Munich Memorial Tribute...Some Words from David Wallechinsky

Tuesday, September 06, 2022
ISOH Wreath Presentation at Munich Massacre Memorial
On 4 September 2022, the International Society of Olympic Historians (ISOH) laid a wreath at the memorial in Munich’s Olympic Park in honor of the 11 members of the 1972 Israeli team who were murdered by terrorists.
David Wallechinsky led a short ceremony. Wallechinsky was joined by current ISOH President Christian Wacker and fellow member San Charles Hassan, founding president of the Palestine Rowing Federation, as others watched.
Said Wallechinsky, "These members of the 1972 Israeli Olympic team were not murdered because of who they were as individuals. They were not killed because of what they did or what they said. They were killed because they were Jewish. They were killed because of their religion and their nationality. Before I was born, members of my family were killed by Germans and attacked by Poles not because of who they were as individuals, but because they were Jewish. Even before that, members of my family were attacked by Russians not because of who they were as individuals, but because they were Jewish.
A few years ago, at the request of the International Olympic Committee, I interviewed a man named Ben Helfgott, who is now 92 years old. Ben was a Jewish boy living in Poland when Germans invaded Poland and gained the active support of some Poles.
When Ben was 13 years old, Poles murdered his mother and his 8-year-old sister. Later, Germans murdered his father. Eventually, 24 of 28 members of his extended family were killed by Germans and Poles. None of them were murdered because of who they were as individuals, but just because they were Jewish. 
Ben survived the Holocaust, but only barely. He was sent to three concentration camps. He worked in Nazi labor camps. Ben, who was small but strong, was working in a glass factory. One day a German soldier came in and told Ben’s Polish overseer that there was room for one more Jew to be squashed into a train that was headed to the gas chambers, and he pointed at Ben. The overseer, who had treated Ben harshly until then, stepped in and told the German that Ben was not a Jew, and they left him alone.
When World War II ended, Ben Helfgott was 15 years old. He and a younger cousin tried to return to Poland by foot. At the border, they were seized by Polish police who took their food and their possessions and told them that the Germans should have killed all the Jews. They led Ben and his cousin into a forest to “finish the job.” But Ben, who spoke perfect Polish, talked them out of it. 
Ben was accepted into a program for Holocaust orphans in Great Britain. He flourished and became a champion weightlifter. He even represented Great Britain at two Olympics. Ten years after World War II, Ben was invited to compete in Poland. He accepted, and did so again in 1959. Later he took part in reconciliation events in Poland. Some Jews criticized him for going back to the country where his family had been murdered. But Ben reminded them that, although some Poles had committed evil acts, other Poles had helped the Jews, and one had even saved his life.
The last question I asked Ben Helfgott when I interviewed him was, “Setting aside sport, now that you are 88 years old, are there any lessons in life you would like to pass on to younger generations?” His answer was, “Never judge a person by his religion. Never judge a person by his nationality. Never judge a person by his race. Never judge a person by his ethnicity. Judge each person as an individual.”
The Palestinian terrorists who killed the members of the Israeli team in 1972 did not look at them as individuals. 
I hope that someday, Palestinians will judge each Jewish person as an individual, instead of by that person’s religion, ethnicity or nationality or by the actions of the Israeli government. I hope that someday, Israelis will judge every Palestinian as an individual, and not by the actions of the minority who commit terrorist acts.
I hope that someday, all people will live by the lesson that Ben Helfgott has tried to teach us: to judge each person, not by their religion, not by their nationality, not by their race and not by their ethnicity, but as an individual human being.
Thank you.


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