Ze’ev Friedman: Pumping Iron for Israel

The Fellowship  |  June 12, 2020

Ze'ev Friedman, Israel weightlifter killed in 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre
Israeli weightlifter Ze'ev Friedman, killed in 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre

Ze’ev Friedman achieved his lifelong dream in 1972. Chosen to represent Israel at the 1972 Summer Olympics, Friedman arrived in Munich with his Israeli teammates. Little did he know the life he had spent in athletic training would soon be cut short.

Bringing His Athletic Gifts to the Holy Land

Born to a Jewish family in 1944 in what was then the Soviet Union, Friedman made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) as a teenager.

A natural all-around athlete, he began his career in gymnastics. But a switch to weightlifting saw Friedman win bronze at the 1971 Asian Weightlifting Championships. As the 1972 Olympics arrived, his athletic career looked bright.

Black September and the Munich Massacre

The Olympic weightlifting events went off without a hitch. Ze’ev Friedman placed twelfth, one of the highest places for any Israeli at the time. But then as Friedman and his Israeli teammates slept on the night of September 5th, 1972, terrorists struck.

In the dead of night, members of a PLO group calling themselves Black September snuck into the two apartments where 11 Israeli athletes and coaches slept. Armed with assault rifles and grenades, the terrorists killed two athletes who resisted and took the other nine hostage.

After a day of failed negotiations by the German authorities, the terrorists took the hostages to the airport where a 727 awaited. A failed German ambush and rescue attempt entailed, with the terrorists killing all nine of the Israelis in the process.

Friedman died of his wounds. His watch, the coroner noted, kept ticking. His memory and the memory of his teammates saw Israel hunt down many of those responsible for the attacks. And the memory of Ze’ev Friedman continues to be a blessing to the Israel, to the athletes who represent her around the world, and to all of us who stand for her.