T Nation

In memory of David Berger

I wanted to post this in honor and memory of David Berger, a weightlifter who was one of several athletes killed by terrorists as the 1972 Munich Games. I was 8 years old at the time and remember this well

Cleveland-born and -bred, David Berger followed his Olympic dream to Israel, and death in Munich

Nearly 20 hours after Israeli athletes were attacked at the Olympic Village in Munich, ABC television relayed the good news to U.S. viewers: Though details were sketchy, a German official said, the nine hostages taken to the F?rstenfeldbruck airport had been rescued unharmed. As minutes passed agonizingly, Ben and Dorothy Berger, watching from their home in Shaker Heights, Ohio, knew the reports were erroneous. If the hostages had been released, their son, David, a 28-year-old dual citizen and a member of the Israeli weightlifting team, would have called to say he was O.K. An hour later ABC’s Jim McKay looked at the camera and thought of the Berger family. “I knew I’d be the one to tell them if their son was alive or dead,” McKay says. As definitive reports arrived, he spoke the words, “They’re all gone.”

Though neither his parents nor his younger siblings, Fred and Barbara, were athletes, David Berger dreamed of making the U.S. Olympic team soon after he began competitive lifting at age 12. “He was compulsive about only weightlifting,” recalls Ben, who at 85 is still a practicing internist. “Nothing else.” David trained at the only lifting gym in Cleveland, marking meticulous details of every lift in a diary with such words as “easy,” “ugly” and “ouch.” He traveled briefly with the U.S. national team but, realizing his Olympic hopes in this country were slim, emigrated to Israel in 1970, after receiving an undergraduate degree from Tulane and an M.B.A. and a law degree from Columbia. In Jerusalem he was among the first people to teach sports, including weightlifting, to the disabled.

Berger had a law degree and an M.B.A., but weightlifting was his lifelong passion. AP
While their parents stayed home during the Games, Fred and Barbara Berger traveled to Munich, where Barbara visited David in the Olympic Village, using only a borrowed Israeli team jacket as identification. On Sept. 4, two days after David failed to place in his event, the three siblings went out for a late-night snack. “When will we see you again?” Barbara asked. David’s joking response was ominous: “I’ll be home for weddings and funerals.” Barbara and Fred went camping in Austria early the next morning, not long after David had been one of the team members who tried to resist the attackers. David later died in the battle at the airport; an autopsy revealed that he had succumbed to smoke inhalation while tied up in a burning helicopter.

The Bergers instituted scholarships in David’s name at Shaker Heights High, Tulane and Columbia. A sculpture outside an Ohio Jewish Community Center honors his life. Barbara, a landscaper, named her son David. Still, the Bergers are bitter that the IOC has made only a passing reference to the fallen athletes, at the 1996 Olympics. “They didn’t need people to remember the athletes, because they wanted everyone to forget the incident,” Ben says. Years later, after Israeli agents assassinated one of the attackers, Ben Berger took a phone call from someone who didn’t identify himself. “We got him,” the voice said. It is Fred Berger’s belief that his brother would not have wanted retaliation. “If he were in Israel today,” says Fred, a social worker in Provincetown, Mass., “he’d only want peace for everybody.”