At the end of October, he left his wife, children and grandchildren, and his 96-year-old mother who miraculously survived the Lodz ghetto and the Auschwitz concentration camp.
An emergency medicine specialist at the University of Melbourne who left his home to volunteer his services in Israel during the war said he will return to Australia to “prove to the world that Hitler lost”—and that Hamas terrorists who admire the infamous Nazi dictator will, too.
Prof. George Breitberg, the son of Holocaust survivors, has been working at the Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem, to help and show support. The doctor, who is also an expert in medical toxicology and bioethics, is executive director of strategy, quality, and improvement at Melbourne Health.
“When I return to Australia, after what I have learned here, I will deal a lot with the informational and educational part. It’s important that everyone knows about what is happening here.
At the end of October, he left his wife, children, and grandchildren, and his 96-year-old mother who miraculously survived the Lodz ghetto and the Auschwitz concentration camp,” he said. "I don't think many doctors have experienced anything like what happened on October 7. This is not only because of the huge number of lives that were taken, but also because of the shocking way in which it was done.
“I have treated victims of forest-fire disasters, shootings, and also in cases where entire communities have been harmed, but none of this is similar to what happened here," Breitberg said.
"When one day a helicopter evacuates a group of wounded people from the South and the entire team is ready for them and begins intensive care in the emergency room or the trauma unit, I am grateful for my ability to help and am proud of the people who work here,” he said. “Many of them have been treating victims of terrorism for many years—but for them, the current events are bigger and more terrible than anything they have known.”
During his time in Jerusalem, he said, “I have been hearing constantly from my family and friends about the rising antisemitism in Australia and the world in general, about the hate crimes against Jews and their fear. When my mother, a Holocaust survivor, tells me about her own experiences 80 years ago, I think to myself: 'why does she have to be exposed to something like that again?' It’s unimaginable.”
Breitberg’s connection to Israel is long-standing: Besides his son coming on aliyah a decade ago, the physician has been coming to Israel himself at least once a year for the past 11 years, teaching medical teams about emergency medicine and helping to develop courses on the subject. During this time, he has developed relationships with many doctors here; among the most prominent of them is Dr. Ahmed Nama, Hadassah-Ein Kerem’s director of emergency medicine.
Events cancelled following October 7
Breitberg had planned to come here at the end of October both for an exercise to simulate preparing for a hospital disaster and for a conference on toxicology. But when he heard about the events of October 7, he realized that the conferences would surely be canceled.
He didn’t hesitate for a moment, however; he decided in any case to board the flight that was scheduled for the 29th of the month. He contacted Nama, and in cooperation with Hadassah Medical Organizations Director-General Prof. Yoram Weiss, they were able to get Health Ministry approval for him to treat patients within a few days.
“There are many doctors around the world who feel the need to come and help Israel at this time, and the ministry doesn’t need that many doctors at this moment," the professor said. In his 38 years as an emergency medicine specialist, Breitberg managed five emergency departments, and, in addition to his regular work, he delivers lectures to the medical staff in his emergency department at U of Melbourne and shares advice and guidance from his professional knowledge.
Being here is “an opportunity to show Israel that the Jewish world in the Diaspora supports it and that our relationship is significant and warm. I tell my family and friends that I feel calmer in Israel, while the situation abroad is very tense and everyone is anxious.
"I know that in Israel almost everyone knows someone who was killed or kidnapped, but Israelis are trying to act in some sort of routine for the sake of those who have suffered," he said. Being here during the war sharpened his knowledge a lot about the situation that has made him intimately familiar with the horrors that Israelis have experienced.
“I am sure that returning to Australia and encountering many manifestations of antisemitism will not be easy," Breitberg predicted. "I hope to contribute to explain and educate people. I and other doctors wrote a letter to the Australian College of Emergency Medicine that didn’t refer at all to what happened on October 7 but [we] did issue a statement on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. In our letter we asked to look at the situation in a broad perspective and with an understanding of the Israeli side.”
The Holocaust Museum in Melbourne—where he himself had been a guide—and the organization of Holocaust survivors in his city issued a statement on behalf of the Holocaust survivors alive today who have already gone through the horrors of the Nazi era and are not ready to go through them again, he declared.
A large community of Holocaust survivors who functioned for years as one big family moved to Melbourne after the horrors of the war. Breitberg's parents arrived penniless and built a wonderful life and family. “My mother always reminds me that she is the living proof that Hitler lost. We continue to prove it every day and certainly in this very period,” he concluded.
“I have known Prof. Breitberg for many years,” commented Dr. Nama. “I did a subspecialty in emergency medicine with him at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. We also cooperated on the issue of corona and other academic issues, and it is exciting to bring one of my mentors to volunteer in our department, especially since he has impressive abilities and helps us on an ongoing basis.
"I have received many requests from doctors around the world to volunteer, and currently there are a large number of doctors from abroad who are ready to be called immediately in case of need," Nama said, adding that while "The foreign doctors who come to us learn our system and will be able to get to know it and be ready in case of an emergency when we need extra hands... the greatest contribution that George and other foreign doctors give us is a sense of solidarity and unity at a time of great distress and rift.
"This is extremely significant for the team and gives professional and emotional strength.”
From: Judy Siegel-Itzkovich - The Jerusalem Post