view from central park

RIP, Capt. Bacos


I never saw the movie “Entebbe,” or, as history’s most audacious and daring military rescue operation was known to me in my Israeli childhood, “Mivtza Yonatan.”

Military historian David Saul’s recent book Operation Thunderbolt has been on my reading list, which I of course haven’t gotten to. Word is that this book, above other books and films, is the definitive work on the military operation, replete with incredible detail and reading like a novel.

Maybe it’s because I never watched the movie or read deeply about it, but I always thought the military miracle of Entebbe to be the heart of this story. Which of course it is. Many of us grew up with Yoni Netanyahu’s heroism and his inspirational letters.

The story of Entebbe beats with two hearts. There’s the daring mission and its success. There’s the IDF. There’s Yoni Netanyahu. 

And then there is Michel Bacos.

There’s the military side of Entebbe — and there’s its transcendent humanity.

When the mayor of Nice, France tweeted about his death, I learned of the heroism of Michel Bacos, pilot of Air France Flight 139 from Tel Aviv to Paris via Greece.

Famously, the hijackers separated the Jewish passengers from the non-Jews. The non-Jews were released. At these tense moments, with lives hanging in the balance, at the mercy of the hijackers, Captain Bacos not only refused to leave the Jewish passengers behind, but convinced the rest of his crew to stick with him — to stick with the Jews.

In this split-second decision, in this great act of humanity springing from the deepest wells of courage at the possible cost of his own life, Bacos changed from aircraft captain to the conscience of the world.

The mayor of Nice tweeted: “He refused to abandon his passengers, who were taken hostage because they were Israeli or of Jewish origin, risking his own life. Michel bravely refused to surrender to anti-Semitism and barbarism and brought honor to France.”

Learning of this heroic and inspirational story at a time of rising anti-Semitism is a salve. It gives the hope of good people who care about humanity and even risk their lives to live by a moral code. Yet it is a story of the last century. Would this still happen today?

I wonder. I hope so.

Of course, an act of such selflessness, of such courage and clarity, is complex. Captain Bacos had every right to walk away and save himself and his crew. He was a victim, too.

Over years of exposure to Holocaust stories, a question poses itself time and again: What would I have done? We like to think we would rise to the occasion. But would we?

Michel Bacos did. And so the tributes from around the world pour in. A captain who calmly flew and landed an airplane safely with the steel of a gun burrowed in his neck by a hijacking terrorist — for that alone he deserves world recognition. But he also proved to be a great humanitarian.

In the midst of this terrifying darkness, Yoni Netanyahu and Michel Bacos risked their lives to save others.

While Netanyahu was part of a military operation, Michel Bacos elected to throw his destiny in with the Jewish people.

One lost his life that day, the other died this past week. Two hearts of a story, one heart in mission.

We salute you, Captain.

Copyright Intermountain Jewish News