At the opening of its war for independence in 1948, Israel needed weapons, aircraft in particular, and with a U.S. ban on arms sales, it needed a creative solution. Enter Al Schwimmer, who feared a repeat of the Holocaust, and Charlie Winters, the Boston son of Irish immigrants—two Americans with experience purchasing and flying planes in World War II and with sympathy to the Jewish state. Connected to both the aviation industry and the Jewish underground, they arranged to smuggle weapons to Israel, including, ironically, old German Messerschmitt fighters and, more significantly, American B-17 bombers, one of which Winters piloted across the Atlantic himself. Part of a squadron known as The Hammers, the bombers formed the nucleus of the new Israel air force.
This pair of American made vital contributions to Israel’s victory and independence, and both were later convicted of violating the 1939 Neutrality Act. Schwimmer would be pardoned by Bill Clinton and Winters by George W. Bush, their cause having attracted the support of Steven Spielberg, among others.
This is history that reads like a thriller. The participants risked their lives, freedom, and citizenship to prevent what they viewed as a possible second Holocaust, and their story is one of a covert operation involving smuggling, evading the FBI and State Department, connections to underground Jewish intelligence and military groups, and acts of personal bravery in purchasing weapons, ferrying them across thousands of miles, and taking them into combat.
Boaz Dvir is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker who produced and directed the PBS documentary A Wing and a Prayer, which tells this story and which won best feature documentary at the 2016 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival and has screened around the world at such venues as the American Jewish Historical Society in New York, Columbia University’s Global Center in Paris, and the Library Film Festival in India. Dvir teaches journalism at Penn State and has also produced and directed the documentaries Jessie’s Dad, Discovering Gloria, and Cojot, about a French banker who sets out to kill former Nazi Klaus Barbie. His films have been covered by the Huffington Post, MSNBC, the New York Post, Haaretz, the Miami Herald, Stars and Stripes, and other publications. Dvir has written for Newsday, the Miami Herald, the Tampa Bay Times, the Jerusalem Post, the Times of Israel, and Explore magazine.