Marquette physician, Holocaust survivor remembered

Dr. Adam Brish is seen in his later years. (Photo courtesy of Harry Brish)

MARQUETTE/SUN CITY WEST, Ariz. — A Holocaust survivor, Dr. Adam Brish overcame that horrible time in history to become one of Marquette’s pioneering physicians.

Brish passed away Sept. 11 at age 93 in Surprise, Arizona.

“Everybody thought of him as a very prominent doctor in his professional career,” said his son Harry. “But I didn’t know him like that because obviously I knew him as my dad.”

The elder Brish was born in Lodz, Poland, a geographic location that ultimately led him to a horrific existence during World War II.

Harry Brish said his father didn’t talk about being a Holocaust survivor when his children were young.

Dr. Adam Brish is pictured when he was in the Polish military. (Photo courtesy of Harry Brish)

“We kind of pried it out of him later on in life,” he said.

Adam Brish was part of director Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, originally called the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. That organization is dedicated to making audiovisual interviews with Holocaust survivors and witnesses.

Brish’s involvement in the project included a two-hour interview about his experiences.

His story included being rounded up and directed into the Lodz ghetto, a gated area surrounded by barbed wire that was guarded 24/7.

“Two families might live in one room, and there was next to no food,” his son said.

Adam Brish worked as slave laborer for Nazis — a metalsmith apprentice making steel toes for the boots for the Nazi storeroom.

“Every day for their salary, it would be a bowl of soup that was mostly water, with a quarter of a potato and a piece of bread that was mostly sawdust,” Harry Brish said.

Adam Brish lost much of his family when the ghetto was being consolidated. Some were taken away, Harry Brish said, and Adam’s mother died in the ghetto hospital.

“It was just him and his dad left,” he said.

However, Adam Brish convinced his dad not to go to registration, he said. Instead, they hid in a gardener’s shed that looked unoccupied, with the two pulling up a ladder so no one else could reach them.

It wasn’t an easy existence; they came out only at night for a good part of the year.

After the war, Adam Brish graduated from the University of Lodz in 1951 with a medical degree and became a neurosurgeon. He was unable to become the head of his unit in the Polish army because of religious discrimination, and left Poland on a tourist visa in 1956.

He never returned.

When Adam Brish arrived in Israel, he joined the Israel Defense Forces and worked at Tel HaShomer, Israel’s first military hospital. While enlisted with the IDF, he was sent by the Israeli government to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to assess the need for neurological facilities because Emperor Haile Selassie’s child was having seizures.

He also received the honor of being invited to attend the conferring of degrees with the emperor in 1960.

It was in Tel HaShomer that Adam Brish met Patricia Kuhl, who was working as a registered nurse. They soon married and moved to the United States in 1963.

The Brishes lived in Brookline, Massachusetts, and then New Brunswick, New Jersey, and Kenosha, Wisconsin. In 1966, Dr. Brish was offered a job as the Upper Peninsula’s first neurosurgeon at St. Luke’s Hospital in Marquette.

He worked the rest of his career as the neurosurgeon at what was then known as Marquette General Hospital, and was owner/operator of Neurological Surgery Associates.

The Adam Brish Neurosciences Lecture Award, given annually to a neuroscience physician at the Neuroscience Lecture Conference, was created in 1992 in his honor.

He retired in 1993, spending his winters in Sun City West, Arizona, and his summers in Marquette.

Brish is survived by his wife and son as well as a daughter, Susan Brish, and three grandchildren.

“He was always serious when it was time to be serious, but he had a lighter side,” Harry Brish said.

His father liked music, hiking and skiing, but had a strong moral compass.

“He was a big advocate of ‘Do the right thing even when no one is looking,'” he said.

Surviving the Lodz ghetto, being liberated by the Russians at the end of the war and rising to be a top neurosurgeon requires qualities many people don’t possess.

“He was always the kind of person who always looked to the future and tried to make everything better,” Harry Brish said.