The actions that we make, be it good or bad, could sometimes resonate far more than we could ever imagine. Moreso, it could affect more lives than we could ever think so. One proof of that happened in World War II when an act of kindness and willingness to take the risk and save a person in need influenced other people’s lives three long generations later.
Off a Burning Plane
It was the dead of the night on May 6, 1944. Murray Simon, a 23-year-old American bomber pilot, found himself parachuting out of his burning plane after the Nazis shot it down as they were flying over German-occupied France. His luck seemed to have run out, as it was his 12th and final mission during World War II.
With him was his co-pilot, who was also a lieutenant with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a wartime espionage unit. They were ordered to fly late and fly low and remain in the cockpit. They had other six crew members who were getting ready to drop supplies and ammunition for the French resistance groups.
As for the two, they were supposed to release 12 canisters of explosives to blow up railroad tracks in the French countryside to hinder the Nazi movement ahead of the Normandy Landings that they were expecting to happen in a month. They were flying at 5,500 feet when a German night fighter shot them with 20 mm cannons and hit the gas tank that set their B-24 Liberator ablaze.
“Pouvez-vous me cacher?”
Murray was the last to jump while the farmers and Nazis in the village of Mably watched their plane crash.Murray was 6’1″ and Jewish wearing an American uniform— basically, a recipe for disaster when you’re in a Nazi-occupied place. And so Murray hid in a drainage ditch while German troops searched door-to-door for them. He slept there until an elderly French farmer passed by. He silently gestured to the man who definitely saw him but did not stop.
The Frenchman did not ignore him, though. Just 10 minutes later, he came back with Dr. Jacques Madjar, the town physician. More than that, he was a Bulgarian-born Jew posing as a Catholic and was involved in the French Resistance. The 33-year-old doctor was riding his motorcycle and carrying a potato sack.
“Pouvez-vous me cacher?” Murray asked in shaky French, asking, “Will you hide me?” to which the doctor responded with, “Do not be afraid,” in English. Madjar handed Murray coveralls and a beret so he could change while his American uniform went into the potato sack that he buried in the ditch. By changing into civilian clothes, Murry was taking quite a risk. If captured disguised as a civilian, the Germans might shoot him as a spy rather than treat him as a POWs. While it was no fun to be a prisoner in any case, downed allied aircrews were sent to special camps run by the Luftwaffe where treatment was generally better than in camps run by the German army. To Murray’s surprise, his savior’s home was just a few steps away from a Nazi artillery factory.
Madjars then sent a runner to bring a coded message to the underground: He had a downed allied Allied pilot. Send help.
By nightfall, Murray’s ride back home had arrived. The Resistance had bicycles that they would use on backroads away from Dr. Madjar’s village. Just twenty minutes after they left, the Nazis came knocking on the doctor’s door, looking for the fallen airman. Madjar told them that they had never seen him, nor did he have knowledge about an American pilot in their area.
Friendship Beyond Themselves
Murray would successfully escape France. When the war was over, he received a letter from Dr. Madjar talking about the relief that he felt at the liberation of his country and that the war was over. He wrote,
My dear friend,
You remember without a doubt this incident last year … I would be very unhappy if any mishap came to you. I was able to learn in Paris, with considerable joy, from the Bureau of Reassignment … that you went by plane to England. Today the liberation of our country is definitely realized. I can now write to you freely … Someday you may take a trip to France … Look for my home. It is open to you at any time. My little girl, whom you knew very well, has a little brother and is awaiting another in November. My wife joins me in wishing you well. A cordial handshake from an officer in the French Reserve.
Murray would reply, starting the many letters they would exchange until he visited France in 1971. Their friendship lasted until they died… and more.
Murray’s granddaughter, whom he did not live to see born, would attend the wedding of Madjar’s granddaughter.