Documentary revisits the Munich massacre from a different angle

after munich documentary
Esther Roth-Shahamorov, a former hurdler, is one of four women profiled in After Munich. (Courtesy Z Films)

On Sept. 5, 1972, Ankie Spitzer saw her husband, Andre, peek his head out from a hotel balcony in Munich. He looked calm enough, but appearance belied reality. He was being held at gunpoint. He then inched back into the room, yanked away from public view. 

“That was really the last time I saw him alive,” Spitzer recalls. 

Her husband was an Israeli fencer who, at 27, was one of 11 Olympic delegates taken hostage and murdered by Palestinian terrorists. The Munich massacre has since become the subject of numerous books and movies – most famously Steven Spielberg’s 2005 retelling – but a new documentary is highlighting four lesser-known stories by women whose lives were forever changed by the tragedy. 

That film, After Munich, will debut on the Documentary Channel in Canada on Sept. 8, near the anniversary of the tragedy. 

“What fascinates me is how different people have been so hugely impacted by this,” says Francine Zuckerman, the Canadian director behind the film. “It’s really about the impact of war and trauma. How do we move on from that? What do we do to support each other?”

What distinguishes After Munich is its entirely female-centric point of view. Four women’s stories comprise the central narrative, which details the event and its aftermath exclusively from their perspective. 

“I realized it would be more interesting to tell the story as a jigsaw puzzle, telling different stories about what happened that day,” Zuckerman says. 

Spitzer opens the film, candidly discussing a pivotal dilemma she encountered after her husband’s death. She found herself widowed with a newborn baby. Would she stay in the Netherlands, near her family and friends, or move to Israel to honour her late husband’s memory? Despite not being Jewish or knowing any Hebrew, she chose the Holy Land, where she ended up converting to Judaism and becoming the Middle East correspondent for a Dutch television station.

“I will never be able to explain to Anouk, to the baby, who her father was or why it happened if I live in Amsterdam in a beautiful house,” she explains in the film. 

Three other women’s stories flesh out the narrative from different angles. Esther Roth-Shahamorov, an Israeli short-distance runner at the Olympics, suffered the death of her coach. She left West Germany traumatized and with no clear path forward for her career. Marianne Gladnikoff, who fell into the role of a spy by helping to track down the terrorists, only spoke to Zuckerman after a year and a half of coaxing. 

Sylvia Raphael is the only woman featured who does not appear live, because she died in 2005. The South African woman was also a secret Mossad agent. She was given a fake Canadian passport to carry out her task. That Canadian connection is what inspired Zuckerman to make the film — she heard an interview with Raphale on CBC Radio four years ago, which sparked her interest in the subject. 

Raphael will feature more prominently on a digital accompaniment to After Munich. Online, Zuckerman plans to release short videos and news articles to build out the educational experience. 

“For me, these stories are incredible,” Zuckerman says. “Each one of these women impacted me in a different way … and I’m hoping they make an impact on my audience.”