The Adventures of a Jewish Bomber Pilot in World War II

Dec. 21 2021

Now ninety-seven, Si Spiegel is one of few American World War II B-17 pilots still alive. Spiegel, a Jew who grew up in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, enlisted in the army without telling his parents, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. To his disappointment, he was assigned to an aircraft-mechanic school; he instead wanted to fight Nazis, and to that end applied to be a pilot. Laurie Gwen Shapiro tells his story:

He was accepted into pilot training, which took him to Nashville, then California and then, as a cadet, to Hobbs, New Mexico where he’d learn to pilot a B-17, the massive bomber known as the Flying Fortress. . . . Then he left New Mexico and went to meet his crew, a motley collection of “leftovers.”

“We had five Catholics, two Jews,” he said. “Catholics weren’t treated too well, either. We had a Mormon, too.” Mr. Spiegel said the only WASP was a ball-turret gunner who had gotten into trouble with the law in Chicago.

Over the next year, Mr. Spiegel would carry out 35 missions, all of them in daylight, which conferred a strategic advantage but often resulted in significant casualties. Their odds of survival were terrible. Over 50,000 American airmen lost their lives in World War II, mostly on B-17s and B-24s. The Eighth Air Force suffered 40 percent of all casualties in the air war.

His plane was shot down over Berlin in February 1945, and he managed to crash land in Soviet-occupied Poland, from which he and his fellow crewmembers—tired of waiting for repatriation and eager to rejoin the fight—would make a daring escape. Shapiro continues:

Looking back, having spoken to other Jewish GI’s, [Spiegel] believes now that many Jewish soldiers were denied promotions because of anti-Semitism. He has some thorny memories: many heroes in the Army Air Corps joined the commercial airline industry after the war, which was then based in New York. But here too, Mr. Spiegel said he faced discrimination. “They weren’t taking Jews after World War II,” he recalled. “They were blatant.”

In the years after the war, Spiegel worked at a brush factory, and then made a fortune selling artificial Christmas trees.

Read more at New York Times

More about: American Jewish History, Jews in the military, World War II

How Israel Can Break the Cycle of Wars in Gaza

Last month saw yet another round of fighting between the Jewish state and Gaza-based terrorist groups. This time, it was Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that began the conflict; in other cases, it was Hamas, which rules the territory. Such outbreaks have been numerous in the years since 2009, and although the details have varied somewhat, Israel has not yet found a way to stop them, or to save the residents of the southwestern part of the country from the constant threat of rocket fire. Yossi Kuperwasser argues that a combination of military, economic, and diplomatic pressure might present an alternative solution:

In Gaza, Jerusalem plays a key role in developing the rules that determine what the parties can and cannot do. Such rules are designed to give the Israelis the ability to deter attacks, defend territory, maintain intelligence dominance, and win decisively. These rules assure Hamas that its rule over Gaza will not be challenged and that, in between the rounds of escalation, it will be allowed to continue its military buildup, as the Israelis seldom strike first, and the government’s responses to Hamas’s limited attacks are always measured and proportionate.

The flaws in such an approach are clear: it grants Hamas the ability to develop its offensive capabilities, increase its political power, and condemn Israelis—especially those living within range of the Gaza Strip—to persistent threats from Hamas terrorists.

A far more effective [goal] would be to rid Israel of Hamas’s threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively that threatening Israel is indisputably against its interests. Achieving this goal will not be easy, but with proper preparation, it may be feasible at the appropriate time.

Revisiting the rule according to which Jerusalem remains tacitly committed to not ending Hamas rule in Gaza is key for changing the dynamics of this conflict. So long as Hamas knows that the Israelis will not attempt to uproot it from Gaza, it can continue arming itself and conducting periodic attacks knowing the price it will pay may be heavy—especially if Jerusalem changes the other rules mentioned—but not existential.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israeli Security, Palestinian Islamic Jihad