They call him the ultimate survivor: Shaul Ladany lived in a Nazi concentration camp and escaped the massacre of 11 other Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.
Decades later, the 86-year-old is back in Germany to visit the two places where he narrowly avoided death.
On Saturday, Ladany, born in 1936 in Belgrade, former Yugoslavia, brought members of his family to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany to show them where he was imprisoned by the Nazis at the age of 8. boy.
After that, the lively octogenarian will take part in a joint German-Israeli ceremony in Munich on Monday marking the 50th anniversary of the attack on the Olympians by Palestinian terrorists.
Ladany, who took part in the Munich games as a walker, walked briskly in lime green trainers and a beige sun hat as he drove his granddaughter, younger sister and three children to Bergen-Belsen, which has been turned into a memorial site. . He pointed to a patch of land, now covered with shrubs of blueberries and heather, tall birches and pines, where Barracks No. 10 once stood.
He was held there with his parents and two sisters for about six months in 1944 before they were allowed to leave under a deal brokered by Hungarian and Swiss Jewish foundations, which paid a ransom to the Nazis to free more than 1,600 Jews deported from Hungary.
“It’s not a pleasant thing to remember the period here,” Ladany said in an interview with The Associated Press at the former concentration camp. But it was important for him to come back and tell his loved ones about the horrors he endured during the Holocaust, in which 6 million European Jews were killed. It is a pilgrimage that he has already made several times with other members of his family.
“I always bring a family member here to teach them, to teach them what happened,” Ladany said.
Although he was a little boy at the time, Ladany still remembers the constant hunger and the seemingly endless calls in the cold wind outside the barracks when the guards were counting the camp inmates.
The Ladanys fled Belgrade in 1941 after their home was bombed by the German Luftwaffe or Air Force. They escaped to Budapest, Hungary, but were eventually captured by the Nazis and sent to Bergen-Belsen, where 52,000 prisoners, mostly Jews, died in the concentration camp and more than 19,000 prisoners of war , mostly from the Soviet Union, died at the adjacent POW. camp.
Racewalker still holds the world record
After being freed in the exchange, Ladany and his family traveled to Switzerland and eventually moved in 1948 to Israel. There he grew to become a professor of industrial engineering and management and an accomplished walker – he still holds the world record for 50 miles, set in 1972.
When he came to Munich for the Olympics at the age of 36, he said, he tried to guess the age of every German he met, and “if in my mind he would have been wise in the age group that might have participated in the atrocities of the Third Reich, I prevented any contact.”
However, this time it was not the Germans who threatened his life.
Early in the morning of September 5, members of the Palestinian Black September group burst into the Olympic Village, killed two athletes from the Israeli delegation and took nine others hostage, demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel as well as two leftists. extremists in West German prisons.
Ladany, again, narrowly escaped. A terrified roommate woke him up to tell him another athlete had died, and he quickly put on his sneakers and ran to their apartment door.
Just outside he saw an Olympic official pleading with a man in a tracksuit and hat, later identified as the leader of the attackers, to be ‘human’ and let Red Cross officials into an adjacent apartment . The man, Ladany recalls, replied, “Jews aren’t human either.”
Ladany turned around, put on clothes over his pajamas and joined other teammates in fleeing. Not everyone was so lucky; all nine hostages and a policeman were killed in a failed rescue attempt by German forces.
Ladany said that before the attack the Olympics were purely “a sporting meeting of joy and competition”, today no such event is held without strict security.
“Since then,” he says, “the world has changed.
West Germany has been criticized not only for botching the rescue, but also for withholding historical records of the tragic events for decades and failing to adequately compensate the families of the victims. Relatives of the 11 athletes killed had threatened to boycott Monday’s birthday, but last week finally reached an agreement in which they will receive a total of 28 million euros in compensation.
Ladany plans to wear his original 1972 Israel team jacket when he attends the memorial, and he is eager to show the world what he and Israel have endured.
“Those who tried to kill me are no longer alive,” he said. “We are still here. Not only as individuals, but also as a country.”