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Survivor of Bergen Belsen and the Munich Olympics, and Award-Winning Athlete

July 24, 2022 | by Sarah Pachter

Professor Shaul Ladany shows the world that nothing is unreachable.

Professor Shaul Ladany not only survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, he also miraculously escaped the acts of terror in the Munich Olympics in 1972.

The octogenarian is also a record-breaking athlete and esteemed professor of the Ben Gurion University in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management.

Completing the Maccabiah Half marathon in Israel

He attributes much of his success to his experiences in the Holocaust.

“I was hungry all the time. I remember there were two fences, a barbed wire fence and an electric fence. There were about three meters between the two fences. A tomato plant started to grow. I remember seeing that small green tomato plant…it kept growing bigger and bigger and its color started to change. It changed from green to yellow and then became a little more red. My eyes were popping out of their sockets from eagerness to get that tomato which was unreachable.”

In retrospect Ladany believes that subliminally he set out on a life mission to prove that with a will, nothing is unattainable.

“You needed a series of lucky events to survive the Holocaust. As a result of that lucky streak I am able to prove to the world and to myself that NOTHING is unreachable.”

Case in point: Last week the 86-year-old completed the Maccabiah Half marathon in 4 hours and 27 minutes.

He has competed twice in the Olympics, representing Israel in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and the 1972 Munich games. In 1972, he broke a world record for the 50-mile speed walk. He received The Pierre de Coubertin medal, the Olympic committee’s most prestigious award given to athletes who demonstrate tremendous sportsmanship in the Olympic Games.

In 1972, Prof Ladany broke the world speed record for a 50-mile walk

In Munich, his roommate woke Shaul and reported that a team member in the other apartment had been murdered and thrown outside. The terrorists were still inside the first apartment of the Israeli team when Shaul and another teammate escaped through the back. They had to cross an open lawn, in clear view of the terrorists.

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

The walls of his home are not only lined with trophies and awards for having triumphed in sport competitions, but in academia as well.

He is the chairman of the department of industrial engineering and Professor emeritus of Ben Gurion University. He was also given The Ben Gurion Award in life achievement category.

Learning to bear the discomfort

For Ladany, the Holocaust generated a lot of motivation that he cultivated within himself to achieve a life of full of success in many fields including academia.

“It taught me to be able to live with discomfort…When you are racing it’s not the most pleasant feeling. You have to make an effort. Since I had experienced challenge during the Holocaust, I knew how to take the discomfort.”

The professor is also fond of Vince Lombardi’s motto: “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” He internalizes this lesson and when he starts something, he finishes it.

Hidden in a Monastery

His family escaped to Budapest, but they soon realized that it was not any safer there. His parents made the painful yet necessary decision to hide their children in a monastery where they took refuge.

“My father walked me to the gate, hugged me, and rang the bell. The priest opened the door and did not ask any questions. He let me in and closed the door behind me.”

As an 8-year-old child, Ladany was forced to hide his Jewish identity in order to survive.

“In the monastery, I feared for my life. I was always feeling trauma because I knew that if anyone would detect that I was Jewish, they would kill me.”

At prayer time it became clear that Ladany did not know the services. He cleverly responded that the reason he was unfamiliar with the Catholic prayers was because he was Protestant.

Today, Ladany is relieved and proud that he does not have to hide his Jewish identity. He travels the globe speaking to young and old about the power of motivation. He encourages the world never to forget which he believes is the key to being able to live in peace and democracy today.




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