One other chapter in Israel’s air-force founding history and the bravery of the men who came from all over the world and were responsible for winning Israel’s War of Independence.
The story of the founding of the State of Israel, which started with a bloody War of Independence, is filled with colorful stories of heroism and has many variants. One variant is the story of Mr. Charles Winters, one of the most important ones in the creation of the Israeli Air Force. Israel and the Jewish people owe a debt of gratitude to this man. Honoring his memory should be a given. Hearing of film maker Nancy Katz-Spielberg, the sister of legendary film maker Steven Spielberg, an orthodox Jew, who uses the power of her brother’s name to get recognition, yet blatantly disregarded Mr. Winters memory, by not including a mention of him in her film ‘Above and Beyond’ was a surprise to all, especially since her brother played a role in getting Mr. Winters a Presidential Pardon. What is worse is how she degraded Jim Winters, the son of Mr. Winters. To put it mildly it was a colossal embarrassment.
Putting the two records straight.
One: An interview with Jim Winters, 51 year old, in response to Nancy Spielberg and rabbi Arnold Samlan bizarre antagonism toward Jim Winters, Charles Winters’ son.
Two: Who is Charles Winters?
Charles Winters, a non-Jew, who passed away in 1984, was instrumental in founding the Israeli air force and helping the State of Israel winning her War of Independence.
Suffering from Polio, during WWII Charles could not join the military; he worked though in the USA military supply department. After the war, due to his connections Charles managed to purchase three surplus B-17 bombers that were never in war service nor were equipped with war devices. Charles sold one of them, now on display at the EAA AirVenture Museum, located in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and is often flown all over the United States for display. The other two aircrafts were used to carry produce from Miami to the Caribbean Islands.
At a certain point, Charles became a friend of Al [short for Adolph] Schwimmer, an American-born Israeli engineer and businessman, the father of the Israeli air force, to have later become the founder and first CEO of Israel Aerospace Industry (IAI).
One day Al approached his friend Charles, telling him that Jews cannot buy airplanes. Al asked Charles if he will allow him to use his two planes, loaded with a bunch of pilots headed for Jerusalem. Charles agreed and the two planes left Miami to Puerto Rico, when Charles was tipped off that someone from the USA knew of the mission. He called the guys and told them to leave Puerto Rico right away; “The CIA is after you,” were his warning words. Not taking any chance, the airplanes took off instantaneously. Over the ocean they got rid of all their emergency equipment, called in Mayday, as if they crashed, so that the USA government were to look for them in that particular area while they were heading for the Azores. There they re-fueled, picked up arms, bombs and airplane’ parts and from there they proceeded on their flight to Jerusalem. On the way they flew over Egypt. The airplanes were not pressurized nor equipped for bombing. If you flew them high you had to wear special suit and oxygen mask for breathing, none they have. So they took a chance, flew low and manually threw bombs over the governing ruler’s palace.
This was the two B-17 first episode in their participation in the War of Independence of Israel. The metal birds remained in Israel and were the only two of their kind. For that reason, to outmaneuver the enemy, each time they went on a mission a new number was painted on them so the enemy would think that the Israel possessed many of their kind.
For letting the airplanes remain in Israeli-Jewish hands, in 1949 Charles Winters was incarcerated and spent two years of his life in jail in the USA.
Jim, Charles’s son, did not know any of these details till his father passed away in October 29th,1984 when people arrived from Israel to attend his funeral. Jim was 19 year old then and he became curious. In 2006, Jim asked his friend, a lawyer in Washington DC, to start the process and work on Charles’s pardon. A giant PR campaign was launched and many letters in favor of the pardon were received, one worth mentioning from Steve Spielberg.
Charles was posthumously pardoned. On December 23rd, 2008, at 11:00 a.m., Jim, who was in Miami, Florida, received a phone call from Washington DC and the caller said that George W. Bush just pardoned Charles Winters but asked him not to tell anyone till the media came out with the announcement. The pardon made international news and Jim started to receive calls from all over the world and people were giving him all kind of information about their own fathers taking part in Israel’s Independence War as well as sending him photos of the heroes. One of the callers was the pilot Hal Rothstein, whom Jim describes as an angel. Hal asked Jim, “What do you want to know about your dad?” For two hours Hal told Jim history he never knew about his own father. Hal was one of the pilots who flew Charles’s two planes from Puerto Rico to Israel. When Charles was pardoned Jim invited Hal to the party but the 86 year old declined the invitation for age reasons. Jim has experienced much support of many, all aligned with him for having a portion of their life in common with him and his father, Charles.
