Scanned image of the page. Keyboard directions: use + to zoom in, - to zoom out, arrow keys to pan inside the viewer.

Page Options


Something wrong?

Something wrong with this page? Report problem.

Rights / Permissions

The University of Michigan Library provides access to these materials for educational and research purposes. These materials may be under copyright. If you decide to use any of these materials, you are responsible for making your own legal assessment and securing any necessary permission. If you have questions about the collection, please contact the Bentley Historical Library at bentley.ref@umich.edu

May 04, 1973 - Image 48

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1973-05-04

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Detroiters Recall Role in Birth of Nation

As Israel observes its 25th anniversary of statehood, a group of veterans in this and other countries will have special
cause for celebration. That Israel exists today is due in no small measure to Mahal, the 5,000 men and women, Jews and
Gentiles, who fought as volunteers in the 1948 War of Independence.
Several of these veterans live in Detroit—virtually unknown to the Jewish community. Still others died on Israel soil.
Here are two stories about two Detroiters—one a Christian, the other a Jew. Both, once strangers to each other, laid
their lives on the line for the Jewish State. Both stories are true.

Who would guess, to look at
Charles E. Crudgington —
successful sales representa-
tive, husband and father
whose taste and manner sug-
gest that life has been good
— that 25 years ago this
month he was smuggling air-
planes so that a tiny, new-
born nation might live.
To Crudgington, then in his
20s and back from the war,
life lay ahead. The son of a
Detroit attorney, he had
served as a pilot for the
Royal Canadian Air Force,
then the British RAF and
finally in the U.S. Air Force
until his discharge. Now he
would follow in his father's
footsteps and attend law
Halfway around the world,
the remnant who had sur-
vived Hitler's death camps
also were looking toward a
new life. But in those days it
was not so easy to attain.
The British had curbed immi-
gration to Palestine, Arab
marauders inflicted violence,
food was scarce. Even before
the state was proclaimed on
May 14, 1948, it was prepar-
ing for the battle vowed :by
her neighbors.
Crudgington read of the
Israelis' plight and sympa-
thized. But, after all, they
were there, and he was here.
It was a discussion with two
attorney friends of his
father that turned his life
around. They told the young
veteran of Israel's desperate
need for planes and pilots.
Would Chuck they asked, be
willing to fly a B.-17 from the
U.S. to Israel? Crudgington
There was only one hitch.
The U.S. had embargoed all
war materiel to the troubled
Middle East. That meant that
Capt. Crudgington would
have to sneak a bomber out
of the U.S.
It was only the beginning.
He remembers an A-20 at-
tack plane sitting with its
sister ships on a dark Omaha
airfield. The government was
watching them, "and we were
watching the government,"
recalled Crudgington.
All he had to do was "get
it to South America. I was
expected there." He made it,
all alone on a plane that
usually carries a crew of
four. But the best was yet to
come, for Crudgington now
had to fly the plane across
the Atlantic. Where would he
get a navigator? "There's a
Pan Am flight leaving from
Natal (Brazil? for Africa,"
he was told. "Just follow it,
and you won't need a navi-

Tel Aviv, 1948

Compounding the difficul-
ties of this sort of cloak-and-
dagger operation was the fact
that the U.S. State Depart-
ment was not enthused over
the unauthorized "borrowing"
of U.S. property for use by
a Middle East belligerent.
Crudgington managed to stay
one step ahead of his pur-
suers, but not all the planes
meant for Israel reached
their destination. Three B-17s
and a C-46 cargo plane ("bor-
rowed" from the Mexican
consulate) were among those,
that eventually kept their ap-
pointment with destiny.
How the Israelis obtained
their planes has become leg-
endary. There's the famous
story of the group who went
to England to make a
"movie" on the RAF, and
with the camera rolling took
off in two twin-engine Bull-
fighter planes, never to re-
But for sheer hutzpa,
Crudgington and the other
foreign volunteers—from the
U.S., from South Africa, from
Europe, even one from Rus-
sia — took a back seat to no
The Detroiter relates how
',The Boys" — that's how
they referred to themselves
— wined and dined the pilot
and co-pilot of an Air France
passenger plane in Tel Aviv.
Once the pair was q ui t e
drunk, "we took over the
plane and stripped it—turned
it into a bomber."
At the war's beginning, Is-
rael had a grand total of 75
flyable planes, including re-
conditioned Piper Cub single-
engine craft and C-47s---,not a
genuine warplane among
them, said Crudgington.
The Arabs had 2,000 usable
aircraft. What they didn't
have were two secret weap-
ons: the Israelis' will to sur-
vive and a band of volunteers
the like of whom has never
been known in modern war-

Detroiters who, volunteered their services to Israel
played a proud role in the 1948 War of Independence.
Those who are known are as follows:
*Stanley Andrews, Air Force; Edward (Eddie)
Chinsky, Air Force; Charles (Chuck) Crudgington, Air
Force; Jules Doneson, Infantry; Harold L. Duboff, Air
Force; Ben Fingeroot, Air Force; David Fink, Air
Force: Sherell Gordon, Air Force: Herbert (Herbie)
Hordes, Infantry: James A. Kane, Air Force; *Red
Knott, Air Force; Robert Leeds, Paratroopers; Mrs.
Robert (Peggy) Leeds, Paratroopers; Leo L. Majzels,
Air Force; *David Miller, Air Force; Rudolph J. New-
man, Air Force: Dr. Eugene Plous, Field Surgeon;
Harry Weinsaft, Aliya Bet (illegal Immigration).

