British deportation of Jews from Hebron

After the 1929 massacre, British authorities rounded up all the surviving Jews and bused them off to Jerusalem.

22.4.20, 20:48
(PHOTO: A Torah scroll which survived the rioting and vandalism in Hebron is brought to Jerusalem in 1929. Source: Sefer Hevron, page 86.)
In the aftermath of the 1929 Hebron massacre, which took the lives of 67 people, the Jewish community was rounded up and bused out of Hebron by the British authorities. According to Year Zero of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1929 by Hillel Cohen, "the police brought all the Jews to Romano House. The dead were buried in the local cemetery. The wounded were evacuated to Jerusalem for treatment and the rest of the community was taken to Jerusalem as well. Hebron was emptied of its Jews." (page 164)

Survivors spent three days in Beit Romano. The historic Jewish structure was once home to a yeshiva and to the city's chief rabbi, but was converted into a police station during the British Mandate period. Today it is home to the Shavei Hevron yeshiva.

Survivor Aharon Reuven Bernzweig wrote:

"Suddenly, the door opened, and the police walked in. They had been told that we were hidden there. They demanded that we go along with them, and they would take us to a safe place. We were afraid to go, because we thought they themselves might slaughter us. Eventually, they succeeded in convincing us that they had our good in mind. Since we couldn't walk there, they brought automobiles and took us, under police guard, to the police station, which was in a safe location.

When we reached the police station, there was acted out a real‑life dance of the devils, for the police had brought together those who were still alive, the surviving remnant...

In short, we were in the police station three days and three nights. We couldn't eat and we couldn't sleep. We lay on the ground in filth, just listening to the crying and the groaning. Finally, God, blessed be He, had mercy on us and [on Monday night] the police again transferred us‑‑to Jerusalem. There we stayed in the Nathan Straus Health Center for two days and two nights, and on Wednesday we came back to Tel Aviv."

The 500-page compendium of Hebron history Sefer Hevron adds, "the rescued sat and slept on the floor, soaked with the blood of the wounded who had lain there earlier. For two days the British did not supply them with food. Only on Monday were they able to purchase half‑burned pitta and grapes. The police made no effort to clean the room until they heard that people were coming from Jerusalem to evacuate the women and children."

Edward Robbin stated, "Crowds gathered at the hospital and waited there hours for the wounded to be brought from Hebron. The authorities ordered that they be transported in the dead of night when the street would be empty. Then two nights later the women and children refugees were transported in buses. They brought them to the new Straus building."  Robbin's account was published in The Menorah Journal, XVII, 3 (December 1929), p. 299.
He went to Hebron three weeks later "with a convoy of refugees returning to their homes to bring the remnants of their possessions to Jerusalem."
David Wilder, veteran spokesman for the Jewish community and long-time resident said he corresponded with a survivor of the riots. The man said his father wrote to the British High Commissioner and asked him why he had the Jewish community evicted. The British official responded that he did it not out of a sense of Antisemitism but because it was the best way to prevent further violence. There were more Arabs than Jews, thus was easier for the British to round up all the Jews.

Rabbi Dov Cohen, a survivor, describes the British deportation in his book To Rise Above - The Amazing Life of HaRav Dov Cohen zt"l A Journey to Greatness Against All Odds. His son Rabbi Tzvi Cohen related the following in an article in Jewish Action magazine:

"When the British evacuated the residents of the area after the pogrom, my father, because he spoke English, served as the translator between the British authorities and the Jewish community. Whatever wasn’t stolen or destroyed was collected and held by the British. The Hebron survivors worked together to contact the families of the victims and return their loved ones’ belongings."

An official British letter from British Chief secretary dated July 1930, reprinted in Sefer Hevron and Hebron Massacre 1929, states, "I am directed to point out that certain Jewish property which was looted at Hebron during the disturbances of August 1929 has been received by the Police and is held under lock and key in the Police barracks at Hebron. I am to ask that you will be good enough to arrange for this property to be removed by the owners as the storage space is urgently required for Police purposes." (Tevach Hebron 1929, page 107)

Chana Farbstein, the mother of Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Farbstein, today dean of the Hebron yeshiva, which was relocated from Hebron to Jerusalem following the riots, described the deportation in a visit to the city in 2013 led by David Wilder.

