A story of sacrifice and heroism, Sane in Damascus tells the compelling and engaging tale of Amnon Sharon, an officer in the Israel Defense Forces who fell captive during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and was held in a Syrian prison for eight long months.
In his book, Sharon details the brutal treatment and interrogations that he experienced in prison. Though Sharon was tortured, though he had no idea what was happening, he held strong through the power of prayer and faith. In his heart he believed that God could save him, that there would be some way out – he never gave up. And despite four months of solitary confinement during which the only human faces he saw were those of his torturers, he held onto sanity, living for the day when he could return to his pregnant wife and young son.
The book Sane in Damascus is an unforgettable documentation of determination and willpower and the ultimate display of strength against a fearful enemy. This book is dedicated to the memory of the soldiers who were willing to sacrifice their lives in order to save the State of Israel in one of the most difficult periods in her history.
Author Amnon Sharon, a colonel in the Israel Defense Force, born in 1947 to Holocaust survivors within double rows of barbed wire in a detention camp in Cyprus, believes that by exposing his personal experiences and his determination to withstand the difficulties of imprisonment, he may serve as an inspiration to others to survive through the means of strength and faith.
Critic Reviews: 'Clearly and plainly written, this unembellished and forthright story is an inspiring record of survival, testifying to the staggering strength of the human spirit.'
Morton I. Teicher, Miami Jewish Journal, Nov. 2006
Amnon Sharon, an officer in the tank corps, was captured during the Yom Kippur War in l973 and was held in a Syrian prison for eight dreadful months. In this compelling book, he tells the story of his experiences.
The book begins by telling how terribly ill prepared and how terribly overconfident the Israeli army was when the war broke out. Sharon’s unit went into battle with just a handful of tanks, sloppily prepared, with guns not properly calibrated, with inaccurate maps, and without the goggles that they needed to have in order to aim accurately.
Sharon was captured and then began months of unending Hell. He was kept in solitary confinement, beaten and tortured every day, and grilled endlessly, even though he really knew very little of the information that the Syrians wanted to get from him.
And then, eventually, he was taken out of solitary confinement, and put into a cell together with other Israeli prisoners, and from then on, life became somewhat endurable. The soldiers strengthened each other’s morale by exchanging stories, by teaching each other English and Arabic, and by keeping alive their faith that someday, somehow, they would get home.
Especially moving is Sharon’s description of the Seder that the prisoners made for themselves on Pesach night. They were not all religious, but this holiday spoke to them in their situation. And so, one of them who remembered the words wrote out a sort of Haggadah on little pieces of paper. They prepared ‘matsos’ of a sort by saving pieces of toast. Even if the laws of Pesach were not strictly observed, he says that he never felt the meaning of the Pesach story as much as he did that night when they retold the story of how their ancestors had come from slavery into freedom, and prayed that it happen for them too.
On Purim, they joined in singing Purim songs in three part harmony. Their singing shook the walls and the guards came running in to see what was going on. After recovering from their shock, the guards smiled at each other, figuring that these men had lost their minds.
And so, without a megillah, without hamantashen, without costumes, they celebrated the holiday and had a party in the midst of Hell.
On Yom Ha-atsmaut, they took a rag, made a kind of an Israeli flag out of it, and hung it on a bedstead. And on Yom Yerushalayim, they sang songs and exchanged stories about what Jerusalem meant to them.
And then, one incredible day, without warning and without preparation, they found out that they were being freed, that an exchange of prisoners had finally been worked out! And in a few short hours, they were aboard a plane heading for home.
When Amnon Sharon landed at Ben Gurion airport, he found an overjoyed family and a proud country waiting there to welcome him home. His parents, who were concentration camp survivors, who had given birth to him in a British prison camp in Cyprus while waiting for the State of Israel to be born so that they could enter it, had never given up faith that he would come back alive. They clung to the belief that he had been born in captivity; surely he would not die in captivity. His wife, who was three months pregnant when he left, had given birth to a child while he was away. Simcha Holtzman, the man who became famous in Israel for his devotion to the wounded soldiers and the prisoners of war, had represented him at his child’s brit, and prayed for him all the time he was in prison.