48 Friday, May 4, 1973


After June 1948, Crudging- British Spitfires and took 10-
ton decided to give up the 12 of them for every Israeli
chancy "ferry command" for plane lost, said Crudgington.
There was a strong bond
actual combat. It couldn't get
much hotter; at least one between these men — a com-
colleague had been caught radeship that Crudgington
smuggling planes and ended never knew before or since.
up with a five- to 10-year It was the kind of relation-
prison sentence. Now Crudg- ship, he said, that made him
ington would be risking the want to give up a day off—
loss of his citizenship. Bad after flying day and night for
one solid week — and head
When war broke out, Israel for another base to fly still
had one pilot it could call its another mission.
In some respects, Crudg-
own, said Crudgington. It was
the foreign volunte er s, ington can be credited with
mainly Americans and South helping establish Israel's air
Africans but quite a few Brit- force. Toward the end of the
ish and Canadians, who year and the close of hos-
manned the motley collection tilities, he was asked to as-
of aircraft. He laughed at the sist in the establishment of a
recollection. "We called training school for Israeli
everything 'a group.' Two pilots at Nahariya and was
placed in command. At the
planes were a squadron."
Rut, he added, "we had time, lie said, there was only
one pilot in the entire Israeli
vme of the best pilots in the fighter
command. (He was
world." Men like Buzz Burl- Ezer Weizman, Moshe Day-
ing, Canada's top ace pilot, an's brother-in-law and "a
who was killed when his wild pilot.")
plane, overloaded with fuel
Why did he do it? Why did
and arms, crashed. Men like Charles
E. Crudgington risk
Slick Goodlin, who became his life for a baby nation
America's first pilot to fly the whose people were not of his
X-1 rocket, and Terry Sut- faith? Adventure?
ton, an Alaska bush pilot.
"I suppose we did it partly
Crudgington learned for adventure. But if it were
quickly what would be ex- only adventure, we would
pected of him. He arrived have joined the Arabs. They
one morning, and that eve- had better planes and could
ning he was flying a mission offer a lot more pay than
over El Arish. His C-47 the Israelis. All the Israelis
(about as slick a bomber as could give us was IL 15 a
a washtub) had been outfitted month. But I knew only one
with 100-kilo bombs under fellow from Detroit who
each wing and "bomb fought for the Arabs.
chuckers" — Israelis an-
chored with rope around
their waists — to hurl the
bombs toward the target. The
El Arish airfield got a good
Harry Weinsaft, 15 years
drubbing that night.
old going on 16, stood in line
Faluga, a fortress held by for three days to catch a
the Egyptians, was a favorite glimpse of a phone book. If
target. Crudgington would fly he could find his family
low, aim straight at the gun name, it might save his life.
emplacements and then
It was 1938, and the Jews
swerve upward, hurling of Vienna were clutching at
bombs as he went. "We fin- straws — even so far as lin-
ally got it with rockets."
ing up outside the American
But one incident that has
been immortalized on film—
thanks to "Exodus" and
Frank Sinatra—was inspired
by the innovative Grudging-
ton. "We were flying supplies
— food, mainly — to the
Negev, over an Arab town
that kept ack-acking us. We
weren't carrying ammuni-
tion, so we threw out empty
bottles. They whistled like
bombs and scared the day-
lights out of the Arabs."
Ironically, more pilots were
killed in accidents than in
combat, said Crudgington. As
in the case of Buzz Burling,
they had too-small planes
and too-heavy cargoes. The
only fueling station was in Embassy to leaf through
Crete, and so of necessity scraps of phone books from
they loaded as much gas as U.S. cities. Perhaps. just per-
possible into the hold. Too haps, there would be a fa-
often, it meant the loss of miliar name in one of them.
iplane and crew. But there It could mean an invitation to
was no choice.
Harry found his — in Kan-
Other pilots were killed
learning to fly the crazy sas City. His father's plead-
Messerschmit fighter p . -tnes ing letter was answered, not
(M-109s), reconditioned left- by a relative but by a Jewish
overs from Germany. After couple of means who em-
"the Boys" lost a few of the ployed the services of a
planes en route from the tiny friend — Senator Harry S.
base in Czechoslovakia, they Truman — to stretch the
took to dismantling them and ,quota and allow for Harry's
flying them in parts aboard entry to the U.S.
And so Harry, snatched
cargo planes. With those re-
assembled M-109s, Israel from the jaws of Dachau,
faced Egypt's late-model arrived in America. His par-

