Munich 1972 Olympic Tragedy Comes Full Circle For Two Livnoters

Zaq Harrison (T10) wrote to let us know about a new initiative that he has developed to remember the victims of the Munich massacre, based on his memories of the incident that he remembered as a child growing up in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Aharon Botzer had his own memories – also coincidentally from the Wilkes-Barre area – which he shared with Zaq. 

The following is recent correspondence between Aharon and Zaq and how the Munich tragedy impacted them.

From Zaq

This is an Olympic year and forty years since the Munich games.   I was recently filmed for an upcoming HBO documentary series that is scheduled to run early (www.sportinamerica.com).  I have been working with the student affairs department at the Israeli Embassy to reach out to the day schools, Hillel and Chabad Houses.  I have been asked to speak at several summer camps this summer representing a wide spectrum of Klal Yisrael.

The program is straight forward.  It begins with me and a stool.  I share my story of how as a kid I watched the events in Munich unfold before my eyes and I was forever changed.  How those events influenced me and put me on a path leading me to a real commitment to my Judaism and getting to Livnot.

My feeling is it is 40 years since Munich, and most have little or no memory of what happened.  We are challenged with keeping the memories alive and educating the kids in a positive impactful way.

Zaq Harrison, Baltimore, MD

From Aharon

Zaq, allow me to share with you how that day affected you even more than you realized.

That evening, in 1972, I was in my house, a senior in college at Ohio University, on the western foot hills of the Appalachians. I had been to Israel for several months beforehand, as my mother convinced me to come back and finish my last semester to get a degree. I lived in the ‘country’, in an old log cabin, the first in southeast Ohio. Of course, I restored it. The cabin had  two units. I lived by myself in one and three other students lived on the other side.

I do not remember how I heard about the Olympics, but because I did not have a television, so I went to my neighbors to see the developments. They were drinking as they were always doing. I remember saying to them, “how could you be getting drunk when they are killing people just because they are Jews?” They laughed it off. To them, it was just a Hollywood action movie. I could not take it anymore and drove into town, to Athens, to the local Hillel Rabbi and his wife. The three of us were the only ones in southern Ohio that were affected by the events. That is when I decided, without doubt, that I cannot stay in America any longer.

Livnot was one of my reactions to Munich.

There is another component that we share. When you were four years old, I was also in Wilkes-Barre Pa. As you know, every year there is one of the major National Wrestling Tournaments. The top three in every category are invited to the Olympic Trials. That was the first year that they allowed freshmen to participate. I was a captain of my JV team at OU. Our varsity team was one of the best. I made it to the finals. I almost beat the 3rd in the nation, and I came in 4th. But for me, I was very young and had years ahead of me, until the next Olympics in 1972, in Munich. Thanks to Ha’shem that I got injured and my direction in life was changed.

Aharon