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When Boaz Dvir sat down to talk with his grandfather, he would have never imagined it would have led to a hit documentary years later.
Dvir’s grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, went on to Israel and was sent to the desert to defend himself with a weapon from the very ones who killed millions of innocent people – the Nazis.
“He told me in 1948 when he came to Israel, he was sent to the desert to fight,” Dvir said. “When he got there, he thought he was going to die because his platoon had no weapons. One day they did get rifles. When he looked closely at his rifle, he saw a swastika on it.
“While I’m interviewing him, he turns to me and says, ‘Boaz, how did we end up fighting with Nazi weapons?’”
Dvir took it upon himself to try and answer that question for his grandfather and what he ended up stumbling upon was a secret mission that is relatively unknown to this day.
The Penn State professor thought he would be able to find the answer in just a couple days, but it took him years.
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“The film is the answer to his question,” he said.
This movie, “A Wing and a Prayer,” is the story of the secret mission made by American pilots shortly after World War II.
“The movie takes place in 1948 and is about a group of American WWII aviators,” Dvir said. “Some of them were Jewish, some were Christian and they got together and they launched a secret and also illegal operation to prevent what they thought was an imminent second Holocaust.”
Dvir spent five years making the documentary.
Risking everything, including their citizenship, freedom and lives, the men talk about the experience and daring escapes.
“They did succeed truly against all odds,” Dvir said. “It was the ultimate Mission Impossible.”
Former U.S. Air Transport Command flight engineer Adolph Schwimmer was the mastermind behind the plan to arm the besieged Palestinian Jews.
The veteran aviators smuggled $12 million worth of World War II surplus supplies to ill-equipped Israel to give them a fighting chance. Those supplies included rifles, bullets, machine guns and planes.
“What’s cool about this is because it was a secret mission and everyone had a different role to play, the vast majority of them don’t know the whole story,” Dvir said. “The ones I interviewed learned something by watching it. Even they didn’t know.”
The documentary has aired on PBS stations since April and has been such a success that stations across the country continue to re-air it.
“I’m shocked,” Dvir said. “I never expected it to do this well at all, for many reasons. It’s a smaller movie. I had a shoestring budget and pretty much made almost by myself. I had very little help. It’s a complicated story, but the fact that resonates with young people is a huge surprise to me.”
The film and journalism professor believes the success of the movie has a lot to do with the men themselves and the incredible story of theirs.
“People just fall in love with these men,” he said. “They truly are remarkable. They come up to you and you see they still have tears in their eyes or they’ll have a huge smile on their face. Everybody is really moved by the sacrifice these men made.
“They were already heroes. They already paid their dues during World War II. There was no reason for them to do anything else. They didn’t have to go risk their lives again. People are just inspired and almost in disbelief.”
Currently, Dvir is traveling around doing different screenings of the film between his classes.
He will be showing the movie, for free, at the Penn State Great Valley campus with a discussion to follow. It is open to the public, but a ticket must be reserved at http://wingandprayer.eventbrite.com.
“I would love for the community to come out to interact with the people and have a dialogue with them,” Dvir said. “It’s worth coming out for it.”