King Of The Road: From Bergen-Belsen to the Olympic Games (Anglais) Broché – 25 août 2008
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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.
My interest in the book was Ladany's experience during World War II and the Holocaust, but only a small portion of the book was devoted to this (less than half a chapter). The main focus of the book is on the sport of race walking.
I couldn't muster the interest to do more than skim and flip through the book, but that's just my personal preference; I'm not very interested in sports and I was expecting more about the author's Holocaust experience. The tone of the writing is conversational, like someone relating a story to a friend. It's definitely serviceable for the content. For someone interested in race walking, and sports competition in general, I'm sure this book would be an enjoyable read.
I should add that the section about the massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich was fascinating. Ladany makes it a point to correct some details that had been previously reported about his escape. Mainly, he describes following the lead of other Israeli athletes and escaping through the back door of his hotel room (no jumping off a second floor balcony, as most reports, including Wikipedia, state). Of additional interest are his thoughts on why the terrorists didn't take his roommates and himself hostage (there were two Israeli marksmen among them), his opinion of the German military of the '70s (inept and clumsy, a far cry from the German military of the last World War), his anger at the Israeli government for recalling their athletes home, the mistaken reports of his death in the massacre and his lawsuit against an author who fabricated details of the events of that tragic night. I wasn't at all familiar with this incident and Ladany's report was as good as any to learn about it.
[Disclosure: This review also appears on [...], a site for review and discussion of creative works.]
This is the autobiography of an academic who has won Olympic medals for distance walking. We learn all about the coaching in sport and the discipline to keep up ones stamina and endure. We hear about every big long distance walk marathons in Israel which takes us all over the country and its development into an athletic sport.
Then we come across many facets of Shaul whose family were holocaust survivors from Yugoslavia and Hungary and that his first language is Hungarian but could speak German, Serbian Croat so could also speak Russian. What was left of the family arrived in Israel during the war of Independence and he had to learn both Hebrew and English. He tells us about his army service at the same time that Israel was developing it military system and engineers were needed to train the artillery units. He got his engineering degree at the Haifa Technion and master's degree.
Doing his doctorate at Colombia he took part in every walk race available and this gave him good training for the olympics and that Lake Tahoe is where high altitude training is done in the States. The fact that endurance walkers have to be given coke, glucose and bananas to keep up their stamina and getting to know each route before the competition helps in planning your speed. At the same time we meet the record breakers in the sport as well as the fact that many known academics took part.
In the Mexican olympics in 1968 we read about the atmosphere there that the Mexican are friendly people but very corrupt bureaucrats. Because he spoke so many languages was in demand where people wanted to speak to Russian, Hungarian, Yugoslav athletes. At the same time the Israeli officials came to have a good time but were not very helpful as they were political appointees and not sports people.
A walk racer has to plan his 50 km and set an easy even speed, if he goes too fast at the beginning fatigue will set in and he wont be able to finish the race.
. In Germany when was asked where he learnt German he answered Bergen Belsen.
The book now goes on and describes the terrorist attack against the Israeli athletes in 1982 in Munich so we get a detailed description from somebody there some new revelations that was not in the press. He sued a French journalist for publishing a book on the attack as he was mentioned and it was incorrect.
In the 1973 Yom Kippur War he returned to Israel on a special flight from NY he took up his position as Artillery officer on the Jordanian border, he says that if Jordan had taken part in the war - the were not prepared.
Anyone interesting in sport, the politics of sport , the olympics, a great autobiography as well as the history of Israel during this period will enjoy this book