Twice a Survivor, 86-Year-Old Takes Family to Germany

Shaul Ladany was held in Bergen-Belsen and on Israeli Olympic team attacked in 1972
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 4, 2022 11:35 AM CDT
Twice a Survivor, 86-Year-Old Takes Family to Germany
Israeli Olympic racewalker Shaul Ladany pauses Saturday at the site of the former Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen in Bergen, Germany.   (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Shaul Ladany lived through a Nazi concentration camp and escaped the massacre of 11 fellow Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games 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, who was born in 1936 in Belgrade, in the former Yugoslavia, brought family members to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany to show them the place where he was imprisoned by the Nazis as an 8-year-old boy. On Monday, he plans to participate in a joint German-Israeli ceremony in Munich marking the 50th anniversary of the attack on the Olympians by Palestinian terrorists, the AP reports.

Ladany, who competed in the Munich games as a racewalker, strode briskly in lime-green sneakers and a beige sun hat as he led his granddaughter, his younger sister, and her three children in Bergen-Belsen, which has been turned into a memorial site. He pointed at a plot of land, now covered by blueberry and heather shrubs and tall birch and pine trees, where barracks No. 10 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 negotiated by Hungarian and Swiss Jewish foundations, which paid the Nazis ransom to free more than 1,600 Jews deported from Hungary. "It's not a pleasant thing to recall the period here," Ladany said Saturday.

But it was important to him to come back and tell relatives about the horrors he endured during the Holocaust, in which 6 million European Jews were killed. It is a pilgrimage he has already made several times. "I always bring here one of my relatives to teach them, to educate them what happened," Ladany said. He still remembers the constant hunger and seemingly endless roll calls in the cold wind outside the barracks when the guards would count the inmates. The Ladanys fled Belgrade in 1941 after their home was bombed by the German air force. They escaped to Budapest, Hungary, but were eventually captured by the Nazis and sent to Bergen-Belsen, where 52,000 mostly Jewish prisoners died at the concentration camp and more than 19,000 prisoners of war, mostly from the Soviet Union, died at the adjacent POW camp. After being freed in the exchange, Ladany and his family traveled to Switzerland and ultimately moved in 1948 to Israel.

There he grew up to become a professor of industrial engineering and management and an accomplished racewalker—he still holds the 50-mile world record, set in 1972. He arrived in Munich for the Olympics at age 36. Early on the morning of Sept. 5, members of the Palestinian group Black September broke into the Olympic Village, killed two athletes in the Israeli delegation and took nine hostage, demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel as well as two left-wing extremists in West German jails. Ladany narrowly escaped. A terrified roommate woke him up to say a fellow athlete was dead, and he quickly fled with his teammates. Ladany plans to wear his original Israeli team jacket from 1972 to the memorial, and he's looking forward to showing the world that both he and Israel have endured. "Those that tried to kill me are not alive anymore," he said. "We are still here. Not only as individuals, but also as a country."

(Read more Holocaust stories.)

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