Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The first Israeli humanitarian rescue mission - in 1953

A fascinating article in Israel Hayom:

In 1953, the first Israeli navy flotilla sailed to the Aegean Sea for a month-long exercise. Just as they were about to return, a terrible earthquake hit the Greek islands and the Israelis, as inexperienced and under-trained as they were, rushed to help.

...The soldiers began unloading anything that could be used in assisting the wounded. They set up a triage station on the port’s main pier. The highest-ranking physician on the flotilla, Dr. Ashkenazi, together with a younger physician, Dr. Seelenfreud, were in charge of treating the wounded. They decided who would receive immediate treatment and who would have to wait, and performed emergency surgeries. Here a fractured pelvis, there a brain injury, a premature labor, broken bones that needed setting and hemorrhages that had to be stopped.

Although the two Israeli physicians tried to set things in order, they were surrounded by countless wounded people, panic and despair. Chaos reigned.

...The small motor boats that set out to locate the wounded had brought many back for first aid treatment. The Israeli vessel K-28, known as the Mivtah, which was under the command of Arie Brosh, was converted into a maritime hospital, a kind of giant ambulance that ferried the wounded to hospitals on the Greek mainland, a day’s sail away.

Each time, about a hundred victims who had received first aid on the island were brought aboard the K-28. They were later taken to the city of Patras, five hours away. The ship would then turn around, go back to Cephalonia for more wounded, bring them to Patras and its hospitals, and return for another round of evacuation. Some 400 critically wounded people were evacuated aboard the Mivtah.

For three full days, the Israeli officers and sailors labored “with endless dedication and immense devotion,” as Shlomo Erel recalls. The Israeli flotilla was the first to set up aid stations on the beach in Cephalonia. Later, they had assistance from the British. By the end, the soldiers had treated thousands. They used up nearly all of their supplies, food, medicine, water and fuel. They gave everything they had to help the people of Cephalonia.

...When they left the bay, all the other fleets blew their foghorns simultaneously to salute the Israeli flotilla, Erel recalls with pride. The king also came to say goodbye and thank the Israeli sailors. When the Israeli ships entered the port of Piraeus, Greek Prime Minister Marshal Alexandros Papagos came to thank the officers and soldiers and ordered that the vessels be loaded with “the best of everything.” Erel recalls that the Greek press, and even newspapers in other countries, reported on the rescue mission on their front pages.

Read the whole thing.

I found a brief mention of Israel's involvement in this newspaper article written a week after the quake:

(h/t Yoel)