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The Jewish Pilot Who Fought the Nazis Release date 05.03.2019
Amichai Honig was an honors student with a passion for aviation. He enlisted in the Royal Air Force and participated in countless dangerous sorties during World War II - one of these sorties eventually led to his death. This is Amichai's story
Hadas Levav | Photos courtesy of the interviewee

Amichai Honig Z"L was born in Perth, Australia in 1919. His parents – Hannah and Mordechai – were born in Palestine-Israel and immigrated to Australia in their youth. However, they did not forget Israel. "My parents were Zionists", said Tikva, Amichai's sister. "In 1931, when Amichai was 12, my family moved back to Palestine-Israel". Amichai's schoolmates include Yigal Alon Z"L, who would later become Commander of the Palmach, and Yitzhak Rabin Z"L.

Distinguished Pilot
"Six months after World War II began, Amichai told me that he wanted to join the Royal Air Force", recalled Tikva. "He chose to join the RAF because he was interested in aviation and the RAF was considered prestigious. But above all, he felt that he needed to take part in the war against the Nazis", she added. "On the day of his enlistment he boarded a train to Egypt, and from there he went to the Flight Academy in Iraq". Amichai successfully graduated from the Flight Course before being sent to the western desert front, where he joined the 14th Squadron. As a pilot, he attacked enemy encampments, supply convoys and military bases.

One operation saw Amichai bomb the Tobruk airport in Libya, where Italian armored forces were located. The area was foggy, which made the target difficult to locate. The squadron commander canceled the strike and ordered the pilots to return to base. Everyone returned except for Amichai, who stuck to the mission, found the enemy base and attacked by himself. His actions earned him the Distinguished Flying Medal, awarded to pilots for "exceptional valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy".

A Risky Sortie
Amichai later served in the 603rd Squadron, which operated twin-engined Beaufighter bombers and mainly dealt in attacking targets on the shores of Greece and Crete.

On August 30 1943, four bombers took off in the morning on a reconnaissance and attack sortie along the western shore of Greece, with Amichai as the acting formation leader. After a successful round, Amichai ordered another strike and dived towards a German ship. The Germans fired back and Amichai's aircraft was hit. He began losing altitude quickly, with his aircraft on fire. The navigator of one of the other aircraft in the formation saw the Amichai's Beaufighter crash into the water, but he thought that he saw two figures floating. When the formation returned to base, Amichai and his navigator were declared missing in action.

Tikva received a letter from Amichai's squadron commander: "We want to tell how deeply sorry we are – your son may be a prisoner of war. If he is dead, then he died with pride after serving a great cause".

"Our mother received a telegram one month afterwards", recalled Tikva. "It said: 'we looked everywhere and contacted German prisoner camps, but we couldn't find him. We believe he was killed'".

An Honorable Commemoration
Seven years later, two years after the establishment of the state of Israel, the family was allowed to enter Greece. Hannah and Mordechai knew where Amichai's aircraft was intercepted and the Jewish community provided a helping hand, but the Royal Air Force extension in Greece said that there was no use for searching.

For four weeks, the family drove from village to village in the area where Amichai's aircraft was last seen. "We already had tickets for our return to Israel", said Mordechai in his diary. "The morning before we boarded the ship, we received a telegram saying we had to come to a town called Lefkes as quickly as possible". A Greek boy who was in the area when Amichai was buried remembered the location and showed it to the family.

Bringing Amichai's remains to Israel was a difficult process, and so the family decided to do it by themselves. The operation was successful and Amichai was finally laid to rest at the Hadera Cemetery.

Amichai died during World War II, meaning he did not get to see Israel's establishment – and yet, he is still considered an IDF casualty. It was decided in the 70s that soldiers who died prior to the War of Independence should be commemorated as well. This refers to soldiers who died between 1860 and November of 1947 while working towards the establishment of Israel.