In a recent essay entitled, “Ignoring Munich Massacre Reminds Us Olympics Are Pure Baloney” [Commentary, May 18, 2012] Jonathan Tobin makes the following observation:
“In the history of the modern Olympic Games there have been many scandals but only one terrorist massacre. The 1972 Games in Munich will forever be remembered because Palestinian terrorists murdered 11 Israeli athletes there in cold blood. But this summer when the Games reconvene in London there will be neither an official remembrance nor even a moment of silence in honor of the fallen Israelis. Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, flatly denied requests from the State of Israel and members of the United States Congress for a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies in London. The reason for this refusal is clear. Any reminder of that historic crime would offend the vast majority of member nations that participate in the Games who don’t want any mention of an event that puts the Palestinians in a bad light.”
This year marks the 40th anniversary of this tragedy. In anticipation of the upcoming summer Olympiad, efforts were made world-wide to help sensitize all involved in the importance of this tragedy that was played on the world stage then, and that should be remembered unto this day. But, alas, that is not to be so.
Against this tragic backdrop comes the timely publication of a most literate and comprehensive narrative of this tragic event entitled, “Munich 1972” [Rowman & Littlefield, 2012] by the veteran historian Dr. David Clay Large.
Dr. Large’s literary experience on this topic first came to my attention some five years ago with the publication of his classic, “Nazi Games: The Olympics of 1936” that was reviewed by this column at that time.
This current work under review is by far the most comprehensive treatment of this latest Munich tragedy. Just about every detail, personality, and emotion is given both a caustic as well as humane treatment. Large’s exquisite and eloquent literary style makes this book a very reader friendly book, a page-turner from beginning to end; a joy to read, yet a somber and sober literary experience to behold and remember.
Given the fact that Large himself was present in Munich during this time only gives its content a greater heft in terms of the flair and awesome detail that further helps to enhance both its value as a literary work and as a historical document.
As Jews, we should come to appreciate Large’s current and past literary efforts, for within his work are to be found valued, and until now, not too well known chapters of history that impacted upon our people and our friends at a time of great vulnerability for all peoples of good will.
By way of background, Dr. Large is a professor of history at Montana State University. He has also taught at Berkley, Smith College, and Yale. Among his other works are, “Where Ghosts Walked: Munich’s Road to the Third Reich” and “Berlin.”
In my interview with the author, several points were given emphasis, the first being the gross incompetence of certain German law enforcement agencies throughout this whole ordeal, and the gross indifference of the Olympic hierarchy to the fate of the Israeli athletes. Taken together we have before us a tragedy of Olympian proportions.
Large noted that with the Olympics in constant peril of terrorist crimes and with the 40th anniversary of the 1972 tragedy now upon us, he felt that the Munich story needed a detailed and scholarly treatment for all the world to see, read, and learn from.
In that endeavor, Dr. Large has succeeded beyond measure.
With the Three Weeks now upon us, this work, written by a true Oheiv Yisrael, makes for very timely reading. This book represents an appropriate literary tribute to those who perished solely because they were Jews.
In addition, and as an aside, I would like to make note of the following historical irony. Given the celebration this past week of American Independence Day, please take note of the following. In Parshat Balak which we read on July 7th, the 17th day of Tammuz, we learn once again about the evil efforts by the Moabite King Balak to have the people of Israel cursed. His plot was foiled by the failure of his stooge, the pagan prophet Balaam, to deliver the curse, and instead delivered a blessing whose text serves as the introduction to our daily worship service unto this day.
It should also be noted that on this date, July 7, 1607, marks the day that the song, “God Save the King” was sung for the first time.