Why Munich Memoir is Important

| June 5, 2012 | 0 Comments

In August, 1972, Dan Alon flew with joyful anticipation to Munich and the fulfillment of a dream he had inherited from his father, that of fencing in an Olympic Games. A mere month later, he was the shell-shocked veteran of a horror no one in their wildest imaginations ever conceived as possible at an Olympics venue, the massacre of eleven athletes, Dan’s teammates and friends.

It took Dan thirty-four years to evoke the strength to tell the story, another six to get it into a book and on the market for popular consumption. Before we wrote the book, our agent pitched it to traditional publishers, and all agreed that it was a great story, a well-executed proposal, but, they averred, it wasn’t important enough to put into a production schedule. One house actually confided that it would be impolitic for them to promote a story that depicted Israelis as the victims of the Palestinians, since it has become fashionable to side with Palestine, to identify the Israelis as terrorists inflicting harm on an indigenous people.

Dan and I decided not to qualify those kinds of reactions with responses. Palestine’s plight is no justification for the brutal killing of eleven athletes at an Olympic Games, and we were convinced of the dire importance of the story. We determined to publish it ourselves.

“We need to tell the story,” insisted Dan. “Before the 2012 Olympics. If we don’t tell it as it happened, it could happen again.” He is right. There were so many factors — mistakes, missteps, miscalculations — that led to the massacre that could have been averted had anyone been present along the chain who could see the big picture and articulate the direction the inconsistencies led. The IOC was obdurately naïve and insensitive in their oversight of the games, the Israeli government and Mossad were uncharacteristically and arrogantly over-confident and reliant on the Germans, and the Germans were insufferably incompetent and concentrated on erasing the SS image from their last German games at Berlin in 1936.

My passion for the book is far more fundamental. We all forget that at any moment we can be called on to walk away from a trauma or a tragedy that will leave us scarred, will rob us of our fundamental desire to continue, will cause us to question our own personal existence and the justification for our own lives. Dan’s story is a testament to human reliance.

Nearly broken Dan Alon’s fragility cost him dearly, including the forfeiture of the sport of fencing, which was the one thing that had always defined him, had always connected him to a supreme mission. It took time, re-focus, patience and love on Dan’s part and on the parts of those within his circle, but he did it. And today he is happy, fulfilled, whole. He is a beacon for the rest of us who need to believe that whatever threatens to knock us over can be sidestepped as we proceed forward.

Dan Alon’s experience is proof that one can triumph over hatred and violence without resorting to either oneself. Evil forces will always seek targets, and some of us will have to face those destroyers, whose vile hearts deserve no victory. Dan Alon’s story proves that there is a way to overcome, a means by which anyone might rise above suffering and triumph peaceably.

Most importantly, as we are learning more graphically every day as our soldiers return from their posts in Afghanistan and Iraq, every one of us is likely to meet someone who, like Dan Alon, has suffered a terrible loss, a terrible ordeal, a terrible shock. It’s all too easy for onlookers to be dismissive. “Time will heal you.” “You will find a way to just move on.” Empathy is difficult in those circumstances, and Dan Alon’s revelations open the pathway to deep understanding.

Dan Alon’s story can help us learn to listen, really listen to the underlying emotions of survival. We can learn to be of practical help, to rejoice with the survivors in being alive and revel in gratitude. And maybe we can shorten a fellow human’s process toward acceptance and self-forgiveness.

“Munich Memoir: Dan Alon’s Untold Story of Survival” is available here.

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