One of 11 children, Yossef Romano was a big, but gentle man. He moved to Israel with his family in 1946 at the age of just six, and served in the IDF during the 1967 Six-Day War. Though he was an interior decorator by profession, Romano became Israel’s middleweight weightlifting champion for almost 10 years.
But at the 1972 Olympics, he injured his knee during the clean-and-jerk event and was forced to drop out. Hobbling around the Olympic Village on crutches, he was due to return to Israel on September 6 to undergo an operation to repair his ruptured knee tendon the following day. He never got the chance.
His wife, Ilana, recalled having a “bad feeling” during his training, which only grew worse as the Games approached. But Romano assured her, “Nothing will happen, don’t worry. Everything will be okay.”
On the evening of September 4, Romano joined his fellow athletes in a night out, watching a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” and then dining with the musical’s star, Israeli actor Shmuel Rodensky.
Then, in the early hours of September 5, Palestinian terrorists broke into the Israeli coaches’ quarters at the Olympic Village. After wounding wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg in the face, the members of the Black September group forced the coach to lead them to other hostages in the second apartment. There, they seized six wrestlers and weightlifters, including Romano.
As the group was corralled back to the coaches’ apartment, Weinberg attacked the terrorists, allowing wrestler Gad Tsobari to escape. Weinberg was killed in the process.
Once inside the apartment, Romano also attacked the kidnappers, slashing one terrorist in the face with a paring knife and grabbing his AK-47. Before he could turn the weapon on his assailants, another member of the group shot Romano to death. His corpse was left at the feet of his surviving teammates for the next 20 hours as a warning. The remaining nine captives were killed during a botched rescue attempt at a nearby airfield.
“I knew he would resist and fight,” Ilana said of her late husband. “He would do something.”
Romano was survived by his wife and three children. Illana, alongside Munich widow Ankie Spitzer, became active in the legal case against the German government, which was settled out of court in 2003.