Arthur Cohn Talks about “One Day in September”

Contact: Mark Toth, |

Why, after 28 years, did you decide to make this film?

Arthur Cohn: Its subject is the stuff that films are made of. Yet in all these years, no major film has been made on the tragedy. It was a difficult film to make because it needed to be authentic from A to Z. It took two years and four months to complete in order to ensure total authenticity.

Where did you locate the Palestinian terrorist?

Arthur Cohn: He had been hiding for more than a quarter of a century in Africa, where director Kevin Macdonald located him. Five of the terrorist commando troupe were shot at the airport and two others were hunted and killed by Mossad, so this was the last and only survivor. He agreed to be filmed because he wanted to shed light on what happened in Munich. We were therefore able to get the first authentic account from the point of view of the terrorists who participated.

How does he feel today? Does he regret his actions?

Arthur Cohn: No. He said he would do it again because the action presented an opportunity to let an audience of billions of viewers throughout the world know the political aims of the Palestinians.

Who else participated in the film?

Arthur Cohn: Zvi Zamir, at the time head of the Israeli secret service, the Mossad, agreed to go on camera for the first time. In addition, we interviewed Dr. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the former German Minister of the Interior; Dr. Manfred Schreiber, chief of police in Munich; Walter Troger, head of the Olympic Village; and the Brigadier General Ulrich Wegener, among others.

What about the victims’ families? Was it difficult to get them to cooperate?

Arthur Cohn: The reactions of the families of the Israeli victims to the film was very positive. The only exception was Llana Romano, widow of Joseph Romano, the second Israeli victim who was tortured and killed in the Olympic Village. She felt that it was not right to show her husband in this way, and felt that her family and those who knew her husband preferred to remember him the way he was when he was alive. Consequently, we decided to soften the photos showing Romano out of respect to his family, while continuing to insist that a film against terror must show terror.

What was the terrorists’ plan for leaving Germany?

Arthur Cohn: There was a jet waiting at Fuerstenfeldbruck airbase, which was to fly the terrorists and hostages to Libya. Five policemen disguised as crew were to be hidden in the jet. At the point when the head of the Arab group would have asked to inspect the airplane to make sure all was well, he was to have been taken prisoner or killed. The chances would have been excellent that his subordinates would have then given up or been overcome.

What happened?

Arthur Cohn: The policemen assigned to the job voted the plan “too dangerous,” a “suicide mission.” Then, as now, I find this attitude absolutely incredible. From another point of view, however, the Germans faced unexpected difficulties. The streets were clogged with curiosity seekers. The call for armored cars was issued much too late. The Germans had mustered only five German sharpshooters- none with radio contact- without knowing there were eight terrorists.

What other difficulties did they face?

Arthur Cohn: During the Olympic Games the delegation from what was then East Germany was quartered on a floor above the Israelis and passed crucial information to the terrorists. This contributed to the terrorists’ goals and thwarted the courageous German plans and actions for liberating the Israelis.

What was the response of the Olympic Committee to the crisis?

Arthur Cohn: The Olympic Committee was very concerned that “the games must go on.” I believe there was considerable pressure on Minister Genscher and Dr. Schreiber to get the Israelis and terrorists out of the Olympic Village as quickly as possible.

What other factors contributed to the tragedy?

Arthur Cohn: The speed with which the rescue operation was planned was one factor. Both the terrorists and their hostages were rushed to the Fuerstenfeldbruck airbase. Given the pressure, there was not enough time to prepare a liberating action adequately. It ended in a bloodbath and the deaths of innocent athletes.