Exclusive: Israelis Assist German Flood Victims

Rescue volunteer tells Israel Today of harrowing efforts, like finding a victim lost amid the flood waters for five days

By David Lazarus |
Photo: Daniel Cohen

Daniel Cohen, a photographer who has worked with Israel Today, told us about his recent efforts in Belgium and German to help with the flood victims. Cohen volunteers with Rescuers Without Borders, an Israeli initiative run by volunteers providing rescue and medical assistance to areas suffering from natural disasters.

Here’s Daniel’s story:

“We got the call on Friday evening just before the Shabbat. On Sunday, our team flew to Germany and Belgium. We spread out to the German villages along the river where the floods were worse and helped people get to the local hospitals. We also retrieved many dead bodies and helped bring them to their families and friends so that they could provide a proper burial and preserve the memory of their loved ones.

“We stayed on in Walporzheim, Ahrweiler and Bad Neuenahr, where we helped clean up houses, bring food and water to the hundreds of people who were left with nothing and assist with many medical needs. Our teams are made up of doctors, nurses and paramedical, as well as support workers.

“We were told that there was one woman who has been missing for 5 days. No one knew where she was, or even her address, only the area where she lived. When people saw we were from Israel, they told us that they knew this woman had a friend in Israel from Tel Aviv. They gave her name, and we were able to find her telephone number. We called her and she gave us the address of her German friend.

Absolute chaos – mud and rubbish on the streets

“When we found the street where she lives, we could not get anywhere near the house. There were 3 meters of water and mud covering the street and houses. In addition, the streets were blocked with all the furniture, refrigerators, cars and broken houses that had washed away.

“There were also armored German military vehicles blocking the road trying to push through the streets to reach people. I had to take a few deep breaths before walking past the German soldiers, but I was glad we could work together to help the German people who were really suffering.

“As we got closer to the address, we began shouting the woman’s name. When she finally heard us, she peaked out the top floor window. She had been without food, electricity and very little drinking water for 5 days. She cried when she saw us. We called her friend from Tel Aviv to tell her we had found her and they both wept together.

“We had so many stories like this. Another man shouted to us from his rooftop, ‘Shalom, shalom. You are from Israel. Toda!’ (‘Thanks’ in Hebrew). He climbed down to give us a gift. He had served in the UN forces in Southern Lebanon and one evening was invited to have dinner with a group of Israeli army officers. One of them gave him an official IDF t-shirt. He gave us his precious gift just to say thanks for helping the people in his neighborhood. (By the way, you too can get an IDF t-shirt in our shop)

“We have traveled to many places around the world. We were in Sri Lanka after the tsunami, Nepal after the earthquake and many other places. Here too, it was a special experience for us to help the people in Belgium and Germany.”

Rescuers Without Borders

Rescuers Without Borders is known around the world. Their goal is to be the fastest first responders to the place in which the natural disaster occurs and to immediately begin the massive medical treatment that includes establishing a temporary field hospital to answer the needs of the local injured. “Always first to arrive, first to help, first to save” is their motto, and indeed, Israel is now known as the quickest responders to international disasters.

Rescuers Without Borders was established during the Second Intifada responding to hundreds of calls daily from terror attacks. Today this organization reaches around the globe to provide first medical response in countries that are hit by natural disasters.

“We will arrive to every place where we are needed regardless of race, religion or nationality. We give medical response to every human wherever they might be,” says Rabbi Aryeh Levy, founder and father to 14 children. The organization provides training, teaching and guiding local first responders, giving them continuing education, and equipping them with all the medical equipment they need so that they are ready and prepared to be first responders for any disaster event, as well as routine medical emergencies. As of today there are 1,600 volunteers ready to respond to any call for help.

Watch Rescue Without Borders in action


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