Holocaust Survivors Who Became Air Force Pilots

Holocaust Survivors Who Became Air Force Pilots 

Following World War II, many Holocaust survivors fulfilled their lifelong dream and arrived to Israel. They were drafted into the newly-created Israel Defense Forces, and through their courage and determination, they helped build the new state of Israel.

Approximately 120 of these survivors were accepted into the elite Flight Course of the IAF, and became the first-ever professional combat pilots of the IDF.

Col. (Res.) Zev Liron was born in Poland. During the Holocaust he was separated from his parents and was sent to Auschwitz, where he was forced into hard labor. After a failed attempt to break free, he was sent to Block 11, which is where failed escapees awaited their execution. But when the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east, the Nazis sent the entire camp west on a death march.

Liron managed to escape, and by 1948 he arrived in Israel. He graduated from the first IAF Flight Course and served as a combat pilot, a flight instructor and as the head of the IAF Aerial Intelligence Branch. He later worked as a civilian pilot in the Israeli airline El Al.

Col. (Res.) Zev Liron, Holocaust survivor turned into Israeli combat pilot

Col. (Res.) Zev Liron, Holocaust survivor turned into Israeli combat pilot (source: Mako)

Lt. Col. (Res.) Itzhak Biran was born in Ukraine and abandoned by his father as a baby. During the Holocaust, when he was seven years old, his mother died of typhus. Biran hid in the forests of eastern Europe and lived off what he could steal. Eventually he arrived to Russia, where he joined the Soviet army as a janitor until the war was over.

In 1947, he attempted to enter the British-controlled Palestine on board the immigrant ship Exodus, but the ruling British forces in the area sent the ship back to Germany. More than a year later, he finally entered the new state of Israel and became a combat pilot. He fought in several of Israel’s wars and served with distinction; he was one of four pilots who transported paratroopers into the Mitla Pass during the Sinai Campaign in 1956. After his IDF service, he became a civilian pilot for El Al.

Co. Liron and Lt. Col. Biran are just two examples of the many Holocaust survivors who helped build Israel into the country that it is today. An estimated 120 combat pilots in the IAF were Holocaust survivors, but only 35 of them are still alive today.

This week IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, held a special conference at the Yad Vashem memorial museum with the members of the General Staff. During the conferences he stated:

“We must defend Israel’s borders and its residents but also look around us and notice whenever a Jewish person is harmed, guilty only of his or her religion.

If a Jew in Kiev is beaten after praying at synagogue, if in Toulouse Jewish children are murdered in cold blood, if in India, Thailand and Georgia malicious bodies attempt to harm Jewish and Israeli targets–we must stand firmer than ever.”