Everyone who gathered in the office of the Commander of the IAF remembers that moment well: dressed in uniform, standing as one, gazing towards the gates of the death camp Auschwitz, Birkenau in Poland, their hearts filled with immense pride. They eagerly await the roar of the engines of the F-15 planes that will cut across the sky above them. With the audio signal, they embrace in excitement and listen to the sound of the prayer, „Shema, Israel”, which is mingled with the sound of the fighter jets overhead in chilling harmony.
Ten years have passed since the F-15 planes cut across the skies above Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, a route to which trains carrying thousands of Jews made their way every day, through that cursed plot of land. Earlier this week, members of the delegation gathered around a table in the office of the Commander of the IAF, Major General Amir Eshel, who lead that flyover, in order to mark a decade since that special moment and to see that even though ten years have passed, this journey has left everyone with something.
They watched together the film documenting the journey and shared their memories. „Ten years have passed and this is a good opportunity to meet”, Commander of the IAF said in his opening to the meeting. „But I am also interested to hear what you think about the years that have passed. Some of you returned to Auschwitz afterwards. I have never been there on the ground”. They talked about the little moments during the year, about meetings with people inside and outside of Israel with whom they shared the experience and caused great excitement.
The flyover and journey of the delegation that affect each and everyone in the room, those who were on the ground, and those in the air, it was a special experience to be in this delegation, the image of which is burned deep in the consciousness of the IAF: The three fighter jets above the death camp that has become a symbol of the horrors of the Holocaust.
Among the words written by the Commander of the IAF about the meeting:
That moment, in which we managed to demonstrate the story of the Jewish people, real and tangible, even today. As the children of an ancient and complex nation who stood many times on the brink of extinction, we have raised questions and thoughts about the Israeli identity, resilience, and vitality, unprecedented in the human history. The issue viewed from different angles remains in the consciousness and expresses a unique Israeli composition that mixes sadness and glory, pain and pride, and creates hope.
The IAF is the strongest expression of the long path the nation has gone down: From the terrible destruction to the unprecedented power. We, the people of the force, have the privilege to bear the responsibility and to revive the aspirations and hopes for the real ability to guarantee life.
The IAF delegation to Poland in 2003 had a mission, which was beautifully executed. The mobilization, the dedication, and the professionalism of all its members were the engines of its success. The individual and collective experience, the feeling that we were partners in a special event, made us better and inspired pride in people are their ways. Over the years, the meaning of the flyover penetrated the national consciousness in Israel and in Jewish communities outside of Israel.
Ten years on, I stare at that picture every day. To me, it seems like a kind of compass, a scale that puts things in proportion, weighing the important against the temporal, or a power charger that does not need words or explanations. Look at it, and know that we can do anything!
Major General Amir Eshel
Commander of the IAF
Commander of the IAF delegation to Poland in 2003
Author: Michal Khayut