January 26, 2006

Spielberg’s ‘Munich’ reopens old German wounds

By Erik Kirschbaum

MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - Filmmaker Steven Spielberg has
torn open another old wound in Germany just as the country
where the Holocaust was designed and the 1972 Olympics massacre
happened prepares for the world's spotlight again.

The American's new film "Munich" was launched in 400
cinemas across Germany on Thursday after weeks of intense media
coverage that revived unwanted memories of the shockingly inept
handling of events that led to the slaying of 11 Israeli

Magazine cover stories and endless newspaper reports about
"Munich" have rattled Germany -- though perhaps not as deeply
as Spielberg's 1993 film "Schindler's List" -- as it gets ready
to host the World Cup soccer tournament.

Some doubts about the country's ability to manage a
tournament of the world's 32 top soccer nations have crept into
the air, deflating confidence about its organizational skills
in the run-up to its first major sporting event since 1972.

Palestinian gunmen killed two Israelis at the Olympic
Village and took nine hostage on September 5, 1972. The Germans
negotiated for hours before the hostages, five gunmen and a
policeman were killed during a failed airport rescue attempt.

"Terror erupted in the middle of one of Europe's richest
cities and the whole world watched on live television as Jews
were once again killed in Germany," wrote Stern magazine in an
eight-page cover story.

The best-selling weekly informed its German readers, most
of whom do not associate Munich with the terror that struck the
1972 Olympics, that Israel leader Golda Meir later wrote the
"disgraceful actions of the Germans made her 'physically ill."'

The film may be about Israel and the PLO, but Germany's
woeful security and their amateurish police response have come
into focus just as they were hoping to show the world a better
Germany for the World Cup starting June 9.

"It was the West German government that was not able to
protect the visitors from Israel," Michael Wolffsohn, a German
Jewish leader and historian at the Germany army's military
academy in Munich, told German radio, touching a raw nerve.

Spielberg's film also portrays the bungling by five men
sent by Meir to track and kill members of the guerrilla group
blamed for the raid. The assassins killed an innocent waiter.

"Munich created a national Israeli trauma," Spielberg said
in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine published on Monday.

"I think Israel's prime minister had to react to the
incredible provocation of Munich. Jews were killed in Germany
and at the Olympics. It was an act of such historic dimension
that it could not be left unpunished. In principle, I believe,
she did the right thing."

The mass coverage of the film's release in Germany has been
intense and has even begun to prompt a mild backlash.

"We've already shown you so much this week about
Spielberg's film 'Munich' that today we promise you a
'Munich-free zone' here," said an ARD television host on

Just as Spielberg's "Schindler's List" about a German
industrialist who saved 1,100 Jews from concentration camps
stirred a fresh round of profound soul-searching over the
Holocaust, "Munich" has struck a chord.

"'Munich' is a watershed film for Spielberg the way
'Schindler's List' was before it," wrote the daily Die Welt.

A wealthy city of 1.2 million, Munich is the fun-loving
Bavarian capital filled with yuppies who ski in the nearby Alps
or sail on pristine lakes. Fortunes have been made in booming
high tech industries. Unemployment is low and rents are high.

But dark memories that could mar Munich are blotted out --
in contrast to Berlin where the Nazi past is inescapable.

"Munich, despite objections being raised on it, is
certainly the most inspiring and thoughtful film that will
reach us this year from Hollywood," wrote Munich's Sueddeutsche
Zeitung daily.