Nazi to be honoured in Lachute as first female helicopter pilot
Published Wednesday, March 8, 2017 5:34PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, March 9, 2017 8:30PM EST
UPDATE: The pilot will no longer be honoured at the ceremony. Read about the update here
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
This Saturday in Lachute, a women’s aviation organization is set out to honour the first female helicopter pilot. The problem? It turns out she was also a Nazi.
In 1937, Hanna Reitsch became the first woman in the world to fly a helicopter. Reitsch later flew planes as well, holding multiple records and setting the standard for aviation at that time.
For that, she is being recognized at a celebration of women in aviation, explained Marguerite Varin of Women of Aviation Worldwide Week.
“The goal of the event is to promote women in aviation. There are very few women pilots,” she said, adding only 7 per cent of commercial pilots in the world are female.
The organization, however, left out important – and some argue, necessary – information about her past.
“She may have been a great example to women as an aviator and a flyer, (but) she was flying for the Nazis and she was honoured by the Nazis,” explained Harvey Levine, regional director of B'nai Brith Canada in Quebec.
Not only was Reitsch a Nazi, she also had close personal ties with Adolf Hitler, explained McGill University historian Colin Gilmour.
“She was a firm believer in National Socialism herself until her dying day,” said Gilmour. “Even after the war, but also to Hitler personally. She was very committed to his person and even went to his bunker before he died to plea with him to stay and save Germany.”
That choice is one B’Nai Brith strongly condemns.
“The idea of using a Nazi celebrity sets a horrific example as a role model for girls and young women and a total lack of sensitivity for Holocaust survivors and their families,” said Levine.
The aviation organization stands by its decision.
“She's the first. I can’t change history. I can’t change the facts. I will not invent an alternative fact. She’s the first woman to have flown a helicopter, and we are this year having the theme on helicopters,” said Varin.
The commemoration will take place at Lachute Airport where hundreds of women will be honoured for their contributions to aviation.
B'nai Brith is asking the event's sponsors to reallocate their donations to fighting racism and anti-Semitism.
Air Canada, which supports the organization, issued a statement saying it became involved with the week of recognition of women in aviation because "we believe it is important to celebrate and promote the role of women in aviation," adding, "We were not involved in the planning and choice of theme, or consulted and advised of any people being recognized... Our support is determined on an annual basis and we will be reviewing it."