An Israeli Survivor

Stand for Israel  |  April 10, 2023

Dr. Shaul Ladany crosses finish line at Maccabia Games, 1973
(Photo: Chanania Herman/GPO)

Shaul Ladany has been called “the ultimate survivor” and the name fits this Israeli You Should Know who survived so much during his long life.

A Holocaust Survivor

Born to a Jewish family in Yugoslavia, young Shaul Ladany fled with his family after the invading Nazis bombed their home. The Nazis deported Shaul’s grandparents to Auschwitz, and murdered them there.

But Shaul’s family made it to Hungary. There, Shaul’s parents tried to hide him in a monastery, but the Nazis caught the Ladany family in 1944 and shipped them to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. There, Shaul watched the SS beat his father. Shaul himself actually found himself sent to the gas chamber… but was reprieved. American Jews had been able to ransom 2,000 Jewish prisoners from Bergen-Belsen, and Shaul’s family were among those saved.

An Israeli and a Champion

At age 12, Shaul made aliyah (immigrated) to the newly formed state of Israel, the nation he still calls home. There, Shaul earned degrees from Technion and Hebrew University. Ultimately, he also received a PhD from Columbia University. At 18, Shaul began to compete as a marathon runner.

But by his 20s, he switched to race walking, a grueling sport in which, according to Shaul, “You need a certain type of mental attitude: a willingness to take punishment, to have a lack of comfort, and pain, to continue and continue.” And Shaul Ladany continued, winning 28 Israeli national titles in race walking, becoming world champion, and breaking a 50-year-old U.S. record in the 50 mile walk.

Surviving the Munich Massacre

In 1972, Shaul earned the right to represent Israel at the Munich Olympics. There he wore the Star of David on his warmup clothing to show the Germans that a Jew had survived. And when Black September terrorists attacked the Israeli team in their quarters, Shaul proved himself a survivor yet again.

The terrorists entered the first apartment of the Israeli team. Shaul slept in the second. His roommate woke Shaul and reported that a team member in the other apartment had been murdered and thrown outside. Shaul and another teammate escaped through the rear, even though they to cross an open lawn, in clear view of the terrorists.

After the attack, one terrorist admitted that seeing Shaul escape, the murderers believed the apartment he’d escaped from to be empty, saving the lives of the Israelis inside.

Having escaped, Shaul alerted authorities to the attack, which tragically ended in the deaths of 11 Israelis. Only Shaul Ladany and four others survived.

But, as we said, this husband, father, grandfather, champion, and Israeli is the ultimate survivor. Humble still, Shaul replies to such labels with: “I don’t know about that. What I can say is that in my life there has never been a dull moment.”

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