Bombardier Abe Klein of Brooklyn, New York, had been in the Airforce two years, and he had always managed to remain a good Jew. His whole flight-team, especially their pilot, Captain Ryan, would remind him to davven his afternoon and evening prayer even when they were winging their way across the English Channel towards their bombing objective. To them his prayer was something like magic and they believed in it. And woe to the guy who made fun of Abe when he swayed to and fro during the Shemoneh Esreh, as he had always done since he had begun to attend Yeshivah fifteen years earlier. While the rest of the team considered Abe’s praying a talisman, Abe himself never prayed with so much fervor and faith as he did on these missions, when any little incident might cost his life. After his prayer he always felt strong and confident for he had placed his fate into the hands of the Almighty, come what may.

For the past few days they had known that something big was in the air. They had received extra rations and had had as much liberty as they wished. This morning when they had met at headquarters for a short briefing, their officer’s face had been very serious. This was Abe’s twentieth mission. The objective: to bomb certain oil fields in Poland, which, though not so large as the Ploesti fields in Roumania, nevertheless supplied the enemy with vital war materiel. They studied the maps, acquainted themselves with the exact location of their objective, and worked out the shortest route across the North Sea and Silesia. When they had discussed the defenses around the oilfields, their briefing officer told them that they would run into some of the stiffest anti-aircraft fire they had yet encountered on their preceding nineteen missions. The job was extremely important and had to be done, regardless of the dangers involved. And that was the attitude Abe and all the other boys took.

Somehow, however, Abe felt strange about this particular mission. The names of the Polish villages and towns around the oil fields reminded him of the places his mother used to mention when he, a small boy, had begged her for stories about her life in the “Old Europe.” Funny, he thought, when G‑d grants me the opportunity to see my mother again, I’ll be able to tell her what her old home looks like through the window of a bomber.

Presently, they were winging their way across Northern Germany, encountering little opposition. They were not far from Berlin when Captain Ryan reminded Abe to davven Minchah, since the sky was already getting dark. Abe did so, and this time he surely put his whole heart into his prayer for a safe return. Night fell, but they were making good time, despite the heavy load of bombs they carried. According to the schedule, they had only one more hour of solid flying, and their navigator put up a bet that they would fly in over the fields exactly at 1:00. A. M.

It was ten minutes to one when they reached the neighborhood of Drohobicz, the center of the oil fields. The first group of bombers went in furiously, dropping their bombs. But immediately they were enveloped in a solid wall of anti-aircraft fire sent up by hundreds of guns. Seconds later, they were surrounded by swarms of Messerschmidts and Focke-Wulfs bombers, shooting and strafing, doing their best acrobatic stunts, in search of the vulnerable spots in the Yanks’ formation. Captain Ryan saw that Bombardier Klein had aimed well. Their particular target, an administration building and derrick, no longer stood. But one of his wings was shot up, and his oil pump was out of order. Soon, two of his motors started to sputter, then stopped completely. Now it was only a matter of minutes that the crew would be able to keep the plane in the air. Ryan ordered his men to get ready for the jump, while he tried to maneuver the plane back as far as it would go. The men protested and asked to stick it out. But Ryan knew that there was no chance of getting through, and he forced his men to abandon the plane. One after the other they quickly walked over to the captain, tears in their eyes, and shook his hand before they bailed out.

Abe Klein was the last one to leave Ryan. He asked again to stay on but the commander refused flatly. They clasped hands warmly, each thinking of all the dangers they had shared-and a minute later Abe was falling through space, hurtling towards a forest about a mile away form their target. He pulled the cord in time and, thank G‑d, his parachute opened and straightened out with a heavy jerk. A soft wind carried him slowly down, down, and then he landed abruptly on a treetop. Aside from scratches and bruises he was not hurt, but he felt dizzy and in need of a good hour’s sleep. Yet the danger of being captured was too great. The Germans were sure to comb the neighborhood for Allied airmen. Abe slipped out of the belts of the parachute which was hanging down in shreds, and buried the pieces beneath a tree among the thick layers of rotting leaves that covered the mossy ground. Then he discarded his uniform and buried it not far form the place of his landing. Thanks to his briefing officer, he had worn a black chalat (long coat) beneath his flying-suit, and he had a kashket (peasant cap) in his pocket. Perhaps this would help him find his way into friendly territory. But in his present state he was too tired to think any further. He smiled when he thought of his disguise as a Polish peasant, and of the three Polish words his mother had taught him when he was a little fellow, namely “Good day,” “Good evening,” and “Thank you.” The Polish janitor of his Yeshivah had liked him very much because he greeted him in the morning with a cherry “zein dobre,” and with “dobra nocz,” when he left the building in the evening. These words would certainly come in handy now.

