Author whose book inspired Spielberg’s ‘Munich’ dies at 80
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Author whose book inspired Spielberg’s ‘Munich’ dies at 80

Hungarian-Canadian George Jonas’s ‘Vengeance’ detailed Mossad team’s strike back at Palestinian terrorists after 1972 massacre of Israeli Olympians

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

A member of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September, which killed 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team, during the 1972 Munich Olympics. (AP/Kurt Strumpf)
A member of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September, which killed 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team, during the 1972 Munich Olympics. (AP/Kurt Strumpf)

A journalist, novelist and poet, Hungarian-born Canadian writer George Jonas was best known for his non-fiction book “Vengeance,” about five Israeli agents sent to hunt down and assassinate those responsible for the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The book served as the basis for two films, “Sword of Gideon” (1986), and Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” (2005).

Jonas, who died Sunday at the age of 80, escaped his native Budapest in 1956 following the Hungarian Revolution. He made his way to Canada where he worked as a producer for three decades for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Interestingly, the biography on his official website makes no mention of his WWII experiences as a young boy. He did, however, work of them in his memoir, “Beethoven’s Mask,” in which he told of how he and his parents, Christian converts who were born to Jewish families, survived the Holocaust.

While at CBC, he collaborated with famous defense lawyer Edward Greenspan on “Scales of Justice,” a program about famous crimes. Inspired by a 1970s murder case in which Greenspan defended Peter Demeter, who was accused of ordering a hit on his model wife Christine, Jonas wrote the bestseller “By Persons Unknown” together with his then-wife journalist Barbara Amiel.

Arguably Jonas’s most famous work, “Vengeance” was controversial, with doubt cast on his single source, an Israeli agent named “Avner.” The Mossad would neither deny nor confirm the existence of this informant, and some claimed that “Avner” had no rank higher than an El Al baggage handler.

“Jonas himself checked Avner’s story by using the methods employed by police in criminal investigations, visiting the scenes where the terrorists were killed, verifying the physical details given by his source, and so on. Avner’s account checked out well. Jonas concluded that Avner was telling the truth in general, even if some of his points were not confirmable. That is about as near to the truth as we are ever likely to get,” wrote the National Review on the matter.

In more recent years, the witty and conservative (he preferred “classic liberal”) Jonas published columns on subjects such as law, war, politics, Islamism and multiculturalism in the right-leaning Canadian National Post. In its obituary for Jonas, the paper emphasized his ability to sum up deep ideas with pithy aphorisms.

“Politicians who seek high office, for example, should be disqualified for being stupid enough to think they can do it. Crime is not wrong because it is illegal, it is illegal because it is wrong. Cold War Communists ‘could cope with bankruptcy; they had never been anything but bankrupt, beginning with Karl Marx himself.’ Freedom is too fragile to put into words, so ‘if you write down your rights and freedoms, you lose them,'” the National Post gave as examples.

The rabbi who officiated at George Jonas's second marriage was dubious of the Hungarian-born author's Jewish identity, given that he had never set foot in a synagogue before. (Moe Belli, CC-BY-SA, via wikipedia)
The rabbi who officiated at George Jonas’s second marriage was dubious of the Hungarian-born author’s Jewish identity, given that he had never set foot in a synagogue before. (Moe Belli, CC-BY-SA, via wikipedia)

“His elegance had a magnificent compression to it,” said his conservative colleague Mark Steyn.

Jonas was named to the Order of Canada in 2014. Canada’s Governor General called his writing “clever, unafraid and compelling.”

Amiel, who was the second of Jonas’ three wives, insisted that they get married by a rabbi in a synagogue. The rabbi, the renowned late Gunther Plaut, was sure of Amiel’s Jewish heritage, but was dubious of Jonas’ Jewish identity, given that he had never set foot in a synagogue before.

“Rabbi, if I was good enough for Hitler, I’m good enough for you,” Jonas told the rabbi. Although Jonas was Jewish, he was reportedly in denial of this to a certain degree for most of his life. He had been taught by his father back in Hungary to keep his religious identity hidden. Or as his father put it, to keep his penis in his pants.

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