The Nancy Spielberg episode
Nancy Spielberg, in her recent film ‘Above and Beyond’ that tells about the nascent Israeli Air Force, omitted this very important story, as without Charles’s two airplanes, there would not have been a jump start for Israel’s air-force, nor the War of Independence would have won. Each component in this war effort was of great significance. At first Jim did not know about Charles’s story omission.
Jim was made aware that a movie about the men who volunteered to help Israel in 1948 had been made. On Wednesday, January 14th, 2015, a friend called him to tell him that the following day, Thursday, the movie will premiering in West Palm Beach, Florida; First, Jim was surprised that he was not officially invited. He then called the theatre and was told that the showing was a sold out event. He asked to speak with the promoter, better yet, Nancy Spielberg, but was not put through to either of them.
Jim called a friend to share the Above and Beyond Facebook page, because he was certain his father was mentioned in the film’s story. Interestingly enough, all comments posted on the movie’s Facebook page were strangely erased. Jim did not let up; he wanted to see the movie in which his father was a team member. He found out that the movie will be showing again in Miami Shores on Saturday, January 17th, 2015. He called to book a ticket and again, tickets were all sold out. However, the movie’s website indicated that one can come to the theatre and it would be a possibility for tickets to become available on site. Jim arrived to the theatre’s location an hour earlier in order to make sure that he can buy a ticket for the 8:00 p.m. screening. As Jim was walking on the public sidewalk toward the theatre, a security guard, in the near distance, looked at his phone, looked at Jim and then yelled, “Jim Winters?”
Jim thought he was singled out to sit next to Nancy and watch the movie with her. How wrong he was.
Though he never left the public sidewalk, the security guard, in a loud voice, as if Jim was a terrorist, told him, “You are not allowed here.” Jim, dressed nicely for the occasion, was taken aback. He politely asked the guard to speak to a person from management but was told to speak to the police and the guard then pursued to call the cops. At that point the guard told Jim to leave the area. Not to disrespect his father’s legacy, Jim walked back to his car and waited for the police to arrive; the police just “happened” to know in what car he was sitting. A young policewoman approached Jim and told him she had no idea as to why but her boss told her to issue a trespassing warning, which was illegal since Jim never left the public walkway.
Jim left the scene. Next morning, Jim wrote an e-mail to Nancy and to rabbi Arnold Samlan, the Executive Director at Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education, Miami, Florida, in charge of the Miami Jewish Film Festival, asking them to explain to him what has happened. The reply from the rabbi was, “I had nothing to do with it”; Nancy’s reply, in a phone call, echoed the rabbi, “I had nothing to do with it, it was the rabbi.” Nancy proceeded to suggest that Jim goes to see the movie the following Sunday, at the University of Miami, where the movie will be showing next. She will not be there but offered to arrange to pay for Jim’s ticket.
On Tuesday Jim received an e-mail from rabbi Samlan, telling him that he did not think he should go see the movie, this despite Nancy’s personal invitation. The rabbi did not offer any explanation as to why Jim should not go see the movie. Jim replied that if he was not allowed to go see the movie Above and Beyond then, in support of the film festival, he wanted to see the movie Operation Sunflower, about the inception of Israel’s nuclear program, one other movie the Jewish Festival was showing. Jim purchased two tickets, for him and his wife and since the rabbi did not communicate with him further, he thought that all is alright; more so, since the ticket was purchased in Jim’s name and he did not hear from rabbi Samlan from Tuesday-to-Saturday and Jim was not disinvited, all was calm on the movie theatre’s front.
On Sunday, when Jim arrived to the venue, two policemen off duty but in uniform, from Coral Gables, privately hired, were waiting for him. One officer who was black, called Jim by his name and said, “I do not think these people want you here.” Jim asked why but the officer could not explain and said he will find out and proceeded to make a phone call to rabbi Samlan to come face Jim. The rabbi refused. So the office decided he will not send Jim away until the rabbi comes to face him and explain his actions. The officer inferred that he was told that Jim is some kind of a racist. Since Jim’s wife, standing by his side, is black it means that someone was trying to smear his name on baseless accusation.
Finally, rabbi Samlan came downstairs and the policeman asked questioned him as to why he is treating Jim this way and his replied was, “my security team told me he was a threat.” Jim asked, “A threat to whom, to what?” The rabbi replied, “I cannot say.”
