French novelist Serge Groussard, in The Blood of Israel (William Morrow & Company, Inc., $12.50), has taken the massacre of the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games as a vehicle for raw sensationalism. The dust-jacket blurb promises that now "The world can consider what it saw and try to understand." In fact, the reader seeking understanding will tear the volume in half after 100 pages, as incensed at the author as at the terrorists.
The work is a soggy heap of stilted interviews, official reports and maddening polemics, all slathered with Groussard's grandiloquent pity, as when he describes the captives' forced walk to the helicopters: "...Halfin, with his thin face and eyes that gave out a strangely sharp dark brilliance, burning with soul; and Springer, the Fighting Jew of every war, the hero of the Warsaw Ghetto, with his remarkable chiseled, kneaded, sculptured face, and that smile of his, just plain untamable, that overwhelmed all the eyewitnesses, a smile eloquent enough to bring the whole world the faith of Israel."
By contrast, the Arab terrorists are characterized as whining, posturing and animalistic. This turgid style, intended to augment the reader's concern and sympathy, is so excessive that after 458 pages it has done the opposite. Any aim of improved understanding has failed. All possible literary or journalistic intentions have failed, destroyed by what seems to be Groussard's incipient paranoia. He includes leering innuendo—for example, that the terrorists had help from some unnamed Olympic delegation. And he intrudes upon the narrative with inappropriate first-person details: old war stories, the route his cab driver took to the airport.
Emotional excess might be overlooked if Groussard came up with some new information, but his research, though voluminous, is stale. The facts he found crucial were already known. The choice of the site for the attempted rescue—dimly lit F√ºrstenfeldbruck air base—was poor. As a result of underestimating the number of terrorists (police had guessed four or five; there were eight), the German authorities assigned only five sharpshooters to the ambush. These marksmen had no infra-red night sights, so were rendered ineffective when the terrorists shot out the lights.
November 10, 1975
These were blunders. But they were admitted in the report released by the German government. Groussard can find no answers to the important questions. Who planned the terrorists' attack? What was the thinking of the crisis staff as the day wore on? What were the human character clashes that determined decisions under pressure? He can penetrate neither the Palestinian guerrilla movements' web of half-truths nor the Germans' refusal to go beyond official reports. Unaccountably, he rages on, ending with a final hint that Germany had a part in engineering the later skyjacking that forced release to Libya of the three surviving terrorists.
The Israeli athletes and coaches murdered in Munich were exemplary men, Olympians, and behaved that day with awesome dignity and courage. They deserve a far better memorial than this wretched book.