Born in 1923, she grew up in Hebron. She appears in an old black-and-white photo on display at the Hebron Heritage Center in Beit Hadassah. Her father was Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna and her grandfather was the legendary Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein, dean of the yeshiva. Chana lived in Hebron until the 1929 riots in an apartment next to Eliezer Dan Slonim and his family.

“I remember a big truck going through the streets. They were throwing rocks at our house and calling out my father’s name ‘Chezkel.’ They were looking for him. It was our good luck, he was in Jerusalem.”

She said that on Saturday afternoon, her family was removed from Hebron and taken to the Strauss building in Jerusalem across from the Bikor Holim hospital. Asked when she left the city, she replied: “We didn’t leave. The British came, on Shabbat, and took us to Jerusalem.”

Rabbi Chaim Gold, the son of Rabbi Moshe Gold (1912-1956), was a survivor of the riots. He tells his family's story in an article in Jewish Action magazine. In it he describes:
"As bizarre as it sounds, the British actually detained and imprisoned the Hebron survivors. My great-uncle, my grandfather’s younger brother (Rabbi Dr. Henry Raphael Gold, who subsequently became the first frum psychiatrist in the US) was in Eretz Yisrael at the time. After Shabbos, when he heard what had transpired, he went to the American Consulate and prevailed upon the American officials to intervene and free his nephew. The Americans contacted the British officials in Hebron, who said they would try to release my father.

A short while later, they called to report a glitch: “The young man won’t leave unless all of the boys are let go, and we’re not going to do that.” My great-uncle then told the consulate, “Listen, that’s the American way. You stick up for your friends; you don’t abandon them! Are you going to penalize them for doing the American thing?!” The consulate got back on the phone insisting that the British release them all."

The Year After the Riots: American Responses to the Palestine Crisis of 1929-30 by Naomi Wiener Cohen states, "stories of the victims' heroism circulated within the yishuv – how they attempted to ward off the attackers and how they tried to protect each other. Two days after the massacre, the [American] consul general arranged for the evacuation of American survivors from Hebron, but some refused to leave without their fellow students. On the eve of his departure for the United States... one American student spoke of his resolve to return to Hebron when the yeshivah was restored."

The book Tevach Hevron - TARPAT (Hebron Massacre 1929) states, "The five hundred refugees of the sword, who remained from this pogrom, were gathered at the police station where they sat grieving and bleeding until they were evacuated the next day to Jerusalem together with the wounded. Fifty-nine dead were gathered and buried in five mass graves in the ancient cemetery of Hebron. The British police prevented the photography of those murdered before burial and allowed only five Jews to attend the funeral. In the Jerusalem hospitals, seven of the wounded died."
Later photographs were taken at the hospital showing the mutilation the rioters inflicted on the victims such as chopped-off hands and fingers, and other atrocities committed against men, women, children and the elderly.

A photo in Sefer Hevron shows buses taking the remaining community away from their homes which were subsequently looted (page 87). Another photo (page 86) shows a Torah scroll being taken away, having been saved from the synagogues that were ransacked and vandalized. This scroll was left undamaged and was later reinstated in the rebuilt Avraham Avinu synagogue in the 1980s.


The community returned in 1931 with many of the original inhabitants attempting to rebuild their lives. Newcomers also volunteered to strengthen the community. Among them was the Jerusalem-born scholar Rabbi Ben-Zion Cuenca who served as chief rabbi of Hebron. 
It lasted for five years. In 1936, when renewed Arab riots flared, the British came in the middle of the night to once again remove the Jewish community.

"In the dark hours of 23rd of April 1936, the British authorities evacuated the Jewish community of Hebron," states City of Abraham: History, Myth and Memory: A Journey through Hebron by Edward Platt‏, quoting Sefer Hevron.

Lives in Common: Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron by Menachem Klein adds, "but when the Arab Revolt broke out in 1936 the British removed all the Jews from Hebron." (page 101).
After that, the only Jewish people to remain in Hebron were Yaakov Ezra the dairyman and his son Yosef Ezra,. They usually only stayed on weekdays to work in the dairy. After the 1947 UN partition plan, Yaakov Ezra's Arab neighbors warned him, "when you go to Jerusalem for Shabbat, don't come back any more." It wouldn't be until 1967 when another Jewish person would set foot into the city.

British deportation of Jews from Hebron in 1929 | 7 Images