Dutch Journalist's First-Person Account of the Hebron Massacre

Dutch journalist Pierre Van Paassen saw the bodies and the blood when he visited Hebron after the massacre.

29.11.15, 23:25
(PHOTO: Pierre Van Paassen in Montreal, Canada, 1945. Source: Jewish Public Library)
Pierre Van Paassen was a non-Jewish advocate for Zionism. He authored several books on the Land of Israel and the Jewish people including The Forgotten Ally, a book published during World War II that advocated for Jewish rights and decried the Nazis. He also co-authored The Battle for Jerusalem in 1941 with Zev Jabotinsky, John Henry Patterson, and Josiah Wedgwood. Today, a street in Jerusalem is named in his honor.

He visited Hebron after the massacre. The following is from A Pilgrim's Vow by Pierre van Paassen (New York: Dial Press, 1956).

Reprinted in Momentous Century: Personal and Eyewitness Accounts of the Rise of the Jewish Homeland and State 1875-1978 by Levi Soshuk (Editor), Asriel Eisenberg (Editor) pages 167 - 171.
On a Sabbath eve, the Arabs of Hebron were brought to a point of such frenzied hatred against the Jews that they invaded the synagogue and slaughtered the men and women at prayer there. Later they asked the Jewish community's forgiveness, explaining that about a hundred or so of the worst elements in town had become terribly excited by the agitation of the Jerusalem mush [religious head] against the British mandate which aimed at the setting up of a "national home for the Jewish people in Palestine."

The mufti's campaign was directed, in his own words, "not against the pious and non-political Jews in the land, who had always lived in peace and harmony with the Arabs," but against the new Zionist settlers who were entering (by right, let it be said) under the aegis of the British administration. This should have meant security for the Jews of Hebron, for they were an old and established community, who had never had any trouble with their Moslem neighbors and who were not Zionists in the mufti's sense of the word.

Even so, when whipped by the mullah's [preacher] inflammatory sermon ... some young men ... invaded El Cortijo, the quarter where the Jews had peacefully lived for ages. Captain Saunders was absent that evening, conferring ... on the tumult which had broken out ... elsewhere. There had been a murderous attack in Safed and in the old quarter of Jerusalem, two other areas inhabited by "non-Zionists."

After killing the Jews in the synagogue, the Arab mob in Hebron went down the road ... where stood a yeshivah, a Jewish theological seminary, and massacred both students and professors. Only two or three escaped ... After this the mob ... attacked the house of the local rabbi, called Slonim, where a number of men and women had taken refuge ... But the Arabs came in through the windows ... and made short shrift of the thirty-eight persons in the room. Their throats were slit and both men and women were horribly mutilated.

Certain citizens of Jerusalem ... communicated with me at seven o'clock in the evening of the same day and asked me to come with them to the scene of the pogrom. They were Dr. Felix Dantzier and Dr. Abraham Ticho, two physicians, and Marek Schwartz, a former artillery officer in the Austrian army... and Mr. Abraham Goldberg. who represented a Yiddish language newspaper in New York....
Driven by Schwartz's chauffeur, Menachem Katan, an ex-member of Colonel John Henry Patterson's Jewish Legion which fought at Gallipoli, at Jericho and Megiddo under Allenby, we raced out to Hebron and saw the whole ghastly scene by lamplight: the slain students ... the dead men in the synagogue and the thirty-eight slain in Slonim's house.
I must say here, for the matter was raised in an official communiqué by the Palestine government and led to most unpleasant consequences for me personally, that the two doctors and I found that the dead in Slonim's house had had their genital organs cut off; in the case of the women, their breasts. This was really nothing very extraordinary: it was the usual practice of Arab mobsters in those days, and still is.
There wasn't a British policeman or soldier to be seen in all Hebron that night of death. The door of Slonim's house stood wide open and we just walked in. By the light of flashlights we examined the rooms where the slain men and women lay about, stiff, as if frozen in all the attitudes of horror. Mr. Goldberg turned away and went out weeping. I walked into the kitchen and saw there the body of one more woman. While I bent over to look at her face, my attention was diverted by the crying of an infant. I . . . finally traced the wailing to a small cupboard under the sink ... Some mother, perhaps the woman lying on the kitchen floor, just before dying had pushed her child amidst the pots and pans ... under the sink.

... We pried open the cupboard door. We found a little boy, probably from six to eight weeks old. ...
.. The baby was delivered to an Orthodox orphan asylum in Jerusalem at twelve midnight. He grew up, I am happy to say, to splendid manhood and, as an officer in the Israeli army, covered himself with glory in the Judeo-Arab war in 1948. I have kept in touch with him all these years and he once did me the honor to come all the way to New York to see me.
Strange to say, the Palestine Administration, while admitting that the peaceful Jewish community of Hebron had been virtually exterminated, formally denied that the slain men and women had been either tortured or mutilated. Having broken the telegraphic secret and read the dispatch which I sent late the night of the massacre to the New York Evening World, Sir Harry Luke, the chief secretary, thought fit to make a denial of the mutilations. The government's communiqué ...citing me as an atrocity-monger and anti-British agitator, appeared in ... the Jerusalem Post. Judge Jonah J. Goldstein of New York, who had arrived in Jerusalem a few days before, asked the government what the meaning was of shielding the Hebron murderers ... acquitting them beforehand of the charge of mutilation. Sir Harry did not answer. He had the bodies removed and interred post haste.

The morning after the massacre, I was back in Hebron at six o'clock. I found the town occupied by a company of the King's African Rifles, the so-called Green Howards, and a sentinel with fixed bayonet in front of Rabbi Slonim's house. The boy would not let me in. "They're cleaning up in there," he said. "Only government officials are permitted to enter." I went to the synagogue to find that the bodies had already been removed.
The only evidence of the pogrom ... was a blood-soaked prayer book and a set of leather prayer straps. I picked them off the floor and stuck them in my pocket. I still have these gruesome mementos in my possession and plan to restore them to the Jewish community of Hebron on the day when their city, the city of David and Abraham, is restored to the people of Israel.

... I met Captain Saunders on the main street of Hebron ... in the company of Captain Cafferata, of the Palestine police. ... They wanted to know where I was going. "I am going to the mosque." I said, "to see the imam" a religious leader.
Saunders advised against it. "You will have to pass through the bazaar," he warned. "It isn't safe this morning: the Arabs are in an ugly mood. There are no more Jews left in Hebron. Arab business is ruined as a result. There may be trouble."
"Give me your helmet," I said, "I will look like a British officer and nobody will harm me." We exchanged helmets and I ... went on to the Haram Al Khalil.
"Ah, there is Your Highness at last," said Moulay Effendi. "'It took you a long time to come back."  
"Three years," I said.
"To be sure, three years, it is a long time, " he agreed. "Have you come to hear Abraham's voice this time?" he asked with a laugh. "If you have ... you've come at the wrong time."
"How so? Have the ghosts been laid?"
"No, but the people here in Hebron are afraid."
"Afraid of what?"
"Someone spread the rumor that our Father Abraham is angry, that he will ask an accounting for the death of the Jews killed last night ..."
'Well, what do you say to that?"
"It's nonsense," replied Moulay Effendi.
"You mean Abraham is not angry?"
"I didn't say that," the imam corrected me.
"The hadjees, the faithful, stayed away from prayer this morning. They dare not come near the mosque. Isn't it pitiful, such superstitions? ... Would you care to make a slight contribution to the fund for Hebron's widows and orphans? ..."
I made my contribution and returned to the police station ... Some seventy persons had been arrested, Captain Cafferata said.

"It will be impossible to identify any of the actual rioters," said Cafferata. "But the whole thing could probably have been avoided by firing a few shots in the air....
"Were you in town last night?" I asked Cafferata. "I was," he said.
"Then why didn't you fire a few shots?" I asked, pointing to the pistol in his belt.
"You have no business in Hebron," the governor of Jerusalem, Sir Edward Keith-Roach, broke in angrily. "You are hereafter to confine your operations to Jerusalem."
"You don't want any embarrassing witnesses around, do you?" I said. "Do you know that the Arabs last night were shouting: 'The government is with us!' when they went in for the kill?"

A few days later I was given twenty-four hours notice to quit the mandated territory of Palestine on the charge of spreading “anti-British propaganda and ... false rumors concerning the Arabs of Hebron..."
I sailed on the Lotus from Beirut but was back... two years later. By then everybody had forgotten my "anti-Britishness" and "atrocity-mongering." Winston Churchill, who was apprised of my expulsion, commented: “This man is a British subject. Every British subject has the right once a week to tell his government to go to hell."
* * *  
Pierre Van Paassen mentions his experiences in Hebron in 1929 in another oen fo his books, Days of Our Years, published in New York : Hillman-Curl, Inc., 1939. It contains a harrowing description of the Hebron massacre. The following is an excerpt:
Falsified photographs showing the Omar mosque of Jerusalem in ruins, with an inscription that the edifice had been bombed by the Zionists, were handed out to the Arabs of Hebron as they were leaving their place of worship on Friday evening, August the twenty-third. A Jew passing by on his way to the synagogue was stabbed to death. When he heard of the murder, Rabbi Slonim, a man born and bred in the city and a friend of the Arab notables, notified the British police commander that the Arabs seemed to be strangely excited. He was told to mind his own business. An hour later the synagogue was attacked by a mob, and the Jews at prayer were slaughtered. On the Saturday morning following, the Yeshiva...was put to the sack, and the students were slain. A delegation of Jewish citizens thereupon set out to visit the police station, but was met by the lynchers. The Jews returned and took refuge in the house of Slonim where they remained until evening, when the mob appeared before the door. Unable to batter it down, the Arabs climbed up the trees at the rear of the house and, dropping onto the balcony, entered through the windows on the first floor.
Mounted police -- Arab troopers in the service of the government-- had appeared outside by this time, and some of the Jews ran down the stairs of Slonim's house and out into the roadway. They implored the policemen to dismount and protect their friends and relatives inside the house and clung around the necks of the horses. From the upper windows came the terrifying screams of the old people, but the police galloped off, leaving the boys in the road to be cut down by Arabs arriving from all sides for the orgy of blood.
What occurred in the upper chambers of Slonim's house could be seen when we found the twelve-foot-high ceiling splashed with blood. The rooms looked like a slaughterhouse. When I visited the place in the company of Captain Marek Schwartz, a former Austrian artillery officer, Mr. Abraham Goldberg of New York, and Mr. Ernst Davies, correspondent of the old Berliner Tageblatt, the blood stood in a huge pool on the slightly sagging stone floor of the house. Clocks, crockery, tables and windows had been smashed to smithereens. Of the unlooted articles, not a single item had been left intact except a large black-and-white photograph of Dr. Theodore Herzl, the founder of political Zionism. Around the picture's frame the murderers had draped the blood-drenched underwear of a woman.
We stood silently contemplating the scene of slaughter when the door was flung open by a British solder with fixed bayonet. In strolled Mr. Edward Keith-Roach, governor of the Jaffa district, followed by a colonel of the Green Howards battalion of the King's African Rifles. They took a hasty glance around that awful room, and Mr. Keith-Roach remarked to his companion, "Shall we have lunch now or drive to Jerusalem first?"
In Jerusalem the Government published a refutation of the rumors that the dead Jews of Hebron had been tortured before they had their throats slit. This made me rush back to that city accompanied by two medical men, Dr. Dantziger and Dr. Ticho. I intended to gather up the severed sexual organs and the cut-off women's breasts we had seen lying scattered over the floor and in the beds. But when we came to Hebron a telephone call from Jerusalem had ordered our access barred to the Slonim house. A heavy guard had been placed before the door. Only then did I recall that I had inadvertently told a fellow newspaperman in Jerusalem about our gruesome discoveries.
On the same day of the Hebron massacre, the Arabs had rioted in Jerusalem, crying: "Death to the Jews! The government is with us!" The fact that the attacks on Jewish communities in different parts of the country had occurred simultaneously was interpreted by the Mufti's newspaper Falastin as irrefutable evidence of the spontaneity of the outburst of Arab indignation. The Acting High Commissioner, Mr. H.C. Luke, had informed newspapermen that the government had been completely taken unawares. Yet a full ten days earlier it was he who had ordered the various hospitals, and especially the Rothschild clinic of which Dr. Dantziger was chief surgeon, to have a large number of beds in readiness in view of the government's expectation of a riotous outbreak.
FULL TEXT on archive.org
To visit the 1929 TARPAT memorial and other sites in Hebron:
United States contact info:

1760 Ocean Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11230

In Israel contact the offices of the Jewish Community of Hebron at:
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