Munich Families Still Mourn, 40 Years Later

Relatives Keep Memories of Slain Israeli Athletes Alive

By Nathan Jeffay and Naomi Zeveloff

Published July 23, 2012, issue of July 27, 2012.
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September 5 was meant to be something of an annual holiday in Michal Shahar’s family.

chris stephens/the plain dealer

It was the date that she moved with her parents to Israel from Romania in 1963. Nine years later, they planned a double celebration: Her father, Kehat Shorr, was representing his new nation at the Olympics that day, coaching the shooting team.

But on September 5, 1972, Shorr was taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists in the Israeli team’s Olympic quarters; the next day, he was killed. His family lost not only a husband and father, but also the ideologue who had brought them to Israel.

“My father was a very patriotic Zionist, and we tried for years to come to Israel,” Shahar said, recalling how the communist authorities in their native Romania repeatedly barred their exit.

In contrast to Kehat Shorr, David Mark Berger came to Israel for pragmatic reasons. The Ohio-born Jewish weightlifter knew that he would have a better shot at going to the Olympics if he competed for a spot on the Israeli team, given the country’s smaller pool of world-class competitors.

Berger was the only American-born Israeli in the group of 11 athletes, all of whom died in Munich.

Just as each athlete traveled a distinct path to Israel’s 1972 Olympic team, each of their families was left to wend its way through the grief. Forty years since the event that bound together their lives, the families of the Munich 11 have processed their common loss differently. For some, the event might as well have been yesterday. For others, the ensuing decades have brought the distance necessary to go on.

“For a lot of years at night I couldn’t sleep,” Shahar said, in her Tel Aviv apartment. “I was always up thinking through all sorts of scenarios, like maybe something else happened, and nonsense thoughts like maybe he’s still alive.”

At the time of the tragedy, Shahar was a 21-year-old newlywed. Though hit hard, she pushed on to obtain her mathematics degree. She became a high school teacher and, eventually, a principal.


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