:     William Holden (Chief of Police Manfred Schreiber),  Shirley Knight (Annaliese Graese),  Franco Nero (Issa),  Richard Basehart (Chancellor Willy Brandt),  Anthony Quayle (General Zvi Zamir),  Noel Willman (Interior Minister Bruno Merk),  Georg Marischka (Hans Dietrich Genscher),  Paul L. Smith (Israeli Gutfreund),  Martin Gilat (Moshe Weinberger),  Else Quecke (Golda Meir),  Michael Degen (Mohammed Khadif),  James Hurley (Avery Brundage),  GŁnther Maria Halmer (Andrei Spitzer),  Djamchid 'Jim' Soheili (Tounyi),  Walter Kohut (Feldhaus). 

Made for TV movie.

terrorists capture Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"The motion picture you are about to see is a dramatic recreation of events which occured at the games of the XX Olympiad in Munich 1972. This entire film was made in West Germany on the actual location where the events took place."

September 4, 1972, 10:38 P.M. Olympic Village. A man named Spitzer welcomes the bus full of Israeli coaches and athletic competitors. He shows them to their rooms. He notices that Yossef is limping and Yossef excplains that he ruptured his knee during the clean and jerk weight lifting. He has to fly home for an operation tomorrow. A coach says that Gaddie placed twelfth in freestyle wrestling.

In his room Spitzer calls his wife Ankie to tell her that he misses her. The lights go out.

September 5, 1972. 4:09 A.M. Olympic Village. A group of men dressed in Olympic outfits climb over the wall. Two men see them, but just wave hello to them.

They go under a bridge to strip off of their uniforms. Two other men go into a building and strip out of their uniforms. They have automatic weapons and grenades. They all enter the building and join forces.

They go to the Israeli rooms and pick the lock. A coach hears some noise and goes to see what is happening. He realizes that they are Arabs and terrorists and tries to close the door, while shouting a warning to his teammates. The leader of the group manages to get in and a moment later the rest of the men are able to open the door enough for them to storm in. The leader strikes the coach on the head with the butt of a pistol and the coach goes to his knees. The leader then holds a gun to the coachís head.

The terrorists go to Spitzerís room and hold him captive. They want to use him to gain access to the rest of the team. And the leaders asks where is Lalkin? Wineberger? Spitzer says nothing.

4:35 A.M. Moshe Weinberger Wrestling Coach Israeli Olympic Team. He returns to Olympic Village singing and smoking a cigarette. Two men come from behind him and tell him to put his hands up. He starts fighting the men and knocks them both down, but a third terrorist shoots him with a rifle with a silencer on it. Two athletes see whatís happening and go to call the police.

The terrorists use his key to get into another series of rooms with Israeli athletes. They move this group out. The wrestling coach turns and fights the terrorist behind him allowing the Israeli in front of him to make a run for it. A terrorist on the second floor shoots and kills the wrestling coach.

The escapee runs out of the living quarters area to get help. Others try to escape and are shot. One athlete manages to get a knife and though he is shot with automatic weapons fire, he is able to stab the terrorist who shot him.

The wrestling coach is still alive. He slowly manages to stand up. He goes back into the rooms. He is able to get to a knife and wounds two terrorists with it before being shot dead.

5:21 A.M. Manfred Schreiber, Chief of Police. A telephone wakes him and he learns that terrorists have taken hostages in the Olympic Village. He tells the caller to send 20 men and seal off all the access routes to Building 31.

A note is thrown to two police officers and the terrorist leader tells them that they will kill the "Zionist" prisoners if the police try to rescue the hostages. To emphasize their point they bring out the dead body of the wrestling coach and place it out on the square.

Dr. Shreiber arrives to take a close look at the situation. He learns the East Germans have refused to leave their rooms. Shreiber tells his officer to go over there and remind them they are in West Germany and tell them to get out immediately.

Shreiber reads the note to others. The organization known as Black September ". . .demands that by 9 a.m. the Israeli military regime free 236 revolutionary prisoners whose names are listed herewith." In addition, they want three long-distance planes to carry them and the hostages to a country of their choice. They also threaten to kill the hostages if their demands are not met.

Mayor Troger, one of the men in the room, comments that itís terrible that this has happened in their city. Minister Merk says itís terrible for the whole German nation. "Six million ghosts have come back to haunt us." He adds that this is the same organization that killed all those people at Lod Airport last May. Shreiber says they must start speaking with the terrorists immediately. As a negotiator, he wants a member of the Olympic Security Forces and preferably a woman dressed in civilian clothes.

As the dead body of the wrestling coach is being removed by ambulance workers, the assigned woman arrives in a green skirt and jacket, wearing white shoes and a white cap. She tells the leader to come down so she can talk to him. The leader comes down and asks her who is she? Fraulein Graes of the Womenís Olympic Security Service, she says.

