Instructor's film tells forgotten story of American aviators who helped Israel

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- PBS stations throughout the country will start airing "A Wing and a Prayer" in April. The documentary by a Penn State faculty member tells the virtually unknown story of World War II aviators who risked their lives and freedom in 1948 to prevent a second Holocaust.

Written, directed and produced by Penn State senior lecturer Boaz Dvir ("Jessie’s Dad," "Discovering Gloria"), the hour-long film features exclusive interviews by the operation’s secretive key members, including its leader, Adolph Schwimmer, and chief pilot, Sam Lewis.

PBS’ distribution arm, American Public Television, is releasing the film on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Narrated by William Baldwin ("Hawaii Five-O," "Parenthood"), "A Wing and a Prayer" features firsthand accounts of daring escapes and heart-pounding action by Schwimmer, Lewis and other members of the group, including Christian radio operator Eddie Styrak. Arrested by the British for trying to bring Holocaust survivors into the burgeoning Jewish state, Styrak had to escape prison to join Schwimmer’s operation.

Styrak, Lewis and the rest of Schwimmer’s recruits thought they were done fighting after WWII, which ended in 1945. Yet Schwimmer convinced them to risk their lives and U.S. citizenships to give the newborn Jewish state a fighting chance in the 1948 Arab-Israel War, the stage for which was set six months earlier when the United Nations voted to partition British-controlled Palestine.

The Jews accepted the deal. The Arabs rejected it. Vowing to “push the Jews into the sea,” the Arab League anticipated weak opposition because Israel had a sparsely armed military, wingless air force and no allies. The United States joined a worldwide embargo on Israel and barred citizens from helping the Jewish state.

The morning after Israel declared independence, five Western-equipped armies invaded. The Jews’ return to their ancient land appeared short-lived.

Schwimmer’s plot called for eluding the FBI and outsmarting the U.S. State Department by creating factitious airlines, buying decommissioned transport planes and smuggling in surplus Nazi weapons from behind the Iron Curtain.

Schwimmer and his men helped reshape history. Yet history books have ignored them.

"A Wing and a Prayer" fills in that missing chapter.

Dvir teaches writing and production in the College of Communications’ film-video and journalism departments. His award-winning first film, “Jessie’s Dad,” which captures an uneducated truck driver’s transformation into a highly effective child-protection activist, is available for free viewing on Hulu (http://www.hulu.com/jessies-dad). 

Last Updated March 24, 2015