Abe repeated these words over and over again, until he fell asleep, buried beneath a heap of old leaves. Once in the night he heard loud voices, and flashlights pierced in the dark but after a few anxious minutes he went back to sleep. Apparently the searching party had gone in another direction. He slept all through the night. The next day, as soon as it grew dark again, he dug himself out of his moist bed and proceeded cautiously away from his target of the day before. After an hour’s steady walking, he reached the end of the forest.

Moving more cautiously, he approached a little village that faced him on the other side of the fields. Stepping lightly, he suddenly heard voices coming from behind a half-broken-down barn. Listening carefully, he found to his astonishment that two people were speaking Yiddish in the dialect that very closely resembled his mother’s Galician Yiddish. He had not expected to hear these familiar sounds in the midst of Nazi occupied territory. He soon learned from their conversation that one of the men was on a special mission. He was reporting to his partner on the devastating effect of yesterday’s bombing of the oil fields. The second fellow asked specific questions, and praised his informer for his good work.

This was enough for Abe Klein. He knew that Providence had led him to the right place and the right people. He stepped forward and called out softly that he was a friend and a Jew. He was told gruffly to turn around, and his helpers-to-be came up behind him and pressed the muzzle of a gun against his side. When he told the two men that he was one of the fliers who had been shot down in the night attack on the napht-gruben (oil wells), he was treated in a more friendly fashion, but he was still not permitted to see their faces. They tied a handkerchief over his eyes, and the man who had done the questioning led him away to his comrades. He explained that they were members of a large partisan band in the nearby forest. That was about the only information Abe could elicit from his guide who thereafter remained silent as they walked.

After three hours of walking and creeping through bushes, the guide stopped and took the handkerchief off Abe’s eyes. Now Abe saw the face of his leader for the first time. He was a young man of definitely Jewish features set in a pale yet strong and determined face. He apologized for all the precautions by explaining the great dangers and hazards of life as partisans in the midst of Nazi territory. Now he shook Abe’s hand and greeted him formally. Here they were in relative safety, only about half an hour from their hideout, where his story would be checked, and if it was found to be true, Abe was sure to be treated well. If there were any chance at all, he would be sent through the front lines, into friendly Allied territory. Abe followed the young man willingly into the increasingly difficult terrain that led into mountainous wilderness. As his guide had predicted, after thirty minutes of strenuous climbing over rocks and rugged paths they reached their goal, a mountain cave.

The muzzle of a gun suddenly poked out from behind a rock. Abe’s guide gave the password, and an elderly man appeared. He greeted them silently and signaled them to go ahead. A few seconds later another guard stopped them; this time it was a young, black-haired girl. Finally they reached the entrance of the cave where many haggard men and several women greeted them.

In the back of the cave, a special section served as headquarters. Here the hit-and-run raids, that harassed the Nazis behind their lines, were planned. The leader of the partisan band sat behind a bare table on which detailed maps of the surrounding villages and countryside were spread. The guide introduced him as Yoseph Schwartz, the unanimously elected head of their band. A stocky man with keen burning eyes, he shook hands with Abe and told him he was welcome to stay with them until an opportunity arose to fulfill his request to be sent back.

During the next few weeks Abe became very closely attached to this group of Jewish partisans who had escaped from the Gestapo. They were all that was left from the hundreds of strong Jewish communities around Drohobicz. The rest of the Jewish population had been killed during the invasion or had disappeared into the various death camps of the Nazis. One man, the old Rabbi Avraham, particularly attracted Abe. He had been the Rabbi and shochet in one of the villages from which the partisans had come, and out of pure mercy they and taken him along. Right now he was teaching Torah to the few children among the partisans. Abe became very attached to the old scholar, who remembered so much of the Talmud by heart and who knew all about the history of the Jews in that country. Thus they spent many hours in conversation: the old man wondering about the young American flier who had attended a Yeshivah and knew some Tosfot by heart, and the bombardier from Brooklyn who was interested in learning Gemara in the midst of Nazi-held Poland. Whenever Abe was not busy helping Yoseph Schwartz plan one of his regular forays against some depot, railroad bridge, or transport to the Maidanek extermination camp, he spent his time with Reb Avraham. The partisans were astonished at the young American’s association with the old Rabbi, but they regarded it as one more of the peculiarities that they attributed to Americans in general.