It did not happen overnight, but slowly, slowly, Amnon Sharon healed from both the many blows to his body and the enormous stress on his soul during the months of his captivity. He weighed two hundred and three pounds when he left; a hundred and four when he came back! But he has gradually rebuilt his life. Amazingly enough, he agreed to go back into the tank corps despite what happened to him, and he played a significant role in the development of the Merkavah tank, which replaced the outmoded tanks that his unit had used during the war. And now he has written this powerful book, expertly translated from the Hebrew by Jessice Setborn, so that we may know a bit of the horror and the glory of what he went through.
You read this book and you cannot help but think of the American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and of the Israeli soldiers today, many of them just eighteen or nineteen years old, who may be enduring the same kind of cruelty at the hands of a vicious enemy that is recounted in this book. And you can only pray that Hashem yishmor otam, that God may protect them and bring them back to their families, intact both in body and in soul.
Rabbi Jack Riemer Hadassa Magazine, Sept. 2006
“Former POW recalls Syrian captivity”
Jerusalem Post Headlines July 4, 2006
“'Sane in Damascus' is a primer about positive thinking, mental resiliency and ultimately, sheer survival.”
Canadian Jewish News, June 2006
The experiences of prisoners of war and their escapes have been the subject of first-person narratives, of songs, of poetry, and of fiction. Memorabilia associated with them are collectors' items and there even is an 'encyclopedia of prisoners-of-war.' Amnon Sharon provides here an important addition to existing accounts of what befalls prisoners of war.
His harrowing story is unique in that it deals with what happened to an Israeli captain in the tank corps when he was captured by the Syrians in the Yom Kippur war.
The surprise attack by the Syrians on Yom Kippur, 1973 caught the Israelis unprepared. Sharon was peremptorily summoned and promptly left his pregnant wife with their three-year old son to report for duty. He soon found himself commanding a few ill-prepared tanks on the Golan Heights. His tank was hit and he barely escaped before it went up in flames. When he awoke after blacking out, he was captured by the Syrians, blindfolded, and taken to a military camp in Damascus. His first questioners insisted he speak to them in Arabic and when he protested that he did not know Arabic, he was badly beaten with kicks, punches, iron rods, rubber hoses and sticks. His clothes were removed and a sack was placed over his head. His hands and feet were tied; he was placed on a revolving machine, the soles of his feet were pounded. After he fainted, cold water was thrown on him and he was kicked until blood streamed from his body. The torture continued until he was finally taken to a prison and placed in a solitary cell. There, he was hammered with a stick, rubber hoses, and a metal cable. Dragged to an interrogation room, Sharon was jammed into a tire hanging from the ceiling and spun around while being smacked with iron rods.
During months of daily interrogations and painful abuse, Sharon persisted in his fierce determination to survive. He was finally moved from his solitary cell to a large room with twenty prisoners who had served in the Israeli air force. Here, they were fed regularly and escorted to group showers. Part of this easing in the brutal treatment they received was in anticipation of visits by the Red Cross on March 1 and April 1. The prisoners were able to send and receive messages so that Sharon's wife learned that he was alive. On May 1, when the Red Cross visited again, Sharon learned that he had a second son.
Finally, on June 6, 1974, after eight harsh months in captivity, Sharon was freed and returned to Israel in a Red Cross plane. He was treated in a rehabilitation facility where he received psychological counseling. As he recovered, he decided to join the standing army where he served in command staff and training roles until he retired in 1988. With his son, he then established a factory to make beds and mattresses. He continues to experience pain and he is considered to suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. However, he says that, 'My spirit is stronger than ever, because is inside my heart. He carries me in His hands, and we walk together in the same footprints.'
Clearly and plainly written, this unembellished and forthright story is an inspiring record of survival, testifying to the staggering strength of the human spirit.
Morton I. Teicher Dr. Morton I. Teicher is the Founding Dean, Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University and Dean Emeritus, School of Social Work, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Dr. Morton I. Teicher is the Founding Dean, Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University and Dean Emeritus, School of Social Work, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Reader Reviews: '...Amnon ...is an amazing speaker and a person. His book should become a great success in the USA.'
Ravit Bar-Av Director, Israel Education & Info. Consulate General of Israel in NY