Shaul Ladany (83) is a world record holder racewalker who not only survived the horrors of the Holocaust, but, being an Israeli athlete, also survived the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre.
Although for a number of years Ladany is a pensioner, he nevertheless accepted the invitation of European Maccabi Games to come to Budapest, home of the 15th games. Not only did he come, but he also successfully completed the 21 kilometers half-marathon along with a couple of thousand other participants.
Despite his age Ladany is fit as always, he even had time to give us a short interview:
“I wouldn’t want to be misunderstood, but the first thing that came to my mind, when I accepted the invitation of the German delegation to the games was, that after 75 years I get to return to this city that I left as a ‘dirty Jew’ when I was just 9 years old, now I get to return as a world record holder” – said Ladany in flawless Hungarian, who was born in Belgrade in 1936 but lived in Budapest from 1941 to 1944.
When the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia in 1941 and Horthy annexed the ‘Southland’ and Ladany escaped to Budapest with his family.
“I clearly remember the horrors of the massacres in ‘Újvidék’, as a family member reported them to my parents. I did not like to live in Budapest though, as it always reminded me of being Jewish. Not once we were thrown horse dung by the anti-Semites shouting dirty slurs”
– recalls the 83 years old athlete, who escaped Budapest ghetto on the famous Kastner-train, but ended up Bergen-Belsen for a while. He was liberated there and made Aliyah in 1948 to the newly formed State of Israel.
A graduate from the Columbia University he was offered to come visit Budapest a few times, once he was also offered to lead a faculty in an American program in the capital of Hungary.
“I was offered American salary, but I refused the offer. Though I do like money, I must admit”
– said the veteran athlete, who started racewalking during his years as a university student in Israel, his home country that he represented twice on the Olympic Games, and was the only Holocaust survivor in the Israeli team in the 1968 Mexico and the 1972 Munich Olympics.
“I was proud to be in the Israeli team, especially in Germany, where I felt we could show them, that despite them wanting to destroy an annihilate us, we are here and we are ready to compete with the rest of the world”
– recalls Ladany.
He was lucky to escape the tragedy on the 3rd of September, when a group of Palestinian terrorist broke into the Israeli Olympic village and took Israeli trainers and athletes as hostage for over 20 hours. The nightmare ended with the death of 6 Israeli coaches, 5 athletes and a German police officers.
Ladany never attended Olympics since, but did compete on many occasions. He won five gold medals in the Maccabi Games between 1969 and 1973. He made his world record also around this time: he walked 50 miles in 7 hours, 23 minutes and 50 seconds.
Ladany was registered in the Jewish Hall of Fames of Sports, thus granting him immortality in the world of sports.
While in Budapest, he plans to walk around downtown, a place he has not seen in a very long time. He already visited the place he lived in the the ’40s on Szilágy Erzsébet fasor.