80 years on, the scars still show

The last survivors of the Hebron massacre of 1929 keep on reliving it.

Hebron massacre grave 248.88 tovah (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Hebron massacre grave 248.88 tovah
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
On his freckled forehead, one can still see the scar from the knife wound Shlomo Slonim sustained 80 years ago, when an Arab stabbed him as he huddled in his mother's arms in their Hebron home. "It's not the only wound I have," Slonim told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. He opened up the palm of his hand to show scars on the insides of his fingers. "There is one that I cannot bend," said the 81-year-old, who was dressed in black slacks and a light blue, short-sleeved, button-down shirt. He wore glasses and a knitted kippa and spoke calmly as he stood in the Hebron cemetery, at the end of a small ceremony marking the Hebrew anniversary of the 1929 massacre of 67 Jewish residents of that city by an Arab mob. Slonim recounted the details of that fateful day, when he was only a year old. He has no memory of the events, of course, but he has heard the story so many times that he told it as if he were recalling his own experiences. It was Shabbat morning when an Arab mob armed with knives filled the streets and burst into Jewish homes, Slonim said. Dozens of Jews, he said, had gathered in his parents' home for safety. His father, Eliezer Dan Slonim, 29, had been the director of the Anglo-Palestine Bank and a representative of the Jewish community in the Hebron Municipality. Given the good relationship he enjoyed with his Arab neighbors, local Jews believed they would be safe in his home, said Slonim. They were wrong. As the Arabs came to the home, the people inside tried to bar the door with their bodies, but they couldn't hold back the mob, he said. After bursting in, the Arabs killed 24 people with knives and machetes. Among them were Slonim's father, his mother, Hannah, 24, and her parents who were visiting for Shabbat. They also fatally wounded his older brother, who was only four. He succumbed to his wounds several days later in Jerusalem and was buried there. The lone survivor of his immediate family, Slonim comes as often as he can to the cemetery to visit his parents' graves, which are among the many graves of massacre victims marked by a long row of small headstones. As is customary in Jewish tradition, he placed a small stone on each grave on Sunday. The massacre destroyed the Hebron Jewish community, whose roots go back to biblical times, even though there were other periods when Jews were chased out of the city. Some Jews tried to return to Hebron after the massacre, but the British removed them in 1936. It was only in 1979 that Jews returned to live in Hebron. While those Jews who came saw themselves as the spiritual descendents of the former community, very few of the survivors or their descendents were among them. Slonim said that he had thought about returning, but did not want to live among people who had killed his family. "I would never know if the Arab I passed in the street had a hand in their murder," he said. Slonim was not the only survivor to return Sunday to the cemetery for the ceremony organized by the Jewish community of Hebron. Yankele Hillel, 81, said that an Arab neighbor had saved him and his mother. One woman, Menuha, said that her great-grandmother, for whom she was named, had survived because she hid behind a closet. Among those who arrived at the cemetery was Rabbi Moshe Levinger, who in 1968 brought Jews back to Hebron to celebrate Pessah. They moved into rooms in a local hotel and refused to leave until a compromise was brokered, which led to the creation of the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba. Levinger came to the cemetery in a wheelchair on Sunday, hours after he had been released from the hospital. He was inspired, he said, by the spirit of the holy ones who were buried there. A national ceremony in honor of the victims will be held next month.