Through the years that VA Long Beach has been patching up Veterans, there have been many doctors to help in this process, all with their own reasons for doing so. But one doctor has an especially intriguing story as to why he works with our Veterans day in and day out. Dr. Arthur Kreitenberg, an Orthopedic Surgeon here at VA Long Beach was recently awarded his 25 year pin, certificate, and crystal piece recognizing his dedication and hard work to our Veterans throughout the years. To thank Ms. Duff, VA Long Beach’s Director, he wrote a very touching letter that revealed reasons as to why he comes to VA Long Beach to work with our Veterans.
He speaks of a 15 year old girl in 1945 that he thinks of every time he steps foot into the VA. This girl had been ripped from her family and thrown into a concentration camp, nearly starved to death and suffered from many ailments. But then, one day she was rescued and freed by American troops who came to liberate her concentration camp. Many of these troops had given their lives for the cause of freedom. He then thinks about his own 15 year old daughter, "healthy, strong and free, and proudly, very American.” He tells us, “That 15 year old girl in 1945 was my mother."
Dr. Kreitenberg speaks of his family’s debt to the American G.I. and that, in an effort to repay this debt, he can think of no other way than to serve our Veterans at the VA. During his residency here at VA Long Beach, he took care of many WWII Veterans; even some who had helped liberate concentration camps. This was the time that he made a link from his life to his work. Growing up, he had always felt a certain "shadow" over his house. But as he started learning and looking at history, he found that there was a dark period in time that haunted both of his parents; they were both Holocaust survivors. Being a child of these survivors, or the “second generation”, he wanted to know what his parents did during "the war". All throughout his childhood, he accepted what his mother told him; that she was in a coma. As Dr. Kreitenberg started to learn in medical school, people who end up in a coma have a minimal chance of survival. This was when he started putting the bigger picture together. Given that his mother never spoke of her experiences of her Holocaust years, he understood that she was immensely traumatized, so she had blocked out those years of her life.
Both of his parents were among the thousands of people interviewed for the Shoah Project, founded by Steven Spielberg that documented this gruesome period in history. Dr. Kreitenberg’s parents told their kids that they could view the videos after their deaths. They wanted to spare their kids, even after they were adults, of the horrible things that they had endured during these times.
In his letter to Ms. Duff, Dr. Kreitenberg spoke of his family’s debt to the American G.I., but he doesn’t think his debt is unique. This puzzled me at first, but he went on to explain, "If you show me a family that doesn’t feel a debt of gratitude to the American GI, either they don’t understand their family history or they don’t understand this nation’s history. I think every family in this country has a debt of gratitude to the American GI." Dr. Kreitenberg has embraced the exact sentiment that VA hopes to share with all who served in our armed forces.