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Munich From a Father's Eyes

January 5, 2006 By:
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David Berger

"Munich" is far from a popcorn movie for Dr. Benjamin Berger, albeit one salted with the tears of memory.

Indeed, the refrain, "It's just a movie," takes on a sad, dissatisfying, Tinseltown twist for this doctor from Shaker Heights, Ohio.

For the elderly Berger, "Munich," after all, is not just a movie. It's family history.

Berger's son, David, was the only American-born participant - David held joint citizenship as an Israeli - among the slain 11 Israelis at the 1972 Munich Games, a terrorist-plagued, terror-filling event that is the ammunition of "Munich," Steven Spielberg's much-discussed diatribe on the post-massacre events.

As father of the Ohio-born weightlifter, who was 28 at the time of his murder, Berger, who has seen "Munich," has a weight on his shoulders and chains on his memory that no movie could lift. But then, he says in talking about his feelings on "Munich," and, of course, Munich, "it is very difficult to be impartial."

This Spielberg war of the worlds is a very personal one for the father of an amazing athlete enshrined in Philadelphia's own Jewish Sports Hall of Fame/ Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia. (And on a personal note, David Berger - before Munich and his aliyah - was no stranger in my household. My late brother, Malvin, was a nationally recognized weightlifter with a number of championship titles under his belt and traveled in similar regional circles as Berger, whom he knew as a "spirited, really decent and nice guy" and a worthy competitor; both were in the same middleweight class.)

Berger the father feels that the infamy of the events 33 years ago "wasn't [shown] enough" in "Munich."

"But then, that's a personal prejudice," he adds.

And who could blame him?

To its detriment, "Munich," says the good doctor, "assumed you knew all about" what transpired on Sept. 5, 1972.

"He should have explained it more," says Berger of Spielberg's lax attempt to explicate the near-inexplicable.

What occurred at Munich, in which his son and 10 other Israeli athletes were taken hostage and then executed by members of Black Sunday on that blackest of days, "was not stressed that much."

But then, the stress of memory is never alleviated for this father. "It's always painful," he says of recollections, even without the Hollywood Olympic five-ring circus made of "Munich."

"I've been through this thousands of times," he says of the innumerable thoughts and revisits to the Munich of memory.

If anything, "Munich" is an unimpressive cinematic achievement. Give peace a chance?

No chance it reflects a piece of the past, attests Berger, who claims this movie will not accomplish what Spielberg has called his "prayer for peace."

Yet "I am sure he honestly feels that the events in '72 should be remembered," says Berger of the director's attempt to commemorate the tragedy.

Is this the way to do it?

Can the master filmmaker master the real past? Has Spielberg made a movie worthy as a memorial to his son's massacre - and those of the other 10 at Munich?

"No," replies David Berger's father, softly and simply.

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