History

Newly Discovered Will Brings to Light Hebron Massacre

The last will and testament of Eliezer Dan Slonim, hero and martyr of the Hebron Massacre.

13.8.17, 17:22
The Last Will of the Prince of Hebron
by Noam Arnon
 
The article is based on a lecture given during the Memorial Day for the 1929 riots, which took place at Midreshet Hevron college on August 9, 2017
 
BACKGROUND
 
Eliezer Dan Slonim was born in Hebron in 1900 to a family with a special relationship in the Jewish world. His father, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Slonim, the last Ashkenazic rabbi of the Hebron community, was the grandson of Rabbi Mordechai Slonim, son of Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel Slonim.
 
Menucha Rochel was the granddaughter of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi -- the first Lubavitcher Rebbe and founder of the Chabad Hasidic movement -- and daughter of his successor, the Mitteler Rebbe. The Slonim family immigrated to Hebron in 1845 with the blessing and encouragement of the third Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, who married Menucha Rochel's sister.
 
Eliezer Dan chose a path that combined his family tradition and an active community life. After years of study in yeshivas, he left Hebron to study at the Mizrachi Teachers' Seminary in Jerusalem, and ater worked as a teacher in Haifa and Petah Tikva.
 
At the age of 22 he decided to return to Hebron and dedicate his life to the development of the small and sleepy community, one of the "four holy cities" of the old Yishuv. This decision, which stemmed from a sense of exceptional responsibility, was prominent in the atmosphere that characterized the young people of Hebron during this period, who preferred to go to the big cities and integrate into the burgeoning economic life in British Mandate Palestine.
 
Eliezer Dan married Chana, the daughter of Rabbi Avraham Ya'akov Orlansky, the rabbi of Zichron Yaakov. The couple had two sons -- Aharon, in 1926, and Shlomo, in 1928. 
 
Despite his youth, Eliezer Dan was distinguished as having unique talents. He joined the leadership of the community and began to hold key positions, including a member of the city council, the only Jewish representative in this body, and the manager of the Anglo Palestine Company, the bank of the Zionist movement, which opened in Hebron.
 
He took part in the decision to transfer the Yeshivas Knesses Yisrael which had come from Slabodka in Lithuania to Hebron. It is interesting to note that a Hasidic-Chabad family invested great effort in bringing a Lithuanian yeshiva to Hebron -- one of the most important in the yeshiva world -- to contribute to the economic and social consolidation of the community.
 
Eliezer Dan was well-connected, and a close friend of Hebron residents, Jews and Arabs alike. In his capacity as bank manager, he granted credit to the Arabs and worked for the city's economic development. He envisioned Hebron as a gateway to the Negev and the south, and his vision was to play a central role in the economy that had begun to develop in Palestine at the beginning of the British Mandate.
 
RIOTS
 
But the days of the optimistic vision did not last long: a black cloud of murderous Jihadist terror began to rise, bringing disaster to the Hebron community, and continuing to cloud the country and the world to this day. The events of 1920 - 1921 were are harbinger of things to come. In attacks on Jewish communities in the Galilee, in Jaffa, in the settlements and in Jerusalem there were casualties, among them Joseph Trumpeldor and the writer Yosef Haim Brenner.
 
During these events, the Hebron community remained silent and unharmed. But the nationwide terror attacks, which historians consider the "founding event" and the turning point of Jihad terrorism that opened a new era in the history of the country, took place in the month of Av (August 1929) and is known as the TARPAT Pogrom. (an acronym for the Hebrew date 1929.
 
These riots came to the Hebron community like a thunderstorm. No one expected or expected that the Arabs of Hebron, who opposed Haj Amin al-Husseini, the infamous Mufti of Jerusalem, and later a major supporter of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, lived in peace and good neighborliness with the Jews for many generations, would become a murderous and bloodthirsty mob. The Jews of Hebron remembered the promises of their Arab neighbors and friends that they were protected and that no one would harm them. But the optimistic vision collapsed, and the illusion of good neighbors was washed with rivers of blood.
 
The mob was incited by Amin al-Husseini's incitement at the Temple Mount mosque on Friday, August 23, 1929 with false accusations. An angry mob attacked Jews in the streets and neighborhoods of Jerusalem, but the few Haganah fighters managed to repel the rioters after the brutal murder of about 20 Jews.
 
