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Unlike those loathsome Holocaust Deniers, for me this was just a safety mechanism by which I shunned all the films and documentaries, never visited Yad Vashem and had not even seen Schindler’s List. I even avoided travelling to many European cities because many of their streets still looked the same as they did in those gaunt black- and-white photographs of the roundups. All that changed when I opened a newspaper last month. The Jerusalem Post reported that the Israeli Air Force had sent three of its F-15 fighter jets to participate in the 85th anniversary celebrations of the Polish Air Force. Like me, the Israeli base commander had lost grandparents in Auschwitz, but he also had a burning ambition. For 15 years Brigadier General Amir Eshel dreamed of flying the most lethal of Israel’s jet fighters over Auschwitz as a powerful symbol of remembrance and defiance. The paper reported that, after some hesitation, the Polish authorities gave their permission and a date was fixed for September 4th; the day the F-15s would make their 1,600-mile return flight to Israel.

The thought of such an event totally captured my imagination and I decided, there and then, that I must be there for this unique spectacle. No one was more surprised than my wife when, after 20 years of marriage to a Europhobe, she found me downloading web pages about Auschwitz. I instinctively felt that this was going to be my best chance to reconnect with my father’s memories and establish some emotional and spiritual connection with the grandparents I never knew.

In an effort to retrace his footsteps, I dusted off my father’s book to re-read on the flight. The manner of our arrival in Poland could not have been different. He and his parents in a stifling cattle truck, me in a Boeing 737. I spent the night in a delightful guesthouse in Cracow’s Jewish quarter, he in a railway siding. That evening I fell asleep reading about how, on the first night of Chanukah in the Camp, my father had lighted a home-made wick in an old shoe polish tin filled with engine oil. That simple contraption had done more to lift the spirits of the inmates than anything else up to the day of liberation.

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© Zalmi Unsdorfer 2003