King of the Road
From Bergen-Belsen to the Olympic Games
By Shaul P. Ladany
Gefen Publishing House, 2008, 378 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - July 20, 2009
Many people justify their failures to do more with their lives because of difficulties they experienced or because they need to spend so much of their time on a particular project that they are simply unable to devote time to other matters. Dr. Shaul P. Ladany shows that these excuses are baseless. He also shows how success depends on daily perseverance.
King of the Road is a well-written and detailed autobiography of an Israeli who pursued a dual career and was very successful in both. He survived the holocaust and the Black September Munich Olympic attack of 1972 when many Israeli athletes were killed, and did not let the trauma of these horrendous non-human assaults disable him.
He obtained a Ph.D. and became chairman and professor of Industrial Engineering at Ben Gurion University in Israel. He published thirteen books and over 110 scientific articles. He holds eight US patents. In 2008, he received a Life Achievement Award for his contribution to the field of Industrial Engineering.
Simultaneously and remarkably, he devoted his life to the sport of race walking and has achieved many awards. In May 2006, for example, he walked 100 miles and completed it with the fastest time ever recorded by a person over the age of seventy. All people - both those who are interested in racing and those who never thought about the sport - will find his descriptions of how he races – his preparations and his executions - very instructive.
Ladany was born in Belgrade in 1936 and was saved from being murdered by the Nazis when he was hidden in a monastery, but later spent six unforgettable months in the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, which he describes. He tells how he found it extremely difficult to visit the site in 1972 when he was told by the Israeli Olympic Committee to attend a ceremony there just before the Olympics.
When his family returned home after the war, they found that someone had taken over their house and all of its belongings and they could not get them back. His family escaped to Israel in 1948 and he narrates his difficult but ultimately successful adjustments to his new country.
His description of the 1972 Olympics when many of his fellow athletes were murdered by Palestinian terrorists is worth reading. On the day prior to the massacre, he participated in a fifty mile race walk and uncharacteristically came in nineteenth. He tells why he was unable to win this race, a story that demonstrates how success in life not only depends on a person’s own efforts, but in the help that others contribute.
Both he and some of the other Israeli athletes who were able to escape the terrorists do attempt to offer aid to their fellows the next day. They saved some people, but not all.
Eleven Israeli athletes died at the Munich Olympics. The German government acted in a cowardly, inept and stupid manner. They agreed to let the eight terrorists leave Germany, but planned to kill them as they entered a plane that the Palestinians had demanded. German soldiers were placed on the plane to kill the terrorists as they entered. Another group of German snipers were lying along the way to the plane. The soldiers on the plane simply walked away, either out of fear or lack of desire to endanger their lives for Jews. It took twenty years before the German government admitted that this had occurred.
The snipers on the ground acted stupidly. They opened fire against the terrorists who were holding the Israelis. We do not know even today if the Israelis were killed by the terrorists or by the Germans.
After the death of the eleven, the Germans recognized that the Israelis were still in danger and blocked off the entrance to their compound. However, their German mindset was that anyone who wanted to enter would "of course" enter at the entrance, not the exit. Thus these guardians left no guards at the exit. They did the same before the terrorist attack, and it is possible that the terrorists entered through the unguarded exit.
Ladany was not hurt during the attack, but newspapers reported that he was killed before his wife was told the truth, causing her and his friends deep pain. People who know little about what happened wrote about it, and Ladany is described in one book running fearfully from the terrorists. He had to sue in court to stop the printing of the lie. This tragic Munich episode is only one of many tales that Ladany tells.
Ladany writes his dramatic life story in a very readable and inspiring manner. His autobiography should be read by all people, Jews and non-Jews, so that they can learn about a very determined man who faced difficulties and overcame them.