Arye Katzenstein

I have researched and written about hundreds of relatives (maybe thousands?) over the almost ten years that I’ve been writing this blog. And aside from my own direct ancestors, of those many, many cousins and great-aunts and great-uncles going back over two hundred years, there are only a small number whose stories are so compelling and unforgettable that when I see their name, I immediately remember the details of their lives.

One of those cousins is my fourth cousin Arye Katzenstein, whose heroic story I wrote about here. During a terrorist attack at the Munich Airport on February 10, 1970, Arye threw himself on a grenade released by the Palestinian terrorists and sacrificed his own life so that he could save the life of his father, Heinz Katzenstein, and the lives of all the other travelers. He was only 32 years old.

So when I received a comment on my blog from a woman named Miki saying her father was Arye Katzenstein, I gasped. I’d had no idea that Arye had had children when he was killed. I immediately wrote to Miki and learned that after more than fifty years, the city of Munich is finally providing a memorial for Arye on the grounds where the attack occurred. The land is now owned by a private company, BrainLab, and together with that company, the city, and the family of Arye Katzenstein, a proper memorial is being established. BrainLab has commissioned an art work by Alicia Kwade, an internationally known artist, and the family is creating a website and informational materials for the site, which will be dedicated sometime in 2024.

From Miki, I learned a great deal more about her father and his family and his life. As I already knew, Arye was born in Haifa (then Palestine, now Israel) on November 23, 1937, after his parents fled from Nazi Germany. But I learned from Miki that he had spent time in Germany as a student. In 1959 he came to Munich to study veterinary medicine, but later returned to study engineering. He had married his wife Bilha on October 22, 1961, and their first child, my cousin Miki, was born in Munich a few years later. The family returned to Israel before the 1967 war and had two more children there, a son and another daughter.

Thus, Arye left behind not only his parents and siblings, but also his wife and three very young children. It’s hard to imagine the pain and suffering that his death must have caused his loved ones. But his legacy is one of heroism and courage.

Miki shared with me several photographs of her family. First is a photograph of her father Arye as a young man traveling in Europe.

Arye Katzenstein Courtesy of his family

This is a photograph taken at Arye and Bilha’s wedding. Bilha is third from our left, then Arye next to her. Next to Arye are his parents Mania (Miriam) Dorf and Heinz Katzenstein.

Wedding of Arye Katzenstein Courtesy of the family

This chilling photograph is of Arye’s notebook taken after the terrorist attack that killed him. It was returned to the family by El Al after Arye’s death.

Arye Katzenstein notebook returned to family by El Al Courtesy of the family

This photograph was taken on the 53rd yahrzeit (anniversary) of Arye’s death in 2023, just a month ago. Arye’s gravestone reads: “Here lies our dear, noble spirited Arye Katzenstein, son of Miriam and Jacob Hacohen, who sacrificed his live during the attack on El Al passengers.”

Gravestone of Arye Katzenstein Courtesy of the family

The stones for Miki’s grandparents appear below:

Gravestones of Heinz and Miriam Katzenstein Courtesy of the family

Finally, Miki shared with me this photograph of her family—her husband, her children, and herself. I don’t usually include photographs of living people, but in this case I do so to honor the memory of Arye Katzenstein and to recognize the resilience of his family and the hope for a better future where all of us can live in peace and without fear of terrorism.

Miki Katzenstein Dror and family Courtesy of the family