"I guess I figured Israel
was right. And the others did
too. The Arabs hated us for
that — more than they hated
the Jews. I remember a fel-
low named Finch, a Canadian
boy who was shot down over
Beersheba. They staked him,
mutilated his body."
How many foreigners actu-
ally died in Israel's service?
The American Veterans of
Israel, which can speak only
for those from the U.S. and
Canada, lists 80 Jews on a
plaque in the AVI Memorial
Forest in Israel. It does not
include the many Christians
who died there, men like
pilot Red Knott, a Detroiter,
whose plane blew up.
And what of the living?
Like Robert and Peggy Leeds
of Birmingham, both of whom
served as paratroopers in
Israel's War of Indepen-
dence? Many of these volun-
teers have hesitated to speak
up. As Crudgington points
out, there was always the
fear that the U.S. might har-
bor a grudge against its in-
subordinate sons. But, 25
years later, Crudgington fig-
ures — rather hopes — the
statute of limitations makes
it possible to reveal his part
in Israel's beginnings.
Calling 1948 perhaps the
most significant year of his
life, Crudgington is proud of
what he did, and he wants
his son and daughter to be
proud too. He hopes, one day,
to .take his family to Israel

and show them the land in
which he had a share.
No one knew better what
that share was than Gen.
Yaakov Dori, then chief of
staff of the army of Israel.
At a Christmas dinner hosted
by the army for the Christian
volunteers in 1948, Dori con-
veyed this message:
"You Christian volunteers
in our army may be few in
number, but you represent
the many millions of non-
Jews in many lands, who,
are convinced, are with us
our struggle for freedom and
our battle for national inde-
pendence. You are part of a
noble tradition of men who
have volunteered to fight for
justice a n d righteousness
which know no national
"You are pioneers — pio-
neers in thought and action.
To my knowledge, you are
the first Christians in history
to take part in the field in
Jewry's struggle for inde-
pendence. You are certainly
the first in history to cele-
brate Christmas on the soil
of the state of Israel.
"I take this opportunity of
thanking you for your help,
expressing our appreciation
of your courage and zeal and
of your solidarity with our
cause. You will be remem-
bered in our annals.
"A happy Christmas to
you, and may the New Year
bring peace and goodwill to
all men."

`The Lost Brigade'

ents got to Cuba. A sister
reached England. His other
sister reached Palest. he
rest of Harry's relaa'
Seven years later, b,
Europe as an American
soldier, Harry learned the
horrible truth of the exterm-
ination camps. He also
learned that many of his
friends, who had escaped Vi-
enna and reached Palestine,
were back hoping to save as
many Jews as possible. One
of them was Teddy Kollek,
today the mayor of Jerusa-
With the war's end, Wein-
saft went with the occupation
forces of Gen. Mark Clark—
back to the morgue that once
was his home: Vienna.
Assisted by a friend, Wein-
saft opened a soup kitchen,
distributing food and clothing
to Jewish DPs. The Joint
Distribution Committee ar-
rived two months after the
occupation forces took over;
the Hagana was already at
Weinsaft remembers well
a man named Artur Peer.
Today, as Asher Ben Natan,
he is Israel's ambassador to
Bonn. Then, he was in charge
of Bricha, the Hagana's res-
cue effort in Austria, Czecho-
slovakia and Hungary. In a
small apartment house, they
carefully organized a three-
fold strategy: to smuggle
Jews out of the Russian sec-
tor with falsified papers; to
"take care of" Nazi war
criminals on the spot; and
to coordinate the illegal im-
migration to Palestine —
Aliya Bet.

After his discharge from
the army in 1946, Weinsaft
joined the JDC to direct a
camp in Vienna and as a
liaison between the JDC and
the U.S. Army. As a civilian,
,he had the equivalent army
rank of major. It was a cov-
er. Aliya Bet was Weinsaft's
specialty. "We broke every
law on the books," recalls
Weinsaft. "If we didn't, what
government would help us?"
To get the refugees into
Palestine was no easy task,
for the British, whose idea of
"fair p 1 a y " is renowned,
would not risk the animosity
of the Arabs.
In 1946, Weinsaft was sent
to the U.S. to pick up a ship
— not the sort of ship that
Aliya Bet was accustomed to
using, n o t an abandoned
yacht, or fishing boat, or old
coal-burning steamer. No,
this was to be a far bigg
And so the President War-
field, 'a dowdy 450-passenger
Chesapeake Bay river boat,
was saved from the scrap
yard to become the SS Exo-
dus for over 4,000 refugees.
(Weinsaft said it was called
the Exodus long after the
operation began; some in the
crew wanted to call it the
SS Lachenkop.)
Getting a captain with in-
ternational nape8 to cross
the ocean in a reconditioned
tub was no easy task. "We
finally got an anti-Semitic
SOB named Shlagel to take
us out of Baltimore. When
he learned we weren't really
going to China, he jumped
ship in the Azores."
(Continued on Page 18)

Back to Top

© 2021 Regents of the University of Michigan