Originally published in 2006
Since today, August 24th, marks 77 years since the Brutal Massacre and rape of the Jewish Community of Hebron, I thought it would be important to provide the following recently found letter from a survivor who recounts the horrors of the pogrom. The letter’s author requests that his surviving children read the account every year to recall the survival and the massacre:
“Just one thing, my dear children, may you live and be well, I ask of you that you put away this letter for the generations. Each year, at an agreed‑upon day, you should all meet and give thanks and praise to God, blessed be He, who saved your parents from this great catastrophe, and each one of you should make a generous contribution to charity. The miracle took place on Shabbes, Torah portion Ekev, the 18th day of the month of Av, 5689 [August 24, 1929], in Hebron.”
The entire 1929 Hebron Massacre photo archive is here. Warning, very graphic images.
The following is required reading for all. –Jameel.
The Hebron Massacre of 1929: A Recently Revealed Letter of a Survivor
Introduction to the letter:
The massacre of the Jews of Hebron in 1929 put an end to the ancