Nearly forty years ago this week — Sept. 5-6, 1972 — tragedy struck the Munich Olympics, when athletes from Israel were taken hostage and later killed by the Palestinian group Black September.
One of those Israeli Olympians — wrestler Mark Slavin — is the subject of a moving profile by Ronen Dorfan for Yahoo! Sports ThePostGame.
The story begins three decades before the 1972 Summer Olympics — to World War II, and Grisha Czerniak, grandfather of Mark Slavin, whose life was spared from the firing squad, then survived forced service in the Russian army to return to his home in Minsk after the conclusion of the war. In the early 1950s, Czerniak’s eldest daughter Anna married Jacob Slavin, then gave birth to Mark.
As a youngster, Mark Slavin was something of a Renaissance man, playing classical music on an accordian, reading the works of the great Russian poets and novelists, and dancing and singing along with his parents’ Elvis Presley records. In addition to these artistic attributes, Mark Slavin was a strong kid; at age 12, he could lift his father Jacob with two hands. This strength was noted by the Soviet sports system, and, at age 14, Slavin was sent to the Palace of Sports, where he first took up boxing… but later switched to Greco-Roman wrestling.
Slavin became a rising star in the Soviet sports world, but he despised the system and its anti-Semitism… so, he abandoned offers of an apartment, scholarships and other perks to emigrate from the USSR to Israel. He earned a place on the Israeli wrestling team which would compete at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, West Germany.
Dorfan’s profile of Mark Slavin then takes readers into the harrowing hours when terrorists scaled the fence surrounding the Olympic Village where the athletes lived, busted into the apartments where the Israeli athletes resided, and held them hostage until they were killed in a failed rescue attempt by German authorities at a NATO air base outside Munich.
For Americans old enough to remember the 1972 Olympics, we recall U.S. swimming sensation Mark Spitz winning an incredible seven gold medals. Wrestling fans remember the U.S. freestyle team garnering six medals, with Dan Gable, Wayne Wells, and Ben Peterson bringing home gold. And, we recall seeing Jim McKay, anchor of ABC-TV’s coverage of the Munich Games, telling us, “When I was a kid, my father used to say ‘Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.’ Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They’ve now said that there were eleven hostages. Two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They’re all gone.”
For individuals of any age, the story of Mark Slavin is must reading that will stay with you forever.
Want to know more? Read Ronen Dorfan’s profile of Mark Slavin for Yahoo! Sports ThePostGame. To learn more about what has become known as the Munich Massacre, check out the very detailed Wikipedia account. And, for the medal awards in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling at the 1972 Olympics, click here.
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