Arts and Entertainment

Screenings of instructor's film set in New York City, Philadelphia

'A Wing and a Prayer' tells forgotten story of American aviators who helped Israel

Public screenings of a Penn State faculty member's documentary that tells the virtually unknown story of World War II aviators who risked their lives and freedom in 1948 to prevent a second Holocaust will be conducted in New York City and Philadelphia in May.

Screenings of "A Wing and a Prayer" will be conducted May 18 at the American Jewish Historical Society's theater in Manhattan and May 19 at WHYY-TV in Philadelphia.

Registration is required for both events. The May 18 screening costs $10 and the May 19 session in Philadelphia is free.

PBS stations throughout the country started airing "A Wing and a Prayer" in April. 

The documentary is written, directed and produced by Boaz Dvir ("Jessie’s Dad," "Discovering Gloria"), a senior lecturer in the College of Communications. The hour-long film features exclusive interviews by the operation’s secretive key members, including its leader, Adolph Schwimmer, and chief pilot, Sam Lewis.

See a excerpt/trailer. 

PBS’ distribution arm, American Public Television, released the film on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Narrated by William Baldwin ("Hawaii Five-O," "Parenthood"), "A Wing and a Prayer" features firsthand accounts of daring escapes and heart-pounding action by Schwimmer, Lewis and other members of the group, including Christian radio operator Eddie Styrak. Arrested by the British for trying to bring Holocaust survivors into the burgeoning Jewish state, Styrak had to escape prison to join Schwimmer’s operation.

Styrak, Lewis and the rest of Schwimmer’s recruits thought they were done fighting after WWII, which ended in 1945. Yet Schwimmer convinced them to risk their lives and U.S. citizenships to give the newborn Jewish state a fighting chance in the 1948 Arab-Israel War, the stage for which was set six months earlier when the United Nations voted to partition British-controlled Palestine.

The Jews accepted the deal. The Arabs rejected it. Vowing to “push the Jews into the sea,” the Arab League anticipated weak opposition because Israel had a sparsely armed military, wingless air force and no allies. The United States joined a worldwide embargo on Israel and barred citizens from helping the Jewish state.

The morning after Israel declared independence, five Western-equipped armies invaded. The Jews’ return to their ancient land appeared short-lived.

Schwimmer’s plot called for eluding the FBI and outsmarting the U.S. State Department by creating factitious airlines, buying decommissioned transport planes and smuggling in surplus Nazi weapons from behind the Iron Curtain.

Schwimmer and his men helped reshape history. Yet history books have ignored them.

"A Wing and a Prayer" fills in that missing chapter.

Dvir teaches writing and production to film-video and journalism students in the College of Communications.

Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated June 02, 2021