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Flying over Auschwitz Release date 27.01.2019
In commemoration of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the IAF Site looks back on the historic Israeli Air Force flyby over Auschwitz
Noa Rokni & Illy Pe’ery

In 1944, Allied aircraft flew over the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. They may have flown over the death camps and photographed the occurrences within, but the footage never led to the bombing of the camp. During the holocaust, over a million Jews were killed in the camp – the largest in Poland.


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On September 4th, 2003, 59 years later, fighter jets flew over Auschwitz once again. Unlike before, these were IAF fighter jets performing their victory flight. In a ceremony held at the camp at the same time, the voice of flight leader and future air force commander Maj. Gen. (Res’) Amir Eshel was heard: “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”


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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”, said Brig. Gen. (Res’) Avi Maor, one of the pilots who participated in the flyby. “The idea wasn’t approved immediately by the Polish authorities. We talked to them and managed to reach a settlement which allowed us to perform the flyby”.


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The forces began preparing for the flight. “For the delegation, I chose pilots who had a deep connection to the Holocaust. 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, a place they’d never been to before. Operating forces in long ranges, far from home, is a capability that only Israel and very few other countries have”.

A Significant Sortie
The flyby was supposed to be performed alongside the Polish Air Force but the plans were changed at the last moment: “On the morning of the flyby, the sky went dark and cloudy while the weather worsened. It was unclear what the weather in Auschwitz would be like and whether the flyby would be possible, so the Polish sent out several trainer aircraft to test the weather. After the flight, the Polish decided to cancel their participation but allowed us to participate by ourselves”, described Brig. Gen. (Res’) Maor. “We had to perform a maneuver which we’d never performed before in cloudy skies. We had to perform it in Poland for the first time. We realized that it wouldn’t be easy, but that we would have to surpass our difficulties in order to perform the flyby successfully”.


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Brig. Gen. (Res’) Maor looks back on the moment when he flew over Auschwitz and looked down: “The mission was difficult so we had to be incredibly concentrated, but throughout the entire flight we thought about how we were doing something greater. I felt that I was in the skies with the strength of the IAF, the IDF and the entire state of Israel, and that down there were the relics of the people of Israel. It hit us when the flyby ended and there was silence, both on the radio and in the cockpit. Each one of us was absorbed in thoughts about the sortie and its significance”.

Never Forget
The participating aircrew members were all related to victims and survivors of the Holocaust. Brig. Gen. (Res’) Avi Maor’s parents were Holocaust survivors, while a large part of his parents’ families was killed in the Holocaust. However, a small part of the family managed to survive by escaping to Russia. “I’d never visited Poland before, but as soon as the flyby was suggested it was clear to me that this was how I would visit for the first time. I’ve visited Poland three times since then”.


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Today, over 15 years later, Brig. Gen. (Res’) Maor continues to remember. “I am invited to lecture regarding the topic once in a while. I often find myself lecturing in front of older people, including Holocaust survivors. You can see how significant the flyby is for the survivors who hear about it. The fact that our flight over Auschwitz made them feel good increases our sense of satisfaction”.