Photo Credit: Asaf Stolarz
Péter Hajdú and Assaf Stolarz

Asaf Stolarz, Sports Department Chairman of the World Maccabiah Games, also known as the “Jewish Olympics,” remembers being 16 years old and living in Argentina when he heard the shocking and devastating news about the Munich Massacre.

At around 4:30 a.m. on the morning of September 5, 1972, eight members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September broke into apartments that were housing athletes who represented Israel at the 1972 Munich Olympics. They murdered a wrestling coach and a wrestler who tried to resist them, and held nine other Israeli athletes hostage. After a short helicopter ride to the Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base, a rescue operation tragically went awry. All of the hostages, as well as a German police officer, were killed along with five terrorists in a gunfire exchange with the German police.


The story so deeply affected Stolarz that, 50 years later, he took his friend Péter Hajdú up on his suggestion to run for 11 days to honor the 11 massacre victims. They ran 31 miles each day as a tribute to each athlete who was killed. Although Stolarz and Hajdú are ironman triathlon competitors and ultra-marathon runners, the journey was still a massive feat.

On August 21, Stolarz and Hajdú took off with the sound of a shofar blown by a rabbi at the Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest, the largest synagogue in Europe. Soon they were running across the border to Austria, through rain and fields and forests.

“Every night we spent in another small village,” Stolarz said. “We ran through cities, we ran through small villages, farms; it was amazing.” Dodging rats and tending to blisters were inconsequential, he said, because they were on a mission to memorialize Jewish victims.

One of their resting days was somber and filled with grief when they visited the Mauthausen concentration camp in upper Austria. It was part and parcel of their “run to remember.”

Three of their friends, whom Stolarz calls “angels,” took turns driving beside them the entire time, providing them with food and water and helping them to navigate through the terrain. The trip was supported financially by the Israeli Maccabi World Union and the Israeli Olympic Committee.

After running for approximately 342 total miles, they reached their final destination of Munich, Germany. “It was an amazing journey for us,” Stolarz told The Jewish Press. “I am now standing in front of the Olympic Park in Munich and we can see the buildings where the athletes were sleeping (when they were) kidnapped.” Earlier that day, he biked to the military airport where the hostages were killed.

Stolarz said he has been in touch with family members of the victims, some of whom he had already met in Israel, where he currently lives. “When we decided to do this project, we contacted the families…. It was important for us to receive their blessings,” he explained.

Commemoration ceremonies for the fiftieth anniversary of the Munich terrorist attacks were held on Monday at the Olympic Park in Munich and at the Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base, both sites of grief for the families of victims. For the first time, official apologies were offered to them on behalf of Germany for the botched rescue operation. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, “I ask for your forgiveness for the lack of protection for the Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich and for the lack of trying to find explanations afterward.”

Israeli President Isaac Herzog also spoke at the ceremony, remembering when he was a young boy hearing news of the atrocities committed at the Munich Olympics on his way to school with his father. “It desecrated the spirit of the Olympics, it stained the Olympic flag with blood.” He noted that dozens of years had passed where the 11 victims were not commemorated, and that this indifference compounded the pain felt by the grieving families.

Last week, the German government agreed to pay relatives of the victims 28 million euros. President Herzog thanked President Steinmeier and the German and Bavarian governments for “the decision to take responsibility for the wrongdoings around the massacre, for allowing to investigate them and compensate the families of the victims is part of savoring the good and fighting the bad.”

Stolarz said he felt “full of emotions” at the commemoration ceremony. He met with about 30 relatives of the terror attack victims, including the brother of weight-lifting champion Yossef Romano, who hugged him with tears in his eyes. Stolarz described how wonderful it was to feel the love and appreciation from them. “We run with a meaning,” he said. “We run to remember.”


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