‘I had to fight with my life to return to normal’
Israeli Olympic athlete tells of survival after 40 years of silence
Photo by Gert Krautbauer
If you go
What: Dan Alon — Reliving Munich ’72 - A Survivor’s Tale
When: Friday, Aug. 10; services, 6:45 p.m., Shabbat dinner, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Chabad of the Shore, Long Branch
Fee: $45, $20 for children
RSVP: Contact 732-229-2424 or www.chabadshore.com (required for Friday night talk, which includes dinner.)
Dan Alon will also speak during the 9 a.m. Saturday morning Shabbat service, which is open to the Jewish community.
July 31, 2012
Forty years ago, Dan Alon watched in horror as 11 of his friends and teammates were killed at the Munich Olympic Games by the terrorist group Black September. A fencer who competed in foil at the Munich games, he and four other Israelis were staying in an apartment at the athletes’ village that was somehow overlooked by the Palestinian terrorists.
For four decades Alon has struggled to understand the tragedy of Sept. 5, 1972, the world’s response, and his perpetual feelings of paranoia and anxiety.
While visiting a Berlin hotel to deliver a lecture in 2007, for example, Alon switched hotels immediately when he noticed several Arab staff members. “Fear and insecurity are in my blood now. I wasn’t like this before,” Alon said in a phone interview with NJJN from his home in Tel Aviv. “Right after the attack, I had to fight with my life to try to return to normal.”
For more than three decades after the attack, Alon barely mentioned Munich. The world champion fencer, 67, now relates the horror in Munich Memoir: Dan Alon’s Untold Story of Survival. He will speak about his experiences at a Shabbat program on Friday-Saturday, Aug. 10 and 11, at Chabad of the Shore in Long Branch.
During those 30-plus years of silence, Alon immersed himself in his family and his work as director-general of an Israeli plastics company, from which he is now retired.
That changed with the 2005 release of Steven Spielberg’s Munich, a major film about the attack and Israel’s subsequent effort to hunt down those responsible.
“Most people did not even know there were survivors,” Alon said. “People started asking questions, and I was invited to speak a lot in the United States. It’s an important piece of history, like the Holocaust. We must never forget it, and the next generations need to know about it.”
Two months ago Alon and the other five survivors of the attack met in Munich to film a joint documentary for the German history channel and the Israeli history channel. “It was very emotional and very special to meet for the first time with all the survivors,” Alon said. “Each one of us was in front of the camera for six hours, three in English and three in Hebrew. The Germans produced one version of the film, and the Israelis another.”
When Alon retells the story of the loss of his friends, tears flow freely. And so does anger.
“For a long time I was very angry at three organizations, the Palestinian organization, the German police who I believe mishandled the hostage situation, and the Israeli Olympics committee, who sent us without any security and didn’t protect us,” he said.
Every four years since the attack, Alon said, he has joined in the global campaign for a moment of silence at the Olympics. His disappointment in each failed attempt is palpable. (Efforts to include a moment of silence in the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics appear to have been fruitless.) “Nothing helped,” he said. “They absolutely do not want to do a moment of silence because of politics, because there are 46 Arab nations in the Olympics.”
Alon taught fencing in Israel for 20 years, and won the national championship at the age of 46. He prides himself on the athletic success of three generations of Alon fencers, his father, himself, and his son. “If they asked me to compete in another championship today, I think I could still do it.”
The entire Monmouth County Jewish community is welcome to services and Alon’s talk on Saturday morning, said Chabad director Rabbi Laibel Schapiro. “In memory of those innocent athletes brutally murdered 40 years ago, Chabad of the Shore will honor their neshamot — their souls — by lighting Shabbat candles and observing a Shabbat of unity with our special guest Dan Alon.”
Jill Garbi moved with her family from Oakhurst to central Israel last July. Before making aliya, she was an NJJN contributing writer.
The ‘Untold Story of Survival’
DAN ALON’S account of the tragic events at the Munich Olympics was written by New York City writer, producer, and teacher Carla Stockton.
In an interview with NJJN, Stockton spoke about researching the book.
“When Dan speaks in public, he always breaks down and cries at a couple of very emotional junctures. It makes his speaking compelling. But when he and I spoke, he was very controlled, except when he talked about his coach, Andrei Spitzer, and about his daughter and the way his experience had made him fearful for her. In the book we discuss his anger and his need to let it all go in order to find peace. That’s at the core of his philosophy,” she said.
The book was produced by Dapt’d publishers, which issued the following statement by CEO Edward Ludvigsen, about the International Olympic Committee’s refusal to schedule a moment of silence on the 40th anniversary of the athletes’ murder.
“By refusing to provide a moment of silence, the IOC not only denigrates the loss of the athletes who were massacred, but they also contradict their own avowal that politics have no place at the Olympics. They have put a political agenda in place at the Olympics by refusing to acknowledge that what happened was unconscionable.
“No athlete should ever be fearful for his/her life at the Olympics; the IOC has a sworn obligation to protect them. They failed to do that in 1972, and their failure goes unacknowledged along with the seemingly forgotten fallen athletes,” he said.
“Humanity of the story is of paramount importance, above and beyond the politics of it all. DAPT’D believes that the story must be told and re-told to remind us all that human beings suffer and recover, that human beings are resilient, that the human spirit can prove indomitable.”