From Jerusalem, the wave of terror was directed to Hebron. Here the picture was completely different. The community leadership in Hebron, including Eliezer Dan Slonim, did not understand the intensity of incitement and danger. They were captivated by the concept of coexistence that prevailed in Hebron for many generations, and according to Haganah documents from the time, they refused the Haganah's proposal to send several fighters with weapons to Hebron. It is reasonable to assume that they also feared that the presence of fighters and arms might inflame the atmosphere and stir up passions. 
 
It should be noted that today it is not moral to judge the issue from a contemporary perspective with the wisdom of hindsight. In any event, it is a fact that the Jews of Hebron felt so secure that the Slonim family was preparing to hold a Sheva Brachot celebration on Shabbat for Rachel, the sister of Chana Slonim, who had been married two days earlier in Tel Aviv. In honor of the happy event, Chana's parents, Rabbi Avraham Orlansky and his wife Yenta, and her younger sister, Mina, arrived in Hebron frm Zichron Yaakov.
 
It was too late for the Jews of Hebron to discover that they had made a fatal mistake. Thousands of Arabs gathered in the city, carrying axes and knives, and began attacking Jewish homes. On Friday afternoon, after a yeshiva student was murdered, community leaders were summoned to the head of the British police, Major Raymond Cafferata. The hostile officer reprimanded the Jews and accused them of provoking the Arabs.
 
The Jews understood that the evil had overcome them, and they tried to save themselves and their families by defending themselves and barricading themselves, and at that time Eliezer Dan Slonim stood out in his responsible and unique personality. At night he moved from house to house, encouraged the frightened Jews, and offered to the frightened and afraid to leave their homes. He was certain that thanks to his good relations and his friendship with influential Arabs, his home would not be harmed. In fact, about 70 Jews left their homes and went on that night to the safe home of Eliezer Dan Slonim.
 
On Saturday at dawn, a horrific event began in Hebron, competing in cruelty the worst pogroms of eastern Europe. Thousands of Arabs besieged the houses of the Jews, broke into them, and attacked their inhabitants with unbelievable cruelty, committing acts of rape, slaughter, burning, and tearing people apart.
 
The British police, most of whom were on duty in the evenings, stood by and di not intervene until the rioters began to attack its headquarters directly; Only then were a few shots fired, which drove the assailants away.
 
One of the most horrific events took place in the Slonim house. After attempts to break through the door of the house, the defenders were standing in front of them - residents and youths from the yeshiva - with the last of their strength, the door of the roof was breached and the rioters entered. There was a terrible slaughter at home. Eliezer Dan Slonim tried to defend his family with a pistol and was killed with an ax in the head. His wife Hanna, her parents - Rabbi and Rebbetzin Orlansky and his four-year-old son Aharon - were murdered along with 24 Jews, most of whom were crushed and torn to pieces by human monsters. Dan and Hannah - Shlomo, a year old who was seriously injured in the head, and lay unconscious under the bodies of his parents, was rescued after one of the yeshiva students pushed her behind a door and hid in terrified silence.
 
During the horrific hours, dozens of Arabs who deserve the title "Righteous Among the Nations" saved Jews, some of them even at the cost of injuries. They stood out as the few who preserved a sense of humanity among the thousands of murderers.
 
After several hours of indiscriminate slaughter, the process of collecting corpses and wounded began. All the Jews, stunned and wounded, were taken to the police station and placed on a floor, in dirt and blood. The next night, mass graves were dug in the ancient cemetery, where 58 of the dead were buried. Another grave was dug into parts of the unidentified bodies and organs. Eight wounded who were transferred to Jerusalem and died there were buried on the Mount of Olives. Two days later, all the Jews of Hebron were expelled and the what was arguably the oldest Jewish community in the world ended. A few returned to the city, and one Jew, Yaakov Ben Shalom Ezra, an 8th generation Hebronite continued to live there until 1947, commuting back and forth from Jerusalem.
 
Shlomo Slonim, the baby who survived, grew up in the home of his relatives. He married Ruthie and worked for decades at Bank Leumi. He named his sons after his father and his brothers - Eliezer, Dan and Aharon. He maintained close contact with the Jewish community that was renewed in Hebron, visited the city frequently, and said Kaddish regularly at the annual memorial service for the victims of 1929 in Hebron, where he died two and a half years ago.

THE WILL
 
A few months ago, Shlomo Slonim's sons sent me an original document, surprising and touching - the original will of Eliezer Dan Slonim, stained with blood. The will was hidden and unknown in the estate of the family, and even Shlomo Slonim, the child who had survived, did not know about it.
 
In 1999, for the first time, it appeared in book called Journeys of the Rebbe in the Holy Land by David Zvi Rotenberg. Now for the first time I saw the original will, and most shocking thing was the blood that covered much of the document. Questions began to arise.
 
