Alaska’s hand suddenly revealed in Operation Magic Carpet
July 31, 2012 | Jewish Tribune
Rena Green Tribune Intern
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Unbeknownst to a vast majority of the general public, Operation Magic Carpet, the post WWII effort to transport Jewish refugees from Yemen to Israel, is largely due to war heroes in Alaska.
With numerous ties to Alaska in Jewish history, such as the Harold Ickes, United States Secretary of the Interior and members of Congress, considering Alaska as a placement for Jews seeking refuge from Hitler in the early 1940’s, the museum aims to, “provide exposure to Jewish history and culture,” to the Alaska community, according to the Alaska Jewish Museum website.
Fried, hard at work developing the exhibit dedicated to Alaska’s hand in Operation Magic Carpet, described the movement as, “an incredible humanitarian effort.” Airlifting more than 47,000 refugees from Yemen to Tel Aviv “not one refugee life was lost,” she explained. “Flying over the Suez Canal with enemies all around and ending up in Israel – it’s pretty amazing.
“After World War II there was a great opportunity to purchase surplus aircraft,” said Fried explaining the reason Alaska got involved in the operation.
James A. Wooten, president of the Operation Magic Carpet division of Alaska Airlines, “was in the midst of expanding its charter flights division all around the world. There was a need [for aircrafts] and they were in the midst of this huge growth, so initially it was a great opportunity for them financially,” she continued.
After making contact with the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the United Nations, what started as a financial ploy, turned into, ““many hundreds of trips,” and “the largest non-scheduled carrier in the world,” said Fried.
Wooten and Robert McGuire, the pilot and operations manager, originally thought they would be rescuing 1,000 refugees. When they realized the sheer number of people, “they were just floored,” said Fried.
The exhibit, aiming to open its doors next February, will display various archives, photos and pieces of the aircrafts that saved so many lives.
“[We’re] going to create a huge sculpture from pieces of the original C46s and DC4s,” she said. With a mass amount of memorabilia such as flight jackets, flight lapel pins, models of specific planes and personal testimonies, the heart of the exhibit will present, “the day-to-day drama of the situation,” detailed Fried. “The exhibit will focus on who these pilots were. How they get involved? Why did this happen?
“It looks at how this story develops, and how this ended up being the largest humanitarian airlift in history.”