Twelve Months – Twelve Names: Yossef Gutfreund

In 1972, together with ten other members of the Israeli delegation, the Israeli wrestling judge Yossef Kurt Gutfreund was attacked by a Palestinian terrorist group at the Summer Olympics in Munich. Eleven athletes and a Bavarian police officer died. Now, 50 years later, a different victim is remembered every month under the title “Twelve Months – Twelve Names.” In April, a video installation is dedicated to Yossef Gutfreund at the Deutsches Theater, Munich.
Yossef Gutfreund and Shmuel Rodensky hug each other and laugh. Around them stand three men, smiling broadly. All of them are wearing suits, Rodensky a patterned wide shirt and a cap. Backdrops can be seen in the background.
On the evening before the massacre the Israeli Olympic delegation pays a visit to the Deutsches Theater, Munich, where Yossef Gutfreund (center) gives the leading actor in Anatevka, Shmuel Rodensky, a hug; September 4, 1972; ©SZ-Photo, photographer: Otfried Schmidt

Chișinău, the present-day capital of Moldavia, was part of Romania in 1931 when Yossef Kurt Gutfreund was born on November 1. He survived the Shoah with his parents Gusta and Emil Gutfreund and his elder sister Grete in varioius hiding places in Romania, Austria, and Hungary. None of his other relatives survived.

In 1948, Gusta and Emil Gutfreund manage to migrate to Israel with their children. They open a guesthouse in Jerusalem where Yossef initially works. Soon afterward he begins his six-year compulsory military service. Later he lives from selling electrical goods to both Arabs and Jews.

Yossef Gutfreund marries in 1956. He and his wife Rachel live in Jerusalem and have two daughters. One of his daughters, Yael, describes family life as happy and Yossef Gutfreund as a good father who likes to take his daughters out into the countryside. His is passionate about traveling and animals, and above all about sport. In 1949, Gutfreund begins wrestling at Hapoel Jerusalem; he soon starts coaching his own group and ultimately the national team.

Three men in athletic clothing stand in front of a hall. Yossef Gutfreund in the middle puts his arms around the other two. He is two heads taller than the shorter of the two.
Yossef Gutfreund (center) with the weightlifter Ze’ev Friedman (left) and the wrestler Gad Tsabary (right) at Hapoel Jerusalem, © private; Scan: Bayerisches Ministerium für Unterricht und Kultus

As a judge Yossef Gutfreund travels to wrestling competitions in Europe, Asia, and America. The third time he participates as a referee is at the XX Summer Olympics in 1972 in Munich. In this function he could have stayed in a hotel, his daughter Yael explains, but chooses to stay with his friends in the Olympic Village. Shmuel Rodensky, who is already known in his native Israel for his lead role in the musical Anatevka, visits the Israeli delegation there. At that time he is starring at the Deutsches Theater in Munich and invites the delegation to a performance.

On the evening of September 4, 1972, Yossef Gutfreund and most of the Israeli delegation attend the German-language performance of the musical. Among them is the track and field athlete Esther Shahamorov, Israel’s greatest medal hope, who is well on her way to qualifying for the finals in the hurdles.

I had got as far as the second round, but it seemed as if the whole delegation had won. Everyone was enjoying the success. It was a very moving evening. During the break we were invited to a glass of wine. Photos were taken of me and Shmuel Rodensky. We were celebrated by the whole delegation.

Esther Shahamorov
Members of the Israeli Olympic team stand on the stage and lift Esther Shahamorov and Shmuel Rodensky into the air. Everyone laughs exuberantly into the camera.
Esther Shahamorov and the leading actor in Anatevka Shmuel Rodensky are lifted in the air by the Israeli Olympic delegation at the Deutsches Theater in Munich, left—behind Shahamorov: Yossef Gutfreund, September 4, 1972; © SZ-Photo, photographer: Otfried Schmidt

Soon after Yossef Gutfreund returns to the Olympic Village his apartment is attacked by Palestinian terrorists. The almost two-metre-tall wrestling judge presses himself against the door with all his might, warns his roommates by shouting and, in this way, enables the trainer Tuvia Sokolsky to escape over the balcony while only three of the terrorists together manage to force open the door held back by Gutfreund alone. Yossef Gutfreund is taken hostage and shot the following night during a failed liberation attempt at the airbase in Fürstenfeldbruck. His body is flown to Israel and buried in Jerusalem.

Yossef Gutfreund’s daughters Judith and Yael learn about the assassination at school. Yael remembers her family as being happy up until the murder: Emile Gutfreund is devastated by the death of his son. He dies of a heart attack on September 29, 1972, while typing a letter to Willy Brandt. Rachel Gutfreund is diagnosed with diabetes but does not deal with it properly, lacking the will to live.

In the meantime, Yossef Gutfreund would now not only be a grandfather of nine but also a great-grandfather of eleven. Every year on September 5 the whole family gathers at his grave.

Every September 5 we go to the grave—the whole family—at four o’clock in the afternoon. And it’s not a sad event for us. We’re happy; like we carry on and look at the big family that he left. And we don’t cry about it. It’s a very nice event for us. We feel like we won. They killed him but they didn’t kill his legacy.

Shiran, one of Yossef Gutfreund’s granddaughters

Text: Angela Libal; research: Piritta Kleiner, Curator, Memorial to the 1972 Munich Massacre, Bavarian Ministry of Education, Science and the Arts

50 Years Olympic Massacre Munich

50 years after the Munich Summer Olympics, the Munich Massacre of September 5–6, 1972 is to be commemorated throughout 2022. Every month is dedicated to one victim. A variety of different actions in public spaces is planned, ranging from installations lasting the entire month to activities on one specific day.

This commemoration project has been conceived and coordinated by the Jewish Museum Munich in conjunction with the Munich Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism and the Consulate General of the State of Israel. It will be implemented in cooperation with the Amerikahaus Munich, the Landkreis Fürstenfeldbruck, the Deutsches Theater, the Police College —Hochschule für den öffentlichen Dienst in Bayern — Fachbereich Polizei, and the Munich Police Headquarters, as well as other cultural and educational institutions and interested parties.


In April the Jewish Museum Munich, the Munich Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism, the Amerikahaus Munich, and the Consulate General of the State of Israel are commemorating the wrestling judge Yossef Gutfreund with a video installation. This can be viewed day and night in the passage way at the Deutsches Theater at Schwanthalerstrasse 13 in Munich, supplemented by information on a stele.