There was one more partner in the friendship of Abe Klein and Reb Avraham. This was little Shmelke, the only small boy among the children who wore peyos, sidelocks, and who had already learned Chumash, although he was only five years old. He was a pious little fellow who did everything old Reb Avraham taught him to do. The partisans had found him on one of their forays; the only survivor of a large Jewish community that had been visited by a Gestapo patrol. Apparently the Nazis had not seen him as he lay sleeping in his bed. Yoseph Schwartz had taken him along and given him into the care of Reb Avraham, who had known the boy’s family a long time.

One day Abe Klein told Reb Avraham about his parents, about their devotion to Yiddishkeit and their strong desire to see their children grow up as good Jews the way they themselves had grown up before they left Poland for America. The conversation turned to Abe’s mother and her family. After a few short questions, Reb Avraham grew excited and ran out of the cave. He soon came back with little Shmelke. “This is your first cousin!” he exclaimed. He explained to the astonished Abe that his little friend was none other than the son of Abe’s mother’s youngest brother. Full of joy over this happy discovery, the new relatives hugged each other, and Abe promised the old rabbi that would never leave little Shmelke alone, and that he would take him along when he smuggled himself out of Nazi-occupied Poland. It was obviously the work of Divine Providence that had brought them together when they both were in distress. If it were G‑d’s will, they would some day go together to their mutual relatives in America.

As things stood right then, however, there was little prospect of flight. The Germans had mustered all available troops and had begun a drive to rid the region of the annoying partisan-gangs that interfered with the achievement of their objectives. The group Abe Klein had joined soon felt the impact of this far-reaching drive. A serious food shortage was cutting the rations more and more, since nobody dared to leave the cave in the hills for fear of leading the Nazis to their hideout. Soon only bread and water were left, in addition to a little goat’s milk for the children. Something had to be done.

Yoseph Schwartz summoned the men for a council meeting. Abe was present as usual, for the partisans had soon recognized his experience in military matters. Schwartz gave a brief report of the seriousness of their situation. Not only would they run out of food in a few days, but some enemy patrols had recently come dangerously close to discovering them. Furthermore, the Germans had built an airfield at the very foot of these hills to provide immediate air protection for the oil fields. They could expect to be discovered and killed any day. Abe proposed that they entrust their lives to G‑d. Whatever would happen was not in their power to prevent. He suggested however, that they send a small group of men down to the airfield during the night to raid a depot. This would at least ease their food problem.

The men approved of this plan, dangerous as it was. Yoseph appointed Abe leader in this undertaking, for he knew more than the others abut airfields and their layout. Abe selected four strong young men to accompany him and show him the way. In order to prevent being discovered and thus giving clues to their hideout, they started the expedition by walking in a roundabout way to the other side of the hills, from where they made the trek to the airfield. At midnight they reached the dense forest behind which the Nazis had constructed their camouflaged airfields. Creeping cautiously close, they reached the edge of the field. Abe was soon able to discern the administration building and the barracks for the men, where loud noise indicated heavy drinking and celebrating. The dark house close to the edge of the forest could not be anything but the depot. The five men circled around the field until they came close to the house. A lonely guard walked around it every fifteen minutes. Two of the partisans waited till he came close to the trees, and then they threw a sack over his head and silenced him. Taking the keys from the guard’s side, Abe led his men across the short clearance between the trees and the house. Within five minutes they had packed up as much of the provisions as they could carry and started on their way home. On his brief inspection of the depot, Abe had discovered something that helped him form an immediate plan for his escape. He saw a brand new pilot’s suit which looked to be his size. Without giving the matter much thought, he took it and packed it on top of a heavy sack of flour.

At the hideout, Abe and his companions received a jubilant reception. For the next few weeks, at least, they would be able to remain in the cave and avoid discovery by the Nazis. Abe was honored by Yoseph Schwartz and appointed one of his adjutants. Yet Abe’s thoughts were occupied with preparation for his escape. Possession of the flying suit made him more and more eager to avail himself of any opportunity to steal a plane from the field and try to make his getaway. Naturally, he knew that he was taking a great risk and that the chance of failure was far greater that that of success. To make matters worse, he would not only be playing with his own life, but also be risking the safety of his hosts to whom he owed so much.

Most of all he was worried about his young cousin, Shmelke. He could not and would not leave him alone in this place where both his physical and his spiritual welfare were in danger. However, how dare he expose the small boy to almost certain death? For even if he should succeed in stealing a plane and getting it into the air, their real difficulties would still be ahead of them. In his despair he turned to Reb Avraham and put the entire question to him. The old man sympathized with Abe in his desire to risk everything for the getaway. And he certainly wanted little Shmelke to go along with his newly found cousin rather than grow up in a way that was far different from what his parents had dreamt for him. But what about the risk?

