Where Was Our Air Force?
by Len Abram
Boston Broadside Columnist
Spring is not only a time of renewal for the land, but also of the human spirit. Spring holidays celebrate the rebirth of nature, of life over death. Perhaps this annual event is echoed in the resurrection of Jesus, Easter. Spring also coincides with holidays of political renewal, the birth of freedom, and liberation from tyranny, Passover.
Passover celebrates the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery. The Seder, the meal for the first two nights of Passover, centers on the retelling of the story of liberation, in which the participants are to imagine that they too have been liberated. Some say that the Last Supper was a Passover Seder.
Moses, the unlikely hero of the saga, leads the Jews out of Egypt toward the land of Canaan. The Jews observe many miracles (and make many mistakes) along the way. But they are not ready to settle in the Promised Land and must wander a total of 40 years, while the next generation is prepared.
As for the land, no real estate transaction in history has been more clearly documented than the promise of the land of Israel to the Jewish people. Although the promise to the Jews came from the Highest Authority, the Jews will have to fight to acquire the land and fight to keep it.
In the Jewish wedding ceremony, in the midst of joy, the groom smashes a glass. This is to remind Jews of bitter history, the fall of the ancient Temple, even in their happiness. Thus, in beautiful spring, with the Passover celebration of freedom, Jews also observe the Holocaust, the memorial to the Jews murdered in World War II.
In 1939, the worldwide population of the Jews was 16.6 million. Of those, 6 million were killed in the Holocaust, or in Hebrew, the Shoah. A million and a half of them were around the same age of a little Israeli girl. Her parents tried to explain the Holocaust to her. An Israeli, she couldn’t imagine Jews defenseless. “Where was our air force?” she asked.
The Jews of Poland didn’t have an air force, but when they could, they did resist. In some cases, Jews played music at the concentration camps to stay alive, “the playing for time” of musician Fania Fenelon at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Professional Jewish boxers, who were rounded up with their families for extermination, fought for extra rations and the chance to wait for the Nazis to be defeated. Harry Haft, five years of the camps, came to America after the war and fought the soon-to-be heavyweight champion of the world, Rocky Marciano.
April is also the memorial for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Poland was the Nazi prize and burden in its war against the Jews. Three million Jews lived here, and maybe ten percent of those survived. The Nazis murdered their way across Poland, using the rail system to get their quarry to extermination centers, such as Auschwitz.
The remaining Jews of Warsaw were pushed into a small area of the city, surrounded by walls. On Passover eve, 1943, Nazi troops came into the Ghetto to evacuate and murder the rest. The choice of evenings was no accident. Anti-Semitic events were often scheduled to coincide with Jewish holidays, perhaps to add despair to the fear.
On April 19, 1943, 700 Jews, with a menagerie of arms and homemade bombs, opened fire. It took the Nazis, with tanks and artillery, three weeks to put down the uprising, mostly by burning the Ghetto down. On May 8, 23-year-old Mordecai Anielewicz, leader of the uprising, died with his comrades in his bunker at 18 Mila Street.
Although the Jews didn’t have an air force, as partisans, musicians, boxers, or just those who hid for years, they did resist and fight to survive. Many survivors went on to settle in the state of Israel, which the little girl knows, has an air force.
The Israeli Air Force and armed forces are now integrated into United States Central Command or CENTCOM. Every few years CENTCOM conducts exercises, including one in January 2023. This year Israel was included. By some estimates, Israel has one of the best equipped and best trained militaries in the world.
As for its Air Force, the country has over 500 combat aircraft, produces its own tank, and has superb anti-aircraft and anti-missile defenses. Israel’s Iron Dome, its anti-missile defense, has been adopted by the United States Marines. Israel’s Trophy System, to protect armored vehicles from anti-tank rockets, is being deployed on the American battle tank, the M1 Abrams.
In the recent CENTCOM exercise, American and Israeli fighters accompanied American B-52s on practice bombing runs over Israel’s Negev desert, the topography very similar to that of Iran. ♦