This is a Tribute to an Israeli War of Independence Hero Colonel Shmuel Vedels
Israel Team is committed to confronting the ugly virus of Antisemitism. One of the great virtues of human character is courage. It has been those courageous souls throughout human history that risk life, reputation, and fortune to confront injustice. In the Nazi death Camp Auschwitz, there is a plaque that reads, “The road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference”- Ian Kershaw. Hitler could not have systematically hunted down six million Jews throughout Europe and murder them without the passive indifference of a multitude of bystanders. The majority of Europeans chose not to interfere. Courage interferes. Courage takes sides. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said:
“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”
Shlomo Breznitz said:
“Courage is never alone, for it has fear as its ever-present companion. An act deserves to be called courageous if, and only if, it is performed in spite of fear. The greater the fear, the more courageous the action that defies it. Thus, it is only when fear and anxiety rule supreme that courage can truly assert itself.”
Today, as Israel celebrates their 72 years of Independence we honor a courageous Israeli soldier who fought for the justice of his countrymen in the 1948 war of independence and beyond. His name is Colonel Shmuel Vedels, a decorated Israeli fighter pilot in the IAF. My father’s first cousin, the late Pina (Boxermann) Vedels was the wife of the late Colonel Shmuel Vedels. They and their family made their home in Herzilya, Israel. I spoke with Pina about her late husband not long before she passed away. Shmuel’s story of courage under fire is remarkable.
Part of Shmuel’s story is recorded in an article entitled, Late Justice, which was published in an Israeli Airforce publication dated April 5th, 2016. The article is about the three pilotsinvolved in flying the El Al passenger plane to Argentina in order to capture the author of the final solution to exterminate European Jews, Adolf Eichmann. All three pilots were holocaust survivors who fought in Israel’s war of independence as IAF pilots and later on became Mossad agents who assisted in hunting down Nazi war criminals and bringing them to justice. The three pilots are, Zvi Tohar, Shmuel Vedels and Zeev Liron. Their quest to bring justice to the six million who perished in the holocaust was not only to them a national matter but a deeply personal one as well. Here is what the Israeli Airforce records about Colonel Shmuel Vedels:
“Are we bringing Eichmann or Mengele?”
“He (Shmuel) was a quiet and modest man who was born in Vienna, escaped the Nazis while his whole family was massacred in the Holocaust as a result of Eichmann’s activity. He was a combatant in the ‘Haganah’ and a pilot in the 1948 War of Independence who dropped ammunition and equipment to the besieged Jerusalem.
The operation to bring Eichmann to justice was filled with obstacles and induced a great deal of concern, but its success allowed the trial of Eichmann in Israel. Among the dozens of people who took part in the operation, stood also the late Shmuel Vedels. A part of Vedels book in which he describes his experience of the famous El-Al flight to Buenos Aires, has recently been revealed in the ‘Atmosphere’ Magazine. ‘When El-Al Operations notified me about the special flight to Buenos Aires, it seemed very strange to me: From Lod to Argentina and with a Britannia airliner, which was a British aircraft for medium to long range flights. It was a ridiculously complex flight: a long navigation, hostile countries on the way, the need for refueling and more. Furthermore, in those times it was inconceivable to provide a special aircraft and flight exclusively dedicated to such a far destination even for the President or Prime Minister. In the El-AL Operations room, I studied the list of the crew-members who were appointed to this peculiar flight. When I saw the names a few more strings connected in my head and the feeling that this flight had a much greater purpose than transporting a diplomatic delegation to the Argentinian independence celebrations grew stronger. I knew the crew members well and knew that for most of them, just as it was for me, the Holocaust was a tragic, molding and influential event which held great significance to their lives. When I saw Harel, I asked him directly, ‘Are we bringing Eichmann or Mengele?’shocking him. ‘How do you know?’ he answered, I did not hesitate and declared: ‘Now I know.’ “
There are several new books and movies about the daring capture of Adolf Eichmann. One book has a chapter dedicated to the story of Shmuel Vedels and the other pilots who courageously maneuvered the plane out of Argentina and made it back to Israel with little fuel to spare. Eichmann stood trial, was found guilty and put to death by hanging. He remained a hateful anti-Semite until the very end.
Today, the scourge of anti-Semitism is reaching a level of frenzy not unlike 1930’s Germany. Houses of Jewish worship in America are being defaced and raging Jewish haters are entering these sanctuaries where the Torah is hollowed and the God of Israel is honored and they are committing murder. FBI statistics show a 37% rise in the last two years of Anti-Semitic acts of violence in the United States. As well, 60% of all religious hate crimes in the U.S. are committed against Jews. For the most part, Christians remained silent and indifferent during the holocaust. We must not remain silent again.
In the book, “The Courage to Care: Rescuers of Jews Duringthe Holocaust, Albert Camus says:
“If men cannot always make history have a meaning, they can always act so that their own lives have.”
I am convinced the courage of men like Shmuel Vedels has not faded with time. We may not be able to make sense out of the confusion and perplexity of the present world or even find much meaning in it all. We can however make courageous decisions that save other lives while adding meaning to our own.Opposing the terror of Antisemitism is necessary. Evil triumphs when indifference is valued above courage. For Christians, standing with the Jewish people is intensely personal. The Jewish people preserved for us the promises, the covenants, and the Word of God. They are our family, our elder brothers and sisters. An act of hatred against them is an act of hatred against us. You might ask, “Why have Jews been hated throughout human history?” When you stop and think about it it’s remarkable that the one people on the face of the earth that has suffered violence wherever they have lived is the one people that God identifies Himself with – “I am the God of Israel.” Why is this? One thought that I think is accurate comes from the Reverend Edward H. Flannery, National Conference of Catholic Bishops:
“It was Judaism that brought the concept of a God-given universal moral law into the world…the Jew carries the burden of God in history (and) for this has never been forgiven.”
As I think about the deeply personal conviction of men and women like Shmuel Vedels that led them and still leads them to act with courage in the face of hateful injustice I am reminded of one of my favorite Jewish proverbs:
“He who saves one life saves the world entire”
Because life is precious, to save one life is as if you are saving the entire world. On this day that we celebrate the miraculousrebirth of Israel 72 years ago let’s determine that as the days get darker and anti-Semitism continuous on its meteoric rise that we will not remain silent but like Shmuel Vedels, choose to interfere.