I always knew Israel was behind me, said PoW pilot

MOVING NIGHT: Zohar Erez, Baruch Michales, Sahar Abramowitz and Hedva Engle light a candle

By Simon Yaffe

AN Israeli flying ace who was taken captivate by the Egyptians during the War of Attrition in 1969 was back commanding a squadron just four years later in the Yom Kippur War.

Major General Giora Romm, who was beaten and tortured during his three months as a prisoner of war, told guests at Manchester’s annual Yom Hazikaron ceremony on Tuesday night at the Hilton Suite, Prestwich: “The biggest challenge for a prisoner of war is to recover from his experience and not let it affect him for the rest of his life.

“I was reluctant to let the Egyptians direct my life and I wanted to continue my life as I wanted to.

“That is why I began to fly fighter aircrafts only 18 months after my release.”

Major General Romm, who scored a number of “kills” during the 1967 Six-Day War, was flying his MiG when he was hit by another MiG he had failed to spot.

Then aged 24, he bailed out of his plane and landed in a cotton field in the Egyptian Delta, suffering multiple injuries.

“My left thigh and right elbow were crushed,” he recalled. “The farmers took me back to their village and I was taken to a prison called Abbassia, near Cairo.”

Because of his numerous injuries, however, the Egyptians later took him to hospital for treatment — but only on condition that he co-operated with their demand for information, which he later refused to do.

He also did not tell anyone he was a decorated fighter pilot.

Major General Romm explained: “I made sure my guards referred to me as ‘captain’, as I was then, but when I was taken into solitary confinement, they called me a ‘dog’.

“When you become a PoW, you have to create a new presence for yourself in the world.

“I found being beaten very insulting, so it took a lot of emotional and psychological power.”

Determined to keep in good spirits, he wrote positive messages on his prison wall and dreamed of home

“I used my time in captivity in a rational way,” he said. “Fighter pilots know that there is always a chance of becoming a PoW, so I was prepared for it.

“I told myself, ‘Okay, this has now happened and I have to be an excellent PoW’. I also knew I had Israel and its air force behind me.”

On a lighter note, he had good relationships with two of the nurses who treated him at hospital and two of his guards, Sami and Osman.

“For the first time in their lives, they met an Israeli and, for the first time in my life, I met Egyptians,” the major general added.

“We all found that we are all human beings and that we behave like human beings. I told one of the nurses she would come to Israel one day.

“She honestly thought that when she disembarked at Lod airport — as it was called then — there would be Israelis waiting with knives, ready to kill her.

“The distance between Israel and Egypt is not far, but the gap of knowledge about each other was unbelievable.” He was eventually released, as part of a prisoner exchange, and returned to the sky and to air combat in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, leading the 115th Squadron and helping to lead Israel to victory.

“The leader of other pilots cannot be hesitant or afraid,” Major General Romm continued.

“I had 35 pilots under my command in the Yom Kippur War and I had no choice but to fly. The more I flew, the less I felt confined by my experience of being a PoW.”

He referenced the Yann Martel novel Life of Pi, which tells of an Indian boy who spends 227 days on a small boat with a Bengal tiger after they survive a shipwreck.

Major General Romm said: “The tiger does not eat the boy and the boy gained control of the tiger

“The question is, ‘Who is going to control whom?’

“My Bengal tiger was my captivity and I had to fight it to overcome and gain control of it.”

Lizzie Caplan, a participant on the UJIA leadership programme, told guests: “We stand in solidarity with the people of Israel in recognition of the sacrifices which have been made — and which will be made — by those serving in the IDF each and every day since Israel was formed.”

The UJIA Magic Moments teenage delegation, from Kfar Vradim in northern Israel, paid tribute to Israel’s fallen heroes and the victims of terror.

Since 2003, a Magic Moments delegation from northern Israel has spent a week in the UK, leading educational sessions about Yom Hazikaron and helping to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut at various schools.

The youngsters, aged 15-17, live with local families and also get to know what life is like for Jewish teenagers in the Diaspora.

This year’s group — Sahar Abramowitz, Nofar Abutbul, Inbar Feldman, Achinoam Faruchi, Zohar Erez, Neta Bialik and Gali Piran — spoke of the Ma’alot massacre, on Israel Independence Day in May, 1974.

Arab terrorists from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine entered Israel from Lebanon. They killed a four-year-old, his mother — who was seven months’ pregnant — and his father.

Only the couple’s deaf-mute toddler survived.

The murderers then took 115 people hostage at Netiv Meir Elementary School. Most were teenagers from a high school in Safed who had planned a field trip and were spending the night in Ma’alot.

Twenty-five hostages were killed and 68 were injured.

And there was hardly a dry eye in the house when the Magic Moments delegation read a letter from one of the victims, Ilana Ne’eman, which she had written to her mother in the hours before she was murdered.

The girls also told of unity, remembrance and their hopes for peace in Israel. Memorial candles were lit in honour of fallen soldiers and those whose lives have been taken by acts of terrorism.

The Mancunians who fell fighting for Israel are: Arie (Leslie) Ostrov, Baruch Avni (Epstein), Ehud (Howard) Doniger, Yonatan Golker, Alec Leslie Cohen, David Jacobs, Michael Peter Marshall, Zvi (Harold) Sprigman, Daniel Zvi Muller, Paul Sapir, Jonathan Jamie Boyden and Yossi Fink.

Avrom Aronson recited El Male Rachamim and the David D’Or song Guard the World, Child, while Heaton Park Hebrew Congregation’s Rabbi Daniel Walker recited kaddish.

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