EXCERPTS from the inspiring autobiography of Dr Henry Briggs – a Holocaust survivor, Zionist and community patron, who passed away on Wednesday – were shared at the launch of his book, titled To Life L’Chaim, at the Sydney Jewish Museum (SJM) in late December last year.
Briggs was full of life after he attended the brit of his first great-grandchild in early December and was subsequently diagnosed with aggressive pancreatic cancer.
Fortunately he was able to launch his book during the little time he had left. Joined by his wife Miriam, children Deborah, Ari, Naomi and Simon, 12 of his 14 grandchildren (the two absent are currently serving in the IDF), and great-grandson, Briggs and his family shared an extraordinary journey that started with oppression and fear of persecution, to one of strength, dedication, humour and spirit.
Born in 1939 in Krakow, Briggs reflected on his early years during the war when he was hidden and saved by Righteous Gentiles in Poland. “Being separated from his mother and being hidden by religious Christians was probably the first and largest personal challenge dad had to face during his tender formative years,” said Ari.
In his autobiography, Briggs wrote of his family’s immigration to Australia and his conscription into the Australian Army, before studying medicine at the University of Sydney and then becoming a specialist physician.
“When dad arrived in Australia, his mother and stepfather were quite sick … He had met some very helpful doctors who really assisted his mum and stepfather and that’s what prompted him to excel academically to become one himself,” Ari told The AJN.
Highlighting his experience in Betar as the “pinnacle of my life”, Briggs held the SJM audience captive with memories of the youth movement that helped him realise his passion for Zionist causes. Betar was also where he met his wife-to-be Miriam more than five decades ago.
Dedicating the book to his mother Ida (Ducia) Biegeleisen “who devoted her life to saving me”, Briggs wrote his autobiography to pass on his strong values to future generations.
“For my dad, the Holocaust and his other experiences as a child were real life lessons,” Ari commented. “He spoke of survival, a strong work ethic, getting the job done, being passionate about important causes and giving back to the community – all traits that his children and grandkids – try to emulate.”
In reflecting on the lessons he learned, Briggs told The AJN, “My life is a testimony to the fact that Hitler was not able to defeat the Jewish spirit.”
A memorial service for Briggs will be held at the Chevra Kadisha tomorrow (Friday) at midday.