Graes asks for the names of the hostages because Israel will want to know who they are bargaining for. Maybe they are all dead already. The leader says they are alive, that they did not come to show the world that the fedayeen are "cruel warriors". She asks him why does he bring his holy war to Germany? The leader says: "The world cannot stay blind to the tragedy of Palestine here at the Olympics. Weíve been dead and forgotten for years now." He says good day, fraulein, and closes the door.

8:20 a.m. Hans Dietrich Genscher, Minister of the Interior, West Germany, arrives by helicopter. He attends the meeting about the crisis. Avery Brundage, President, International Olympic Committee, says these "petty political hoodlums" are not going to stop the Olympics with itís 3,000 years of history. Shreiber will be in charge of handling the terrorists. He tells the meeting that they are still waiting for news from Israel. Sharpshooters are placed around Building 31.

8:55 a.m. Graes tells the terrorist leader that some men want to talk to him. He wants to know who they are? They are: Dr. Schreiber of the Munich police; Bavarian Interior Minister Merk; and a gentleman from Egypt, a member of the International Olympic Committee. He says okay.

The men walk over to the leader. Shreiber explains that they have no answer for him as of yet. The terrorist leader says each hour of delay will cost them one dead hostage. Shreiber says thatís not reasonable. Itís just plain murder. "If you do that, your hostages are no longer hostages. Theyíre just people you were going to kill anyway." The terrorist agrees on 12 oíclock noon.

10:01 a.m. West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, Bonn. He speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir from Jerusalem on the telephone. Brandt asks her for some small concession, but Golda says: "Israel will, under no conditions, make the slightest concession to terrorist blackmail."

The terrorist leader tells Graes to tell Shreiber to get his men off the roofs. Graes sends the message and the men disappear. She asks the terrorist if someone is dead in there. Yes, a weightlifter named Romano. The leader also tells Graes that he is trying to get two of his own brothers out of jail in Israel.

11:04 a.m. Israeli Ambassador Eliashiv Ben-Horin tells Shreiber that what Germany does now is entirely up to him.

Shreiber tries to stall for more time with the terrorists, but the terrorist leader says they will start shooting the hostages. The new man with Shreiber is Mohammed Khadif of the Arab League. Khadif says he is here to try to make sure these men donít hurt their own cause. The German government has authorized him to give them a great deal of money and safe passage to another country. The terrorists are not interested. So Khadif asks them to give the Germans until 5:00 p.m. to negotiate with Israel. The terrorist leader agrees.

12:58 p.m. The authorities ask for a suspension of the games. Avery Brundage says he would not oppose a temporary suspension. Thye agree to have a brief suspension in the late afternoon.

Graes tries to get more information out of the terrorist leader. She learns that his mother is Jewish and she lives in Galilee. The last time he saw his brothers was at a family reunion two years ago. His father is Jordanian and a very wealthy merchant.

Shreiber rejects Merkís idea of a frontal assault on Building 31. They need to get more information on the exact number of terrorists and hostages and where they are in the building. They bring the hostages some food in white boxes.

Jewish people sing Jewish songs outside Building 31. They are from the international youth camp.

The terrorist leaders says they are leaving Germany with the hostages in one hour. They will land in Egypt and there they want to see all the prisoners they asked to have released from Israel. If they are not there, they will kill all the hostages. Shreiber confers with Merk and Genscher. They will not let the terrorists take the hostages out of Germany.

Shreiber demands to see the rest of the Israeli hostages or itís a no go. The terrorist leader agrees to let them see the hostages. The leader goes up to tell the others. Shreiber tells his colleagues that the terrorists are scared. They know Israel wonít negotiate with them and they donít want to die here in Germany. Chancellor Brandt has just arrived in the Olympic Village.

The leader comes down and lets Shreiber and Genscher go into the building with him. There are nine hostages. Spitzer tells Shreiber that whether they leave Munich or not, they know they are all dead men.

General Zvi Zamir, Israeli Secret Service has arrived. He meets Shreiber. They go through pictures of the hostages.

One is David Marc Berger, the American, with dual citizenship. He has an Israeli girlfriend.

Then thereís Zeíev Friedman, a weightlifter.

Yossef Gutfreund, who has been beaten around the face.

Eliezer Halfin, wrestler.

Romano, the dead one.

Mark Slavin, who only left Russia only four months ago.

Amitzur Shapira, the track coach.

Kehat Shorr.


Yacov Springer.

Moshe, the dead wrestling coach.

General Zamir asks Shreiber why have they not done a direct assault on Building 31? They are going to take them all to the airport is the answer. They will not let them leave Germany.

