Sunday, June 19, 2005

Hero of Yemenite Jewish airlift dies

Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times report on the death at 94 of a non-Jew who helped fly thousands of Yemenite Jewish refugees to Israel.

Robert Maguire, Jr, chief pilot of Operation Magic Carpet, died on June 10 of natural causes at his California home, according to the Los Angeles Times. An American of Irish and British origin who was raised Episcopalian, Maguire was working for Alaska Airlines in 1948 when it was contracted by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to fly Yemenite Jews to Israel. Maguire helped bring more than 40,000 refugees on nearly 400 flights to Israel, prompting Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to dub him the 'Irish Moses'.

The operation was kept secret for fear of sabotage by Arab forces. the 'planes were shot at, but none crashed and no one was killed. After Alaska Airlines withdrew from the operation, Maguire kept the project alive by buying or leasing 'planes and creating the Near East Air Transport Company. Maguire, whose father was a judge at the Nuremberg trials, was awarded a medal of valour last year by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Read the New York Times piece here.

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