Friday, September 05, 2008

Presidential Pardon Sought for Man Who Helped Smuggle Weapons to Jews in Palestine in Late 1940's

The man, Charles Winters, died in 1984, but his son is working on getting a pardon:

In the late 1940s, nearly everyone in this area's large Jewish community, in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, wanted to help in the struggle to create Israel.

But Charles Winters was a Protestant from Boston. When it was all over, he was the only man to serve time. He served 18 months in prison for his help flying weapons to the Jews in Palestine, fighting for what would later become Israel.

Charles Winters received no money for his clandestine work, according to the stories his son was told. Charles did it as a favor for his Jewish friends.

Now, nearly 25 years after his father's death, his son is working on what he considers the ultimate gift to his father: a presidential pardon.

The background:

After World War II, Charles Winters got into the airplane business, buying decommissioned military cargo airplanes and using them for shipping products like fruit, his son said.

In the 1940s, friend Al Schwimmer was shipping arms to Jews who were fighting to start their own state in what was then known as Palestine, an area controlled by the British.

Schwimmer would go on to become a founding father of Israel's aircraft industry.

Charles Winters, a Protestant, could get his planes out of the country relatively unnoticed, his son said. In 1948, three of his planes took off from Miami for Puerto Rico on flights meant to mimic a typical produce run.

The planes did stop in Puerto Rico. But they kept going, first to the Azores then to Czechoslovakia, where the group picked up the weapons, Jimmy Winters said.

From Europe, they flew into Palestine, dropping off the weapons and the airplanes, then returning to the United States.

Months later, someone turned Winters in -- probably someone trying to avoid prison time, Jimmy Winters guesses. Charles Winters was convicted under the U.S. Neutrality Act and spent 18 months in prison.

''The only one who was sent to jail was Charlie,'' said Al Schwimmer's wife, Rina. ``Because the judge said, `OK, those guys were Jews, and they did it for national reasons. . . . But Charlie must have done it for other reasons, which he didn't. He didn't get a penny.''

In this case, Israel has not forgotten:

''`When he died, the funeral parlor was full of Israeli flags and blue and white flowers. This Israeli official came to escort my mom back to Israel for a ceremony there,'' Winters said. 'And I thought, `Wow, this is big time.' At that point, I realized how important he was to the Israeli community.''

In the following days, his mother was whisked away to Israel, where her husband's ashes would be scattered.

And Jimmy Winters began probing his father's past. He talked to people who came for the funeral. He talked to Schwimmer and other friends of his father's. He read a letter from then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir sent in 1961 inviting his father to the opening in Israel of a memorial to those who fought for Israel.

But despite all the laurels, Charles Winters still carried the label of convicted felon.

So Jimmy Winters said he reached out to a childhood friend-turned-Washington lawyer. With his help, Winters has set out to clear his father's name.

The case of Charles Winters is far less controversial than that of Jonathan Pollard--let's hope Bush does the right thing.
And then pardons Pollard next.

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