The telephone rang in Shaare Zedek during the early morning of Monday, June 5th, 1967. It was the Israeli military headquarters putting Shaare Zedek on alert. The hospital’s administrative and medical staff was notified and Dr. Falk Schlesinger, the hospital’s Director-General, arrived within minutes followed by many other member of the staff.
The staff worked intensely. The emergency generator was activated, windows were covered with blackout material (so that the light in the hospital could not be seen outside) and sandbags were strategically positioned. Hospital beds or stretchers were placed in every available space throughout the hospital including the hospital’s main corridors and classrooms in the nursing school. The nurses’ dormitories were converted into emergency wards and the basement was emptied to be used as a shelter.
Within two hours of that phone call, Shaare Zedek, a civilian hospital, had been transformed into a front-line military hospital with increased capacity. A larger than usual staff of doctors and nurses were on duty, medical supplies and equipment were on hand and the underground operating theaters and teams of surgeons were ready.
A large group of volunteers (including high school students and foreign students) helped the hospital’s staff. They filled and piled up sandbags, rolled bandages, carried the wounded from ambulances and comforted the injured. Volunteers from Shaare Zedek’s Ladies Auxiliary cared for children of the medical staff, especially the children of nurses whose husbands had been drafted, so that the staff could focus on providing around-the-clock medical aid to the wounded.
Many efforts were made to protect the hospital building and everyone inside it from enemy attacks. Conditions were very challenging. Doctors, nurses and volunteers stayed in the hospital throughout the war and worked around the clock and saved hundreds of lives. Over 450 wounded were treated and over 200 operations were conducted in 70 hours.
A retired blood lab technician who used to work at Shaare Zedek remembered, “It was a Monday morning. The day started like any other day. I arrived at Shaare Zedek and started to make the rounds drawing blood from patients in different departments. During my rounds, a patient told me that war had broken out. By 8 am, the staff had emptied storage rooms in the basement and turned those areas into hospital rooms. By 11 am mortar shells were flying around us…We set up an operating room in the basement. We dug holes in the ground and put anything that could ignite in those holes. Everyone stayed in the hospital, no one left – by the second day injured soldiers started coming to the hospital.
There were so many miracles. A shell hit outside of the baby nursery and exploded but no one was injured. A second shell came into the attic of the hospital but it did not explode. You cannot imagine what it was like … there were so many wounded, so many things were makeshift and we had no idea what was happening with our families.”
Thank you to the dedicated staff of Shaare Zedek for helping so many people then and now.
Happy Jerusalem Day!