5:20 p.m. Willy Brandt talks with Aziz Sedki, Egyptian Prime Minister, Cairo. The terrorists want to bring themselves and the hostages to Egypt. The prime minister says that this is not an Egyptian matter and hangs up on the chancellor.

Zamir doesnít like all this delaying. He feels that the longer the delay, the more likely they are to get all the hostages killed.

Shreiber gets a few more hours of delay. The leader agrees to 9 p.m. Shreiber says that they will fly them to Furstenfeldbruck by helicopter.

Shreiber describes the offensive move to Zamir. They will have a shock commando group of 23 men with bullet-proof vests in case they are needed. They have five sniping positions set up and they have nine other marksmen in reserve.

Zamir tells Shreiber that this location in Furstenfeldbruck disturbs him. He says the attack should occur in the Olympic Village. So Shreiber agrees to try the village first.

8:13 p.m. Olympic Village. A helicopter sets down on the lawn, followed by two other choppers. Shreiber and his team hop out of one of the copters. Willy Brandt tells the men that they will have to take care of this problem themselves. Cairo will not intervene.

Shreiber and Genscher along with the mayor and Merk go with the terrorist leader to see the route they will travel to the helicopters. The leader sees the three helicopters. He goes over and examines one of them. The pilot and co-pilot sit in the copter as he examines the aircraft inside and out. The leader says the route is no good. There are too many niches for the Germans to hide from them. He now demands that they be transported by bus to the helicopters.

Graes asks Shreiber if she can go with the terrorists and the hostages. She thinks she can help control the terrorist leader. He tells her that even if they get to the plane, the plane will never get off the ground.

The bus arrives and the terrorist leader searches it and the driver. They bring the hostages out and get on the bus. Now they learn that there are eight, not just five terrorists. The bus pulls out. The action is going to be at Furstenfeldbruck.

The bus pulls up by the helicopters. Hostages and terrorists get on the helicopters.

At Furstenfeldbruck the Germans examine the airplane. The men aboard will serve as shooters if they can get a clear shot from the plane. If not, they are to come off the plane and try to get a clear shot.

The helicopters take off. Shreiber and the others race to Furstenfeldbruck. They arrive and learn that everyone is in place. Zamir says they have to attack close up from all directions, not lay back a hundred yards and try to kill the terrorists. The men on the plane decide to get off, because there is no where to hide on the plane. The helicopters land.

On land the terrorists take the six pilots as hostages. The leader and another terrorist go onto the plane to make sure everything is okay. The leader tells his buddy that they have been tricked.

The guy in charge at the airport, Feldhaus, gives the other to the sharpshooters to fire when ready. The fellow with the leader is shot down. Another terrorists goes down, but four of the pilots running to the safety of the building are shot down by the terrorists. Two more terrorists, one of them the leader, are shot down. The leader gets up and runs. He shoots another pilot trying to escape.

The terrorist who had been with the leader, gets up and is shot down again, but he is not dead. He crawls toward the leader, but now falls dead.

Shreiber gets on a bull horn and tells the terrorists they are surrounded and must surrender. The terrorists are able to still move around without being shot and killed. Now armored vehicles are brought in with men following behind them.

The leader throws a grenade into one of the helicopters with hostages in it and it explodes. The hostages on that copter are all gone now. A terrorist goes over to another copter and kills the hostages there with an automatic weapon. This fellow is taken captive. The leader is finally killed.

September 6, 1972 West German President Gustav Heinemann, Olympic Stadium. The President says a few words about what happened.

Fifty-three days later, the three surviving Arab terrorists were released from a Munich jail in exchange for 17 passengers on a German airliner hijacked by members of the Black September organization. On their arrival in Tripoli, they were accorded a heroís welcome.


Pretty good movie.  It's A pretty much straightforward telling of the what happened at the Munich Olympic Games of 1972.  They don't focus in on any one particular person, so you don't get to know anyone really in the film.  The chief of police Shreiber is most focused on, but we know little about him.  There's no love story to really get us to care about someone.  Of course, we care about what happens to the hostages, but we don't really know any of them. 

Spoiler warning.  As portrayed in the film, the attempt to rush in and kill the terrorists was miserably planned.  There were eight terrorists, but they only shot a couple of them and that was from afar and they did not kill the two that were shot.  This left the terrorists enough time to kill the hostages.  The Israeli terrorist expert knew what to do, but the Germans weren't really listening.  Of course, they should have rushed all the terrorists at once and from all sides firing and shooting and killing all of them.  In other words, the German rescue attempt was a disaster from beginning to end.  A more paranoid person might think the Germans didn't care enough to save the Israelis, but it was probably more due to incompetence than anything else. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


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