In September 2016 in the Spanish city of Vigo, a wedding was held. One guest among the many invited to the ceremonies held on the beaches of this corner of the Iberian peninsula was unique, however, in that she was neither family nor a close friend. No, she was there to see the woman whose grandfather had saved the life of her own grandfather three-quarters of a century ago.
In the dead of night sometime in early May 1944, Murray Simon was flying over Nazi-occupied France. He was just 23 years old. Unfortunately for Murray, he was shot down and forced to bail out, parachuting to safety under cover of darkness.
All those aboard the bomber, including Murray and his copilot, were officers of the wartime espionage agency known as the OSS and were on a mission with orders to fly late and low, the goal being to drop supplies to members of the French Resistance.
Not least of these supplies was 12 canisters of powerful explosives that were to be used to disable valuable rail lines. The mission was intended to hinder Nazi movement ahead of the D-day landings which were expected to take place exactly one month later.
After being hit by a German nightfighter in the fuel tank, Murray was the last to exit the B-24 Liberator, with his parachute descent eventually landing him in a tree, the fireball of his plane alerting all nearby to look for him and his crew.
Murray was at a disadvantage compared to the rest of his crew. First off, he was over six feet tall, and second, he was Jewish. Hiding all night, in a drainage ditch, Murray eventually managed to hail a passing French villager, who fled and returned with the village physician, one Dr. Jacques Madjar.
Madjar was a known resistance member, and a Jew himself, who had been born in Bulgaria and was now posing as a Catholic. Madjar came like a knight to the rescue, with his trusty steed a motorcycle and his sword a potato sack.
While Murray asked in shaky french if Madjar would hide him, the Doctor responded in perfect English that his new ally should not be afraid. He then gave Murray a change of clothes, stuffed his uniform in the sack and buried it. They then drove to Madjar’s home which was, to Murray’s alarm, just across the street from a Nazi artillery factory.
Murray was fed the last two of the Madjar’s eggs before the doctor sent a message via a runner to the Americans that he had their soldier, and that he needed help.
By sundown, an escort had arrived to take Murray away using bicycles on backroads away from the village of Roanne where Dr. Madjar’s home was located. When pedaling away, Murray tried to hide the military boots on his feet, sun-caked and khaki. Not twenty minutes after his departure, a Nazi officer came looking for the American airman, who, according to them, had last been seen at a checkpoint near the Madjar home only hours before. Dr. Madjar told them he had never seen the man or had any knowledge regarding an American airman in the area.
Murray went on to successfully escape France with the help of the French Resistance. One day, after the end of the war, he got a pleasant surprise. He opened his mailbox to find a letter from Dr. Madjar, in which the doctor described to his American friend his relief at the liberation of his country and the end of the war.
He also invited the American to visit him anytime. Murray would reply to the correspondence and wrote many times after and eventually visited Madjar in 1971. In the end, a simple motorcycle ride to save an American soldier would beget Madjar a lifelong friend and a letter from Dwight D. Eisenhower, as well as a friendship between families that lasted long after his death.