STORY OF THE MONTH
In 2003, the Polish Air Force marked its 85th anniversary and Israel was invited to be one of the 15 countries participating in the celebration, held in the PAF’s Radom airbase. “As soon as the offer was on the table, Maj. Gen. (Res’) Amir Eshel – then commander of Tel-Nof AFB, decided that if we were flying to Poland, we would hold a flyby over the extermination camps”,
On September 4, 2003, 3 fighter jets, flight leader and future Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. (Res’) Amir Eshel (2012-2018) announced: “We, the Air Force pilots in the skies of the camp of horrors, rose up from the ashes of the millions of victims. We carry their silent cry; we salute their bravery and promise to protect the Jewish nation and its land, Israel”.
“Home, a place they’d never been to before”
We were six aircrew members overall, all with fascinating stories”, said Maj. Gen. (Res’) Eshel. “We took the photos of 21 Holocaust survivors with us, read their names out loud in Auschwitz and took them home. the most emotional response came from a survivor, Yitzhak Cohen, who joined the delegation to Poland. "We met on the day I traveled to Treblinka", remembers Maor (one of the pilots), "and he told me his personal story. When I returned back to Israel, the first thing I did was calling someone in the delegation and asked to speak to him. He told me a sentence that stays with me today: you gave me the power and the reason to live.
As the IAF’s F-15s were soaring over the camps, hundreds of IDF commanders on the ground proudly sang “Hatikva,” the Israeli national anthem, the title of which means “the hope” in English.
Major Gen.(Res.) Ido Nehushtan, then commander of the delegation on the ground, said that as the planes passed over the gate, one of the survivors put his hands up in the air, and after the ceremony came up to him and said that 'today he was born again.'
"We came to learn something about the Jewish culture that was, to close our eyes and imagine the bustling market place in Tiktin. To hear the sages learning in the Lublin Yeshiva, to hear the Rama in Krakow, to imagine the Jewish shtetl alive and vibrant. We came in order to see the places of mass annihilation, to walk the streets of the ghetto, to march through the forests to the death camp (pits)s, to pass through the gates of the death camps. To imagine the tremendous tragedy on an individual, family and collective level. We came to say to the victims of humiliation and annihilation whose ashes lie here at our feet. To those who were murdered immediately upon their arrival, to those who were starved before they were murdered, and to those to whom the cold, humiliation and the daily fight to survive with man pitted against man, we are here in spite of it all. The Jewish armed resistance has become a modern army with tremendous power and strength. Your fighting spirit is alive and vibrant in the IDF,."
Major Gen.(Res.) Ido Nehushtan.