Jim asked for a refund on his tickets, which he received.
Before rabbi Samlan left the scene, the black officer told him that there is no reason to issue a trespassing citation. The rabbi walked away looking bothered.
Jim proceeded to the parking lot, the black officer shook his hand and the second officer, a young man, walked with Jim to the parking lot and told him he was very interested in his father’s story and was going to Google the story when he got home. In that 30 seconds walk rabbi Samlan called the university police to go and harass Jim. When he got to his car they were there to issue him a trespassing citation, even though they have witnessed nothing of what happened or was said. The younger and obnoxious of the two university police officers told Jim to take his hands out of his pocket, where he kept them because it was rather cold that day and to follow orders “like a Marines”. Worth noting, Jim served in the US Marines active duty for three years and three more years in inactive reserve service.
This all appeared to be a setup and Jim’s wife was freaking out.
Jim did not see the movie Above and Beyond. Friends told him that his father was not mentioned in the movie. Now, unless he can see the film for free he is not interested supporting it.
Someone had quoted that without Charles Winters’s two first B-17 bombers he gave Israel the Israeli air-force would have not been formed. Do you hear that, Nancy Spielberg?
The University of Miami refused to recant the trespassing citation their security officer issued to Jim. To resolve this matter Jim had to resort to a lawsuit. He is now suing the University and the Miami Shores police department.
The questions are, where is the respect for the real law? Where is the respect for a hero? Where is the honesty and integrity for history and the men who made it, the men who wanted to help Israel to become a state, Jews can call their home?
Charles Winters is buried at the Templers’ cemetery in Jerusalem, Israel.
In 1999, Al Schwimmer delivered a speech in Miami, Florida, primarily to students who were interested in Israel. Jim and his mother heard of the lecture so they went to hear him speak. Walking to the auditorium they saw an elderly man signing autographs. They assumed it was Al. Jim walked up to him and introduced himself as Jim Winters. Al froze. “Charles Winters’s son?” he asked to which Jim replied with a yes. Al literally froze and his eyes filled with tears. He grabbed Jim and walked with him and his mother to the auditorium. At the opening of his speech he told the audience, “I was going to speak about the subject but now I will speak about something else. With us this evening we have two very distinguished guests.” He proceeded to introduce Jim and his mother and for two hours he spoke about his relation with Charles Winters and what they did together for the State of Israel in those years. At the end of the speech Jim and his mother received a lengthy standing ovation, the kind of treatment Jim Winters is used to receive when it is concerning his father and what he did for the State of Israel, instead of being reduced to an unwelcome thug; Jim is used to be treated like a son of an Israeli royalty, not a piece of trash as the Spielberg/Samlan team made him feel he is.
Nancy Spielberg denies she harassed Jim but that is not true.
Nancy Spielberg, to be respected, you indiscriminately praise and honor heroes and their heroism, not disregard them and try whitewash their heroic deeds. This article disqualifies you as a fair and balanced history teller and a good movie maker.
It will be worthwhile to read one other article in which you, Nancy, and rabbi Arnold Samlan’s behavior is questioned: Spielberg is in Bizarre Battle with Son of ‘IAF Godfather’
Jim Winters, the son of Charles Winters, who is known as Israel Air Force (IAF) ‘godfather’ says that Nancy Spielberg and a Florida nasty rabbi sent police to keep him away from the premiere of ‘Above and Beyond.’ The public’s question is, “why did they do this?”
In summation: a documentary that focuses on the Americans who contributed to the formation of the Israeli Air Force (IAF) that does not mention Charles Winters, clearly shows the lack of the film makers to understand the magnitude of Winters’s contribution to the birth of the IAF. A fine opportunity that has missed its message. For a documentary of this scope Nancy Spielberg should be embarrassed of the outcome as she does injustice to the legendary Spielberg’s filmmaking name.
I, the writer, did not see the film, but I suspect that the film Above and Beyond is probably missing others who were most critical to creating the Israeli Air Force.
The humiliation that Nancy Katz-Spielberg and rabbi Arnold Samlan caused Jim Winters, the son of Charles Winters who was such a righteous non-Jew, demonstrates a reckless disregard for the non-Jews who so lovingly support Israel and is an inexcusable behavior for someone who professes to be of Jewish ethnicity, more so, a behavior of a Rabbi, an Orthodox Jew, who should set an example to many.