“Raiders of the Lost Ark” was one of the biggest box-office hits of all-time. As the title suggests, the story centers on the “Lost Ark,” which is none other than the Holy Ark that Moshe constructed to house the original Torah and the tablets of the Ten Commandments.During the movie’s climax, the villain garbs himself in the vestments of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) as he battles with the movie’s hero, Indiana Jones.
Truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction, for there seems to be a fascinating real-life connection between the Jewish People and Indiana Jones!
In 1911, Hiram Bingham III discovered the legendary Inca city of Macchu Picchu in Peru. Indiana Jones, the hero of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, was patterned after Hiram Bingham. Hiram had a son called, not very imaginatively, Hiram Bingham IV.
A number of years ago, the American Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a posthumous award for “constructive dissent” to Hiram (or Harry) Bingham IV. For more than fifty years the State Department had resisted any attempt to honor Bingham. To them, he was an insubordinate member of the US diplomatic service, a dangerous maverick who was eventually demoted. Yet now, after his death, he has been officially recognized as a hero.
In 1939, Bingham was posted to Marseille, France as American Vice-Consul. The USA was then neutral, and, not wishing to annoy Marshal Petain’s puppet Vichy regime, Roosevelt’s government ordered its representatives in Marseille not to grant visas to any Jews. Bingham decided that this was immoral, and, putting his conscience before his career, did everything in his power to undermine the official US foreign policy.
In defiance of his bosses in Washington, he granted more than 2,500 US visas to Jewish and other refugees, including the artists Marc Chagall and Max Ernst, and the family of the writer Thomas Mann. He sheltered Jews in his Marseille home and obtained forged identity papers to help others in their dangerous journeys across Europe. He worked with the French underground to smuggle Jews out of France into Franco’s Spain or across the Mediterranean. He even contributed to their expenses out of his own pocket.
By 1941, Washington had lost patience with Bingham. He was sent to Argentina. After the war, to the continued annoyance of his superiors, he reported on the movements of Nazi war criminals. Not unsurprisingly, eventually he was forced out of the American diplomatic service completely.
Bingham died almost penniless in 1988. Little was known of his extraordinary activities until his son found a series of letters in his father’s belongings after his death.
Subsequently, many groups and organizations, including the United Nations and the State of Israel, honored Bingham.
Bingham is like a candle in the dark.
Many are the stories from the Spanish Inquisition onward of Jews who gave away their fortunes to sea captains for the promise of safety, only to find themselves robbed and betrayed by those they trusted. Change the year to 1940 and the same story could be repeated, with equally chilling results, in Nazi Europe.
“Yet the Chamberlain of the Cup bearers did not remember Yosef, but forgot him.”
If the chamberlain “did not remember” Yosef, why did the Torah also write “but forgot him“?Rashi comments that the chamberlain “did not remember” him that same day, and subsequently he also “forgot him.”
One could perhaps forgive the chamberlain for forgetting Yosef on the day of his release. It is human nature to be so overjoyed at escaping the purgatory of prison that one might forget his benefactor. However, when the excitement had died down, why didn’t the chamberlain keep his promise to Yosef?
This classic ingratitude echoes to us down the ages, in Spain, in Europe, in Russia and in Arab lands.
When we find a Hiram Bingham, we should proclaim his kindness to the hills.