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Airborne & Special Operations Museum spotlights WWII artifact in new exhibit


The Airborne & Special Operations Museum is hosting two World War II exhibits. Running concurrently with “Courage and Compassion: The Legacy of The Bielski Brothers” exhibit, “Operation HALYARD” highlights the heroic mission to rescue downed U.S. airmen from Nazi-occupied Serbia during the waning months of World War II.

Operation HALYARD was the largest and most successful rescue mission of American aircrews in our nation's history. Learn how between August through December 1944, a three-man Office of Strategic Services (OSS) team, along with Serbian anti-fascist/anti-communist partisans known as "Chetniks" and the 1st Air Crew Rescue Unit of the U.S.15th Air Force, airlifted more than 500 U.S. airmen out of Serbia.

A camouflage-dyed jumpsuit, circa 1943, made of cotton duck/brass is part of the exhibit. It was worn by OSS or Special Operations Executive (SOE) operatives who were covertly inserted into remote enemy areas. Once on the ground, they would link up with partisan or guerilla forces, providing guidance and communications to assist in operations. To keep their gear secure during the jump, the suit had internal pockets in the front hip area, and one large one at the lower back. Operatives carried everything from weapons and ammunition to food, water, money, explosives, documents and false identification papers. To hold the extra load of equipment, operatives typically used an enlarged British MKII parachute.

“Operation HALYARD: The Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II’’ is on loan from the Halyard Mission Foundation and is on display through Nov. 13.

‘Courage and Compassion: The Legacy of the Bielski Brothers’

Also on display is the exhibit “Courage and Compassion: The Legacy of the Bielski Brothers.’’ The original, award-winning exhibition showcases the heroic efforts of three brothers who helped save more than 1,200 people while living in the forest during the Second World War.

Operating in Western Belorussia (Belarus) between 1942 and 1944, the Bielski partisan group was one of the most significant Jewish resistance efforts against Nazi Germany during World War II. As portrayed in the popular film “Defiance,’’ the three brothers — Tuvia, Asael and Zus Bielski — took refuge from the Nazis in the forests surrounding Novogrudok, Belarus. In the forest, they formed a community of men, women and children. Through the brothers' leadership, the group survived starvation, harsh winters and the threat of the Nazis and their collaborators.

While its members did fight against the Germans and their collaborators, the Bielski group leaders emphasized providing a safe haven for Jews, particularly women, children and elderly persons who managed to flee into the forests.

For more than two years, the brothers commanded their partisan unit in the Belorussian forests. Under the protection of the Bielski group, more than 1,200 Jews survived the war, one of the most successful rescue efforts during the Holocaust.

Their acts of rescue during extremely dangerous times stand as a monument to courage and compassion. The Bielski brothers may be called Upstanders, individuals willing to put their own lives in danger on behalf of others. This exhibit tells their story.

“Courage and Compassion: The Legacy of the Bielski Brothers’’ is on loan from The Florida Holocaust Museum and is on display in the ASOM's temporary gallery through Nov. 13.

Courage and Compassion: The Legacy of The Bielski Brothers, Operation HALYARD