Reb Avraham pondered long over this matter. Finally, he told Abe that in view of the circumstances, he had to take a chance. For there was little hope of survival in the midst of the enemy territory, even though the Allied armies were already coming closer to the borders of Poland. G‑d would be with them and everything would go well. After he had Reb Avraham’s approval, Abe went to Yoseph Schwartz and told him about his plan of escape. Naturally the commander was reluctant to agree to this great risk, for the entire partisan group would be placed in danger. Yet, after a long discussion, and after Abe had promised solemnly never to betray those with whom he had stayed, Schwartz and his men gave their consent. Now all the details of the escape were planned and carefully prepared. Since Abe insisted on taking little Shmelke along, they made a valise that was lined and provided with air holes; Abe was to carry the boy concealeed so until it was safe to let him out. The partisans provided Abe with false identification papers, and finally they planned his route to the West in every detail.

The members of the partisan group took leave of Abe and wished him good luck in his undertaking. Yoseph Schwartz gave him special instructions and valuable secret information about the current positions of the enemy along his projected flying route. Most touching, however, was the farewell from old Reb Avraham, who was losing the only two people who were close to his heart and way of life. “I shall say Tehillim for both of you, and may our merciful G‑d be with you and protect and guide you on this difficult trip.” His last blessings and good wishes gave Abe courage and confidence he needed so much for this hazardous escape.

Two of the most daring partisans accompanied Abe and the little boy as they set out for their escape from enemy territory. By nighttime they reached the forest. After a rest of several hours, they felt their way towards the edge of the field. The night was only dimly lit by the sparse light of a cloudy moon. Through his spyglass Abe observed a plane land. He saw the pilot disappear behind the administration building. A mechanic filled the tank with gas and kept the motor going. This was Abe’s. Posing as the pilot of the plane, goggles attached to his face, he walked over to the mechanic, carrying little Shmelke in the valise. Calling out “Let’s go!” in his best German, Abe climbed into the seat of the cockpit, and put the valise carefully in the back seat. He studied the instrument board, and was very grateful when he found that this plane was a Messerschmidt 109, a model of which had been at their field back in England, and which their Wing-commander had made them study carefully. Opening the motor throttle and playing a bit with the various rudder levers, Abe gave the mechanic the signal to take the wheel blocks away and turn the plane onto the landing strip. A few seconds later the motor thundered loudly, and he rolled forward on his way to freedom.

Hardly had his wheels taken to the air when he saw soldiers running across the field toward where the plane had been standing. Apparently the real pilot had returned to see him take to the air, and had given the alarm. Seconds later, searchlights criss-crossed the air above the field, but too late. Abe had already reached the heavy cloudbanks that covered the sky and was winging his way towards Allied territory. Soon he saw an entire “Staffel” of Germans looking for him. But they were too low, and probably too drunk, to discover him. After a few minutes of circling about the field, they abandoned the chase. Once out of the immediate danger zone, Abe freed little Shmelke from his uncomfortable valise and slipped the extra parachute over him. The brave young boy really had lots of guts. He had behaved like a grownup in this precarious situation.

Holding himself strictly to the course mapped out by Yoseph Schwartz, Abe avoided the fighting-zones, and crossed into Allied territory after several hours of straight flying. The question was now whether his American flag, a present from Yoseph Schwartz, would be seen soon enough to permit him to land on the field selected for him by the leader of the partisans. After a few seconds of diving through heavy “ack-ack” fire, Abe had come close enough to the ground to make his large Stars and Strips recognizable. When Abe removed the top of the cockpit, little Shmelke became visible, and the guns of the allied officers were turned aside. Abe was permitted to climb out.

One of the noncommissioned officers spoke English and Abe told him his adventurous story, from parachuting into a forest near the oilfields of Drohobicz, to his theft of a Messerschmit. His own identification papers and a sealed note from Yoseph Schwartz helped to establish the truth of his story.

Now things happened fast. Abe contacted his flight-command in England, and he received a long cable congratulating him and granting him a furlough back to the States. One week later, an empty Lend-Lease transport plane took Abe and little Shmelke to the United States. After several days they arrived in New York and as happy as Abe’s mother was to see her son back healthy and well, her joy was even greater when she found out who was the little boy clinging anxiously to Abe’s hand. Indeed, little Shmelke was the image of her youngest brother whom she had long given up as lost, like the thousands of others in her Polish hometown.

That week, Abe brought Shmelke to the Yeshivah where he himself had once begun his studies by learning the Alef Bet. When he left the room where his young cousin was sitting among other boys his age and learning Chumash, Abe Klein knew that his Twentieth Mission had really been accomplished successfully.