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Chapter 9: Flying course in Olomouc
It was only after November 29, 1947, when the U.N. General Assembly resolved to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, that I began to foster closer links with Palestine’s Jewish Yishuv as it embarked upon ints War of Independence. Emissaries of the Jewish militia, the ‘Hagana’ came to Czechoslovakia to recruit Jewish student volunteers. Volunteers were also sought for a pilots’ course organized by the Czech air force in an effort to aid the Hagana’s fledgling “air service” (which was to emerge as the I.D.F. air force after Israel’s official proclamation on May 15, 1948). I was among a group of 23 young Czechs who responded to the call, though my aim was not to make my home in Israel, but merely to help the nascent state ward off its enemies.
This readiness to aid the Jewish Yishuv in its war for independence arose from the mood then prevalent in Czech political circles. The Zionist cause, which had achieved recognition through the U.N. partition resolution, enjoyed the sympathies of Prague’s democratic government. Consequently, the Czechs (certainly with the consent, if not active encouragement of the Soviet Union) concluded agreements with Hagana representatives, pledging a broad spectrum of aid, ranging from deliveries of weaponry (principally, planes and rifles), by way of bases for arms purchases, to the recruitment and professional training of volunteers from the various forces of the fledgling state.
In his memoirs “They Took Off in the Darkness”, Benyamin Kagan (later to become an I.D.F. lieutenant colonel) recalled that on April 23, 1948, some three weeks prior to Israel’s official declaration of independence, 10 Messerschmidt fighters, with spare parts and ammunition, were purchased in Czechoslovakia. The deal included training in Czechoslovakia for pilots and mechanics; Czech experts were also sent to Israel to help reassemble the planes that had been dismantled for transportation. It was further concluded with the Czech government that the arms would be shipped in Dakota D.C. 3 transport planes, and C-46’s would carry the dismantled fighters.
On May 20, an agreement was concluded in Prague for the purchase by Israel of 15 additional Messerschmidts; however, possessing no more planes of that type, the Czechs offered Spitfires formerly supplied to their “Free Czech” air force; these planes were familiar to Jewish pilots from Palestine who had served with Britain's R.A.F. during World War II, and to foreign volunteers.
The Czech-Israeli honeymoon effectively came to an end on August 12. The Prague government decreed the closure of the Zatetz airfield, and the planes and flight crews were ordered to leave. My course was likewise cut short in late November 1948.
On completing our course in Czechoslovakia, we did not find it easy to reach Israel. I traversed part of the way overland to Italy and proceeded thereafter by ship. It was the end of March 1949 when I reached Israel.
Although the fighting had ended, I continued to serve with the air force. However, I did not regard my military service as a profession. Along with an air force colleague, I planned my emergence into civilian life, all the while maintaining close links with the air force.