On Sunday May 2, 2021, former Israel Air Force Commander and the former CEO of EL AL Airlines, Major General Elyezer Shkedy shared the story of his father’s survival of the Holocaust in Hungary, and his own experiences from his military career, including his role in a ceremonial Israel Air Forces (IAF) fly-over of Auschwitz.
Jews living in Hungary during WWII were no strangers to anti-Semitism. After aligning with Nazi Germany, Anti-Semitic legislation was passed and more than 100,000 Jewish men living in Hungary were mobilized for forced work.
“When Hungary joined the war against the Allies, nearly 20,000 Jews from Kanenetz-Podolsk who held Polish or Soviet citizenship were turned over to the Germans and murdered,” said Holocaust educator David Bitan, who also joined the virtual discussion. “In May 1944 the deportations to Auschwitz began. In Just eight weeks, some 424,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. In all, some 565,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered.”
One Hungarian Jew who took control of his fate was Moshe Shkedy. Already crammed into a train and headed to Auschwitz, Moshe decided he was not going to let the Nazis decide what came of his life. In a life or death moment, Moshe chose life and jumped from the moving train.
Moshe survived the jump and spent the rest of the war living in Budapest helping other Jews survive by obtaining fake Swiss documents. According to his son, Elyezer, “after the war he came back to his village (in Hungary). He was there for about two years hoping that someone from his family would come back. Unfortunately, they never came back. All of his family was murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz.”
After two years Moshe relocated to Israel and made Aliyah. In Israel, Moshe lived his life and had a family. His son Elyezer made a career in the IAF. As he climbed through the ranks of the IAF, Elyezer took part in some high-end military operations, including a ceremonial flyover of Auschwitz in 2003.
Throughout his life Moshe continued to wonder why he survived WWII and his family didn’t. In 2015, toward the end of his life, Elyezer believes his father finally got the answer he was looking for.
“In 2007 the IAF attacked a nuclear reactor in Syria,” Elyezer said. “After the attack I received a letter from the Prime Minister in those days,
Ehud Olmert, with appreciation for what we did and how we did it. Also, about the meaning of this attack for the survival of the State of Israel and the Jewish Nation.
“At the end of the letter, in his own handwriting, he wrote, ‘best regards to your father.’ He knew the story of my father?!”
Participating in a top-secret mission, Elyezer could not speak of the mission or the letter he received with anyone.
Eight years later, with Moshe on his deathbed, Elyezer decided it was time to share the letter with his father.
“I took the letter to him. He didn’t talk a lot, or at all,” Elyezer said. “But I saw in his eyes that he understood everything. I read the letter for him and I saw something unbelievable. After I read the letter, he began to cry, and I saw that he had big relief in his body language.
“I think, and I don’t know if I’m right or wrong,” Elyezer continued. “I felt that this was the first time in his whole life that he got the answer to the question ‘why he survived?’ So, he thought, (his survival) was for the air force, it was for the mission, and for the survival of the State of Israel and the Jewish nation. A couple of weeks later he passed away.
“On behalf of my father in the sky. On behalf of myself, and on behalf of all of us. May G-d who makes peace…bring peace to all mankind and for Israel. Amen.”