Friday, February 28, 2020 -
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Rest in peace, Capt. Bacos

I never saw the movie “Entebbe” or, as history’s most audacious and daring military rescue operation was known to me in my Israeli childhood, “Mivtza Yonatan.”

Military historian David Saul’s recent book, Operation Thunderbolt, has been on my reading list which I of course haven’t gotten to. Word is, this book, above all other books, feature films and documentaries, is the definitive work on the military operation, replete with incredible detail while it reads like a novel.

Maybe it’s because I never watched the movie or read more extensively about it, but I always thought of the military miracle of Entebbe (“Operation Thunderbolt”) — the release of 98 hostages — to be the heart of this story.

Which of course it is.

Many of us grew up with Yoni Netanyahu’s heroism and his inspirational letters.

Today I found out the story of Entebbe beats with two hearts.

There’s the daring mission and its success. There’s the IDF. There’s Yoni Netanyahu. There’s that heart of the story.

But there is also Michel Bacos. His heart of the story.

There’s the military side of Entebbe. And there’s the transcendent humanity of Entebbe.

Only yesterday when the mayor of Nice, France tweeted about the death of Michel Bacos, the captain of Air France Flight 139 from Tel Aviv en route to Paris via Greece, did I learn of this pilot’s heroism.

Famously, the hijackers of his flight separated the Jewish from the non-Jewish passengers.

The non-Jewish passengers were released.

At these tensest of moments, with everyone’s life hanging in the balance, at the mercy of the hijackers, Captain Michel Bacos not only refused to leave his Jewish passengers behind, but convinced the rest of his crew to stick with him — to stick with the Jews.

In this split second decision, in this great act of humanity springing from the deepest wells of courage at the possible cost of one’s own life, Bacos changed from aircraft captain to the conscience of the world.

Why hadn’t I read Saul’s book earlier? I berate myself. Perhaps, I could have had the chance to send this true hero in my lifetime, Captain Bacos, a letter of my own.

The mayor of Nice tweeted:

“He refused to abandon his passengers, who were taken hostage because they were Israeli or of Jewish origin, risking his own life. Michel bravely refused to surrender to anti-Semitism and barbarism and brought honor to France.”

Learning of this heroic and inspirational story, of this chasid umot ha-olam, at this time of rising anti-Semitism, is somewhat of a salve. It gives the hope of good, moral, people who care about humanity and even risked their lives to live by a moral code so right and so deep.

Yet, this story is a story of the last century. Times have changed. Would this still happen today?

I wonder. I hope so.

Of course, such an act of total and complete selflessness, of such moral courage and clarity that might inflict pain on your own loved ones, is complex. Captain Bacos had every right to walk away and save himself and his crew. After all, he wasn’t the source of violence here. He was a victim, too.

Throughout the years of exposure to so many Holocaust stories, a question that time and again poses itself, is: Would I do the heroic thing in a parallel situation? Would I rise to the occasion? We would all like to think we would. But when you start breaking down all factors, would we?

But Michel Bacos did.

With crystal clear clarity.

It never occurred to him not to.

And so the tributes from around the world pour in.

A captain who in calm composure flew and landed an airplane safely and successfully with the cold medal steel of a gun burrowed in his neck by a hijacking terrorist — for that alone he deserves world recognition.

But when he also proves to be a great humanitarian, I bend my head before him.

In the midst of this terrifying terrorist darkness, both Yoni Netanyahu and Michel Bacos risked their lives to save others.

While Yoni Netanyahu was part of a military operation, Michel Bacos elected to throw his destiny in with that of the Jewish people, come what may.

One lost his life that day. The other died this past week.

Two hearts of a story.

One heart in mission.

We Salute You, Captain.

Rest In Peace, True Hero, Michel Bacos.

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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