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Purity of Arms

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Hugo Marom  E-mail

“CZECH MATE”

Article by By Gloria Deutsch.

Jerusalem Post Magazine, 9th July, 2010

 

czech mate

czech mate

 

When the Czech Republic recently celebrated 65 years since the end of World War II, Hugo Marom was one of nine Israeli/Czech war veterans invited to Prague to be honored by the prime minister and other high officials of the country of their birth.

 

“We received medals and laid a wreath on the grave of the Unknown Soldier,” says the 82-year old aviation expert who came here in 1949, and still goes to his office in Tel Aviv every day.  He runs a company which designs airports.

 

Today Marom is recognized as an expert on Israel/Czech relations, and has frequently been called on to interpret or act as liaison for visiting Czech dignitaries.  But even he did not know a fact that he learned while visiting Prague in April:  out of the 350,000 Czech soldiers and airmen who fought with the Allies, 250,000 were Jews.

 

LIFE BEFORE ALIYAH

When he and his brother were aged ten and eight, they were among the lucky children who were sent to England as part of the Kindertransport, organized by the English stockbroker Nicholas Winton to rescue Czech children not included in other rescue schemes.

 

“My brother and I said goodbye to our parents and never saw them again,” recalls Marom.  He attended school in Wales and later the RAF air-training school, before returning to Brno to begin engineering studies after the war ended.

 

“It was December 1947 and I had a visit from a Hagana representative who had heard about my involvement with the RAF,” recalls Marom.  “They wanted me to find Jewish boys at university with me who would be willing to be trained as pilots by the Czechs, who were selling planes to the Jews in Palestine and had also offered to train them.”

 

But Hugo could not find any suitable candidates, as the Jews who returned from the camps were in no condition to train as pilots.  However, he agreed to come, together with his wife Marta, herself a camp survivor who had also joined the Czech army and whom he met on Yom Kippur in 1945.  He also managed to find a few others who went on to have glittering careers in the IAF.

 

“By the way,” says Marom, “do you know why the Czechs were so helpful to us during the War of Independence, supplying arms and training the soldiers in their use?  The main reason was that it was their way of getting back at the British who had sold them out at Munich.  They also wanted to curry favor with the Russians, and have the people we trained present a positive view of the communist system.  The money was the least important reason.”

 

After six months of training, he was ready to set off for Israel, flying one of the last three Spitfires which the Czechs were supplying.

 

“Unfortunately, relations had soured because of the repercussions of the Stansky trial and the delivery was stopped.  We traveled by train and boat and arrived in February 1949, two weeks before the end of the war.”

 

SETTLING IN

“We were sent to the light aircraft squadron and I served for over a year in Beersheba.  Then the Israel Air Force decided to give extra training to us Czech pilots so we could fly the modern aircraft then in use, and we attended a new flying school in Kfar Syrkin.  In August 1950 we were presented with our Israeli wings by David Ben-Gurion.”.

 

Eventually Marom became the commander of the night fighter squadron, and the country’s first test pilot.  The couple moved to Tzahala in 1951 and their two daughters were born there.  One daughter died tragically, but the other is a well-known sculptor, Evie Polig.  His grandson flies F-16s, carrying on the family tradition.

 

DAILY LIFE

Besides working for the Defense Ministry, Marom was building up a reputation as the person to ask for if any Czech dignitaries visited.  “After the fall of communism, I was offered the post of Israel’s first ambassador to Prague but I preferred to stay in my profession of airport planner,” he says.  “Meanwhile, the Czech government started a flirtation with Israel.  The way it found to talk to Israel was through the Czech expatriate community here, numbering only a few hundred.  For me it started in about 1989 with a visit from the managing director of the Czech military museum, one of the best in Europe.  He knew no English, so my wife and I were asked to entertain him and organize the exhibits he wanted for his museum, like the Russian-built tanks used against us in the Six-Day War.”

 

On another occasion. he helped a Czech write his doctoral dissertation on the help given by his country to the establishment of the IAF, showing him where to find the appropriate documents.

 

In 1964 he established his own company specializing in aviation design. and his company consults to airport designers all over the world.

 

Will he ever retire? “I want to die here in this seat,” says Hugo with a determined grin.