By CHRIS LARICK
ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP - For years, Shaul Ladany chalked it up to sheer luck that he wasn't killed in the Munich Olympic tragedy in 1972.
Then the reason for his good fortune finally hit him.
For those too young to remember and those who are unacquainted with the terrorist attack on Israeli Olympians on Sept. 5, 1972, here's a capsule summary:
At about 4:30 a.m. Palestinian terrorists who called themselves Black September scaled the chain link fence that surrounded the five apartments assigned to the Israeli Olympic delegation. They burst into two of them, killing a wrestler, Joseph Romano, and wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg, who tried to fend them off while warning their teammates.
The terrorists then held the nine other Israeli athletes hostage, demanding the release of 234 Palestinians held in jails in Israel and two in Germany. Negotiations went on all day, while the terrorists kept delaying their threats to kill one hostage per hour.
When the terrorists demanded transport to Cairo (with the hostages), the Germans agreed, but only to get them out of the apartments and into open view.
At 10 p.m. two helicopters transported the terrorists and hostages to Furstenfeldbruck Airbase, supposedly to take an airplane to Cairo. But the Germans had set up a trap, though a badly-botched one. They had only five snipers when at least 16 would have been advisable, considering that there were eight terrorists. The snipers had little training, were not situated properly and had inferior equipment, without scopes or night vision.
In the ensuing gunfight, two terrorists were killed and one wounded. A Munich policeman was also killed. Early in the morning the terrorists killed the nine hostages - two weightlifters, two wrestlers, a weightlifting judge, a wrestling official, a shooting coach, a fencing coach and a track coach - blowing up the first helicopter and opening fire on the hostages in the second helicopter. Five of the eight terrorists were killed in the shooting.
Ladany, a long-distance walker who is staying with Ashtabula racewalker Ron Laird for a couple of months while preparing for a record-setting "centurion" walk (see accompanying article) was a race-walker for Israel and the only male track-and-field athlete to represent his country at the 1972 Olympics. He has additional objections to the German plan.
"The German military acted very amateurishly," Ladany said. "They might have counted the number of terrorists when they ascended the helicopter in the village and known there were eight. That was never done or considered necessary.
"That was minor, compared to this: The Germans had planned to have an airplane up and ready, seemingly, to fly any direction, and an additional airplane with policeman hiding in it," Ladany said. "They discussed the matter and thought it too dangerous, too risky, for their lives to save Jews.
"They took off without informing their officers. That was nasty. Thus is the behavior not only cowardly, but they didn't care about rescuing the hostages or the success of their mission."
The three terrorists who survived were arrested, but freed in October of that year after a German Lufthansa airliner was hijacked and demands made for their release. The Israeli government, in retaliation, set up a secret vengeance squad to track down and assassinate the men who had killed their athletes.
Some reports conclude that two of the three remaining terrorists who actually carried out the plan and others who were in on the planning of the attack were assassinated by the "hit squad," though there is some mystery about that. The story of the vengeance squad was dramatized in Stephen Spielberg's 2005 movie Munich.
Ladany hasn't seen the movie and says he won't pay to see it, based on two considerations.
First, he has read the book (Vengeance, by George Jonas) Spielberg based the movie on.
"I thought it garbage. Somebody familiar to the things that happened knows it was full of incorrect stories built around known facts," Ladany said. "It's clear fiction.
"Then, since Spielberg is a movie-maker who wants to please, he decided to equate two things: On one side, a planned terrorist action to murder innocent people for the sake of publicity, then, on the other side, the reaction of the Israeli government to punish those responsible for their terrorist activities when, unintentionally, some innocent people also got hurt. The basis of the movie is fragile, unfounded."
Ladany was staying in the apartment between the two that were stormed. For a long time, he thought it only coincidence or luck that he was spared.
According to Ladany, the Israelis were housed in five adjacent apartments, each consisting of one first-floor bedroom and two upstairs bedrooms, connected by a spiral staircase. The first apartment housed wrestlers, coaches, officials and referees. The second, the one occupied by Ladany, also included two fencers, two marksmen, and a swimmer. In the third were three weightlifters and three wrestlers. The fourth held physicians and officials and the fifth the head of the mission.
"The terrorists attacked apartment number one and number three," Ladany said.
"They killed two persons, one from each apartment. They never attacked apartment number two.
"I had run my race the day or day-and-a-half before. I organized my clippings and at two o'clock I went to sleep. I heard nothing, but someone awakened me and told me Arab terrorists had killed one of the coaches. I didn't believe him.
"I was in my pajamas when I went to the main entrance door and opened it. I looked around and didn't see a body, but I understood something was going on at the entrance to apartment number one. A dark-skinned person was standing and opposite him, about 10 yards away, several uniformed (Olympic Village) guards were standing. They were talking. I listened.
"The guards asked the dark person to let the Red Cross in to provide aid and the dark guy refused. The guards tried to convince him to behave in a humanitarian manner. The guy said, 'Israelis are not humanitarians, either.'
"I understood something had happened and I closed the door, not fully awake. I went to the bathroom, then ascended the stairway to the second floor where the others were fully dressed and asked what had happened. One person pointed to the front window, to a dark spot at the entrance of apartment number one, blood from the body of the coach who had been killed."
The athletes discussed their situation and decided that Arab terrorists would probably try to take all of them hostages and that they should leave. They went downstairs to Ladany's room, where there was a sliding glass door to a terrace.
"I started to dress in a suit," Ladany said. "I had seen all of the others open the door, go to the terrace and run zig-zagging from the building. I went to the terrace and recalled the head of the mission should be warned. I went to the glass door of apartment five and knocked but got no answer. Someone saw me and the head of the mission let me in. He knew what happened but had to inform the other Olympic Committee members and press what had happened. When he finished, we left the building through the terrace."
Ladany thought for years it was just luck that had determined that the terrorists attacked the first and third apartment but skipped over number two. Eventually, he reasoned that, with the information that was made available to the public at the Olympics, the terrorists were capable of knowing exactly who occupied each apartment.
"In apartment two, they would have found that two marksmen stayed in apartment number two," Ladany said. "It was common knowledge that the marksmen kept their rifles and ammunition in the apartment. It became clear to me that the terrorists didn't want to be confronted with people who would resist them."
By CHRIS LARICK