Thursday, January 15, 2015

Plane which rescued 100 Iraqi Jews salvaged

The C-46 airplane used in a clandestine 1947 rescue operation of 100 Iraqi Jews is salvaged from a scrap yard in Argentina and will soon arrive in Israel, where it will be showcased at the Atlit Detention Camp Museum.
Daniel Siryoti reports for Israel Hayom (with thanks: Michelle):

Iraqi Jews rescued as part of Operation Michaelberg disembark from the C-46 transport aircraft [Archive]

A Curtiss C-46 Commando transport aircraft used in 1947's clandestine Operation Michaelberg, during which 100 Iraqi Jews were rescued and brought to then-British Mandate Palestine, will soon return to Israel after being saved from a metal scrap yard in Argentina. 

During the mid-1940s, concerns grew for the fate of the Jews of Iraq, with reports of increasing persecution by their Arab neighbors. The British denied the Jewish community's petition to allow Iraqi Jews to enter Israel legally, and it was decided to mount a clandestine rescue operation and smuggle them into the country. The rescue operation was designed by the Aliyah Bet group, which operated as part of the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organization that operated in Israel in defiance of the British Mandate. 

Aliyah Bet members, some of whom would later form the Mossad, were able to purchase the aircraft and contract pilot Leo Sanberg and his co-pilot Michael, both American World War II veterans, to make two flights to Iraq. The secret operation, named for the pilots, was carried out in August and September 1947. However, later, as the majority of Jews seeking to enter Israel legally or illegally did so by sea, the plane was sold and all but forgotten.

Former Knesset speaker Shlomo Hillel, who was one of the individuals involved in Operation Michaelberg and later became, alongside Israeli businessman Meshulam Riklis, the driving force behind the preservation efforts of the Ayalon Institute -- a secret, underground Haganah bullet factory, now a museum -- recently learned of the whereabouts of the historic plane, and that its current owner had scheduled it to be scrapped.

Hillel and Riklis immediately began negotiating with the C-46's owner, with Riklis offering to finance its delivery to Israel. The negotiations were successful, and the plane is scheduled to arrive at its new home, at the Atlit Detention Camp Museum dedicated to the history of pre-1948 immigration efforts, in several weeks.

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