Faculty member to share little-known WWII aviator story in New York, New Zealand

October 16, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A Penn State faculty member will present his research about a secret, illegal 1947-49 operation — a little known story of World War II aviators who prevented what they viewed as an imminent second holocaust — in New York and New Zealand on the same day.

Assistant professor and award-winning filmmaker Boaz Dvir will discuss the operation led by Americans (of Jewish and non-Jewish descent) during free virtual sessions that are open to the public.

The Nov. 8 sessions will begin at 4 p.m. ET in New York and at 5 p.m. NZDT in New Zealand. The presentations are hosted by the New York-based Sousa Mendes Foundation and B’nai B’rith New Zealand, respectively.

Registration for the New York event — which is co-hosted by the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Initiative at Penn State and features a panel discussion by Dvir, along with Penn State Associate Professor of History Eliyana Adler, and one of the operation’s few remaining members, 98-year-old Harold Rothstein of Chicago — may be completed online.

“The Sousa Mendes Foundation honors the memory of the Holocaust rescuer Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese diplomat who saved thousands of lives in 1940 against the direct orders of his government,” said the foundation’s president, Olivia Mattis, who will moderate the panel discussion. “The Nov. 8 program featuring Boaz Dvir’s film ‘A Wing and a Prayer presents another story of rescue — that of U.S. fighter pilots led by Al Schwimmer saving the newborn state of Israel against the orders of the U.S. government.

"The stories — both heroic — have remarkable parallels," said Mattis. "Where governments failed to act, individuals with moral courage stepped in to take personal responsibility at tremendous personal risk.”

Registration for the New Zealand event, which will begin at 11 p.m. ET Nov. 7, also may be completed online.

Dvir, who teaches journalism in Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, has produced a PBS documentary, a Retro Report short, and a Rowman & Littlefield book about the operation:

  • A Wing and a Prayer”—Roku and Plex recently added this hour-long PBS film, which won Best Documentary at the 2016 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, to their free-movie offerings.
  • “Israel Survived an Early Challenge”—Apple News recently add this 8-minute Retro Report documentary.
  • “Saving Israel: The Unknown Story of Smuggling Weapons and Winning a Nation’s Independence”—This 320-page book is available in hardcover, digital, and audiobook formats on AmazonBarnes & Noble, Audible, and other websites and stores.

In his recent “Saving Israel” review for “Military Review,” Lt. Col. (Ret.) Stephen S. Harvey wrote, “This well-written book leaves the reader in suspense after many of the narrated scenes .… it affords the reader a geopolitical ‘big picture’ understanding .… This is a must read for those interested in military history, geopolitics, or solving complex problems while dealing with many people and their personality proclivities.”

  • Wing and Prayer poster
    IMAGE: Image Provided

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated October 20, 2020