04 November 2013
"My most moving moment was not when I got my wings, but when I became an officer. Because I was there, and they yelled "Jew" at me. Just like someone who has never been hungry cannot understand what hunger really means, in the same way someone who wasn't there cannot understand what it means to come from there. To become an officer after being there, is like being on top of the world."
(Shaya Harsit, Managing Director of the From Survival to the Skies organization)
On November 4th, 2013, a special event was held at Yad Vashem, marking the conclusion of the project "From Survival to the Skies", the documentation of the stories of Holocaust survivors who went on to become pilots and personnel in the Israel Air Force. This project, in the course of which over 40 testimonies were recorded, was the joint endeavor of Yad Vashem and the From Survival to the Skies non-profit organization, and was initiated by former MK Col. (Res.) Eliezer (Cheetah) Cohen, who spoke at the event.
Other speakers at the event were Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev, Director of the Yad Vashem Archives Dr. Haim Gertner, and Managing Director of the From Survival to the Skies organization, Holocaust survivor Shaya Harsit, who went on to become a navigator in the IAF.
The MC for the event was Malka Tor, Director of the Testimonies Department at Yad Vashem.
A high point of the event was the screening of moving excerpts from 3 of the recorded testimonies, those of Aryeh Oz, Daniel Gold and Moshe Saar whose biographies appear here:
After Kristallnacht, Aryeh Oz’s father decided to immigrate to Eretz Israel and pave the way for the family’s emigration from Germany. When the war broke out, Aryeh, his mother and sister fled to Holland, where they received refugee status. In 1942, the 6 year-old Aryeh was hidden with a Protestant family in a farm in the town of Zeist, where he stayed until the end of the war. Hiding in the attic, he would look out of the window at the warplanes – and thus began his love of flying.
After the war, Aryeh was reunited with his mother and sister, and they came to Eretz Israel. He had a very difficult acclimatization: 11 years old, he couldn’t read or write, and didn’t know any Hebrew. Shuttled around from school to school, he was eventually accepted to the Hadassim youth village, where he finally received the appropriate schooling. He joined the IAF in 1954.
Aryeh took part in many famous secret missions, including Entebbe, and fought in Israel’s wars. After his Army service was over, he joined El Al as a pilot, and worked with them for 34 years. He has written an autobiography, and today, is a lecturer.
Daniel Gold was born in Siauliai, Lithuania in 1937. In 1941, the Germans occupied Lithuania, and the Jews of Siauliai were enclosed in a ghetto. In 1943, “Aktions” were carried out in all the ghettos of Lithuania, and all the old and weak people, as also the children were rounded up and sent to their deaths. Parents tried to hide the children, but only a very few remained undetected, out of them Daniel and a few cousins.
In the summer of 1944, a few days before liquidation of the ghetto and dispatch of all survivors to concentration camps, his aunt and uncle escaped, taking with them their two sons, a female cousin and himself. They found refuge with a Lithuanian peasant family, where they lived in hiding, under extremely cramped conditions, until their liberation by the Russian army, in late fall of 1944.
In 1946, Daniel was reunited with his father in Germany, where his father was liberated from Dachau concentration camp by the American army in 1945. Daniel’s mother perished. In 1952, they made Aliyah. In 1955, he joined the Air Force and pilots’ course, during which he was wounded, just prior to the Sinai campaign. Later, he served as pilot in the Six Day War, the War of Attrition, the Yom Kippur War and first Lebanon War. Altogether, he served as reserve pilot for several decades.
Daniel went into academia, attaining the position of Professor in the field of medical microbiology. Although being retired for the last eight years, he continues to teach medical students on a voluntary basis. On the same basis, he also served for several years in the Israeli police, as a traffic policeman.
Moshe Saar was born in Radzivilov, Poland. After the German occupation of the town in July 1941, a ghetto was established, and divided into 2, one ghetto for the “useful” Jews and one for the “useless”. The latter was liquidated by June 1942. Moshe lived in the former ghetto with his parents and brother. When his parents were notified about the plans to liquidate the “useful” ghetto, they decided to escape. The ghetto was liquidated in October 1942, by which time the family had gone into hiding. They later moved to the Brody ghetto, and then spent time hiding in the forests, where his parents joined the partisans. When Radzivilov was liberated in March 1944, they returned there to discover that out of some 5000 Jews, only about 50 had survived. After much wandering and many tribulations, the family finally reached Israel in June 1948.
Moshe joined the Air Force in 1955, and during his years as a fighter pilot, he participated in Operation Kadesh, the Six Day War, the War of Attrition, and was even called up to assist in the First Iraq War in 1991.
After retiring from military service, Moshe joined the project to develop the “Lavi” aeroplane. When the project was halted by the government, Moshe decided to leave the air industry, and set up a company offering organizational consultation and development services, where he works to this day.