Detective Sergeant Richard Burgess was on the trip of a lifetime: a tour of Israel, a country he’d never yet visited. In an Aish.com exclusive interview, Detective Burgess recounts how he saved a Jewish man’s life, fighting off three Arab attackers, and nearly lost his own life in the process.

For over a year, Det. Burgess kept his amazing actions private, telling few people how he risked his life to stop a brutal Jerusalem attack. Now that he’s been nominated for a Police Bravery Award in Britain, news of his exploits is becoming known for the first time, and he’s described what occurred to Aish.com.

In February, 2016, Det. Burgess was part of a tour group visiting sites around Israel. In Jerusalem, the tour bus stopped at Mount Zion, right outside the Old City, to visit the grave of Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who saved the lives of over 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust. Revered in Israel as a hero, Oskar Schindler’s tomb is adorned with stones left by visitors to his grave.

Burgess at the gravesite of Oskar Schindler at Mount Zion

As Det. Burgess gazed at the site – one of the places he’d most looked forward to visiting in Israel – he didn’t realize that he, too, would be in a position to save a Jewish life.

The tour group’s calm was shattered by the piercing cries of two terrified small children standing by the entrance to a passageway nearby. Just as Det. Burgess looked up and registered their anguish, an old woman ran up to the group and, in broken English, asked for help.

What happened next was largely the result of instincts honed in by 25 years as a police officer outside of London. “I just reacted to a set of circumstances,” he says. “My thoughts are as always – protect and serve, without fear or favor.” He was also shocked at seeing “little children in distress” and instinctively ran to help them.

In the passageway, he saw an identifiably Jewish man being viciously attacked by three Arab men. Running towards the group, Det. Burgess managed to get one of the Arab attackers in a headlock, and with his other arm pushed the Jewish man further down the passageway, yelling “Go! Go!” As the Jewish man fled for his life with his young children, his attackers turned their fury on Det. Burgess. One of the attackers had been punching his Jewish victim with a heavy leather belt wrapped around his hand, the metal belt buckle flailing, and he now started punching Det. Burgess in the face instead.

As Det. Burgess was fighting off this second attacker, still holding onto the first, the third attacker came up behind him, clutching a claw hammer which he brought down on Det. Burgess head. Wounded, Det. Burgess started to lose consciousness, still struggling to hold onto one of the attackers, when two other members of his tour group ran into the passageway and came to his aid. Unbeknownst to him, they were fellow police officers serving in other parts of the London area. Det. Burgess now counts them as good friends.

The attackers ran off and Det. Burgess and the other tourists were bundled back on their tour bus to continue their tour of Jerusalem. Though his fellow tour members didn’t realize it, Det. Burgess was injured from the hammer attack. For days he saw double and hoped that his vision would correct itself, which it eventually did. He never “made a fuss” he explained, because he didn’t want to worry the other members of his tour.

As the tour group left, the bus driver called the police, who eventually arrested the suspects, and got in touch with Det. Burgess through his tour operator to let him know the outcome of his actions. “Reports got back to me,” Det. Burgess explained, that “sadly there are a lot of murders and deaths that occur in horrific ways” in terrorist incidents in Israel. In fact, there were 107 attacks by Arabs on Israeli Jews, resulting in the deaths of three Israelis and injuries to many more during the month that Det. Burgess visited. “The Israeli police assured me that without a doubt he (the man he ran to help) would have been killed...if we hadn’t intervened.”

Asked if he considers himself a hero, Det. Burgess is clear: “Absolutely not.”

Asked if he considers himself a hero, Det. Burgess is clear: “Absolutely not.” His goal was merely to help. “It’s tragic that someone can be killed simply for being ‘different.’” Having gone to Israel on a religious tour to feel closer to the Bible, Det. Burgess became a living example of one of the most powerful exhortation in the Bible: “You shall not stand by the blood of your brother’s” (Leviticus 18:16). “It wasn’t what the tour brochure promised,” he jokes, but the lessons he learned in that moment of selfless heroism have been lasting.

Det. Burgess on the right.

In the nearly year and a half since saving the life of an unknown Jew in Jerusalem, Det. Burgess notes that his life has changed. “I am much more philosophical about life and more content with my many blessings,” he muses. His trip to Israel came at a time when he was considering making some profound changes in his life. A short while before he embarked on his trip, Det. Burgess’ mother passed away. A devout Christian, she supported him in his thoughts about training to become a priest. A few days after her funeral, Det. Burgess was in Jerusalem, placing a prayer for his mother in the cracks of the Western Wall.

Since his trip, Det. Burgess has embarked on a new career, training to become an Anglican Priest. He’s gone over the events in Jerusalem many times in his mind and is convinced that God protected him that day. Since the attack, he’s been more aware that “Every breath I take is a miracle. I thank God for 30 seconds more life each day, each breath that I take.”