Survivor of 1972 Olympics terrorist attack recounts tragic story

SKOKIE — Dan Alon may never find complete peace with what he saw during what was supposed to be the greatest event of his life.

During a presentation Monday night at Shallot’s Bistro, the now-69-year-old former Israeli championship fencer spoke about what surviving the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games cost him.

“I took a lot of medicines, to help me calm down,” he said. “I feel unsafe, even in coming to Chicago. I have to check my room all the time. I don’t speak Hebrew loudly. I’m afraid to go by myself to many places.”

Alon is on a nationwide tour, promoting his “Munich Memoir” book. The successful businessman, former soldier and grandfather spoke for more than an hour, then answered questions for about 30 minutes.

“Something happened to me that I can’t explain,” he told the group that came to hear more about his story.

On Sept. 5, 1972, the 27-year-old fencer from Tel Aviv was already eliminated from the competition and staying in Apartment 2 of the Olympic Village building that housed many of the Israeli team members. How he ended up in Apartment 2 was a story of its own, he said: He wanted a different unit, but as he and his teammates hauled their luggage down the hall, one of them bumped into him hard enough to knock him into Apartment 2’s door, and he simply stumbled in.

Alon said he enjoyed his balcony room, which was great for smoking cigarettes.

“If the coach didn’t see me, of course,” he said.

That stumble likely saved his life, as terrorists from the Black September faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization later snuck into the building and broke into Apartments 1 and 3. Because one of the hostages they took that morning told them that no Israeli athletes were in Apartment 2, Alon and three roommates were able to hide for most of the 18-hour standoff.

Two of those roommates were Henry Hershkowitz and Zelig Stroch — and they were sharpshooters. Alon recounted how the four of them considered using their two long-range firearms to storm the room where the terrorists were keeping the hostages.

“The marksmen wouldn’t miss,” he said, but they thought better of it. “We might make a big mess, and then they would be in a panic, and they might kill all the hostages, and then they might kill us as well.”

They opted instead to flee. To get to the ground floor, they had to descend 15 steps in the staircase — each wooden, and rickety. They spent 20 minutes in that stairwell, he said.

The group made it to an open, dark courtyard but terrorists were standing guard in a balcony overhead. During Alon’s dash across the courtyard toward Munich police, he made eye contact with one of the terrorists.

“He was watching me, and I was watching him, for a few seconds,” Alon said. “But he didn’t shoot.”

Today, Alon has found enough distance from the Munich Massacre, and enough peace with it, that he can make a few jokes about it. When an audience member asked Alon why the terrorist did not shoot him, Alon had a funny remark ready.

“Because I’m a great guy,” he said.

The terrorist attack ended in disaster: A botched rescue attempt led to the execution of all the hostages. Alon retired from fencing immediately, and did not speak about what he saw for decades.

The decision to open up about what he saw and felt in his “Munich Memoir” book has proved a tremendous release for him, he said. The passing years and the presentations have given him a little distance, he said, but he doubted he would ever have enough.