My Hijack­ing: A Per­son­al His­to­ry of For­get­ting and Remembering

  • Review
By – June 10, 2024

The evening news on Sep­tem­ber 6, 1970 began: A TWA flight from Tel Aviv was hijacked short­ly after take­off from Frank­furt, and com­man­do lead­ers say that it has land­ed at a rev­o­lu­tion­ary air­port some­where in Jordan.” 

Aboard that plane were two young girls, ages twelve and thir­teen, trav­el­ing as what would be clas­si­fied today as unac­com­pa­nied minors.” They were on their way back to their father’s home in New York after spend­ing the sum­mer with their moth­er and step­fa­ther in Israel. Togeth­er with oth­er pas­sen­gers, they were held on the plane, in the Jor­dan­ian desert, for six days and nights.

When the ordeal end­ed and the hostages were released, the two girls, Martha and Cather­ine Hodes, did not talk about the expe­ri­ence. Nei­ther did their par­ents, who thought silence would bet­ter serve us.” So they con­tin­ued their lives as if the hijack­ing had nev­er hap­pened — and for the girls, that includ­ed return trips to Israel.

More than fifty years lat­er, Martha Hodes, now a pro­fes­sor of his­to­ry at New York Uni­ver­si­ty, has final­ly exam­ined and researched the inci­dent. Draw­ing on archival mate­r­i­al, inter­views, and her own lim­it­ed mem­o­ry of events, Hodes has writ­ten a riv­et­ing book that is both a mem­oir and a record of history.

In order to gath­er infor­ma­tion, Hodes scoured news­pa­pers and tele­vi­sion broad­casts and unearthed com­pa­ny records and reports to try to recon­struct what was hap­pen­ing at the time. She inter­viewed air­line crew mem­bers and oth­er hostages in order to fill in details that she had either will­ful­ly for­got­ten, buried with­in her­self, or failed to under­stand as a twelve-year-old.

In addi­tion to explor­ing these facts, Hodes sought to recov­er the emo­tions she’d felt at the time. There were guer­ril­las with hand grenades and machine guns aboard the plane, and tanks and artillery were vis­i­ble out­side. There was fear and ten­sion among the pas­sen­gers, but there was also genial­i­ty and acts of kind­ness. As the days wore on, there was bore­dom and resent­ment, but there was laugh­ter, too.

For the sis­ters, the trau­ma of being held hostage was part of an even greater trau­ma they were cop­ing with: the breakup of their fam­i­ly. It was the rea­son they were on that TWA flight in the first place. 

Decades lat­er, when Hodes returned to the diary she had kept, she found that it con­tained her own edit­ed ver­sion of events. It was an unre­li­able doc­u­ment; she had left out and revised too much. She tried to reshape both trau­mas, and she suc­ceed­ed. That girl in the desert, Hodes con­cludes, is com­plete­ly dis­con­nect­ed … from the rest of my life.”

Gila Wertheimer is Asso­ciate Edi­tor of the Chica­go Jew­ish Star. She is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist who has been review­ing books for 35 years.

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