The will is actually made up of three documents, which were combined together with tape or glue. The original version of the will was affixed to a sheet of paper, to which another note (perhaps part of an envelope) was pasted. Both of these documents are stained with blood. At the bottom of the document were typewritten lines, which constitute the Chief Rabbinate's approval of the validity of the will. The stamp contains the stamps of the Rabbinate and the signatures of the Chief Rabbis, headed by the signature of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchack HaCohen Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael.
The original will was written in 1926. A study of it raises many weighty questions to which I will come later.
 
The following is the will:

With a clear and calculated mind, I write the following:
Because no one knows the future, so I write my will, and ask that it be fulfilled after my death.
You will find (in my name) Polis of Consolidation Company No. 80801 E for five hundred English pounds.
I ask that they pay all my debts. Anyone who presents my resume with my signature, or if a reliable person will file a debt claim, please pay without delay, even if the time has not yet come. And if they show me late, please pay the plaintiff.
Do not be astonished at the multitude of my duties, for I have not raised money for evil things.
All that will remain after the payment of the debts I wish to leave in my wife Hannah, to do with them as a sign of her soul. If someone pays his debt to me, that too belongs to my wife Chanah. Like all the furniture in the house, the books, etc. Everything is for her.
And I ask you all for forgiveness if I hurt your honor with your property or just upset you. Please take care of me and do not forget me.
I can, with God's help, be sure that Hannah and our parents will take care of our son, our son, who will be a decent person. Amen.
Hebron.
(E. D. Slonim) (Signature)
 
Studying the will raises a number of questions:
First, why is the will stained with blood? Wills are kept in a protected place, such as a safe or a file cabinet. How did Eliezer's blood come to will?

Second, why did Eliezer Dan, at the age of 26, find it necessary to write a will? It must be remembered that until his last days, his life was conducted in a safe, stable and supportive environment, with no apparent threat or danger.

Why did Eliezer Dan think that his parents would live long after him, and that they would look after his son? (Today we know that, indeed, tragically, this assumption is indeed appropriate).

Looking at the note attached to the will and pasted into the document (perhaps part of an envelope), another puzzlement is added. At the top appears the title (above which a line has been crossed out):
 
The Anglo Palestine Co. Ltd
JERUSALEM
 
Below this title, Eliezer Dan Slonim wrote in his handwriting:
 
To hand over to my father
Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Slonim
After my death
 
One must again ask - why did Eliezer Dan Slonim think that his father would live long after him?

And more - when was this note (or envelope) written? Why is it also stained with blood?

The note bears the seal of the Chief Rabbinate, after the entire will was approved by the rabbinate in 1935.

A possible explanation, which may answer some of the questions and puzzles, is the explanation I wish to suggest here:

In his final hours, after Eliezer Dan realized that his hopes had been dashed, and the Arabs planned to attack his house in order to murder all the members of the household, he took out the will and hid it in his pocket. Presumably he feared that the house would be robbed and looted, and if he did not personally bear the will, it would disappear. Was the envelope or note written near the writing of the will, or on a Friday, before the mass attack, or - perhaps, on the occasion of the fateful circumstances, just at the time of the attack on Saturday morning? This question remains unanswered.
 
In any event, on the margin of the document appears the version of ratification of the Chief Rabbinate - a version that was also attached to an original document of the Chief Rabbinate, which he also received:

Stamp of the Chief Rabbinate of Eretz Israel - Jerusalem
In the name of God, the Holy One, Blessed be He, 5768
It is clear to us that this will was written and signed by the late Eliezer Dan Slonim, and after examining the body, it is clear that this will is as valid as any will in Israel.

Chief Rabbinate of Eretz Yisrael
(Signatures)
The President - Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook
Tzvi Pesach Frank
Yerucham Fishel Bernstein
Shmuel Aharon Weber - Secretary
Chief Rabbinate of Eretz Yisrael, Chief Rabbinate of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.
 
As stated, the testament was discovered and preserved with the family. It was recently transferred to the Hebron Archives, which preserves the information, documents and memories from the long history of the City of the Patriarchs.
 
Eliezer Dan Slonim's will is an original and shocking document, not necessarily in content, but in the events that occurred to its owner which found expression on its pages. His blood which spilled over the will screams for revenge. His call of "please protect me, and do not remember me for the worse" resonates after decades. Hebron is still waiting for new building permits and the Israeli government's approval for the Jews to build and to buy a home there, and to rebuild the city of the forefathers and mothers.
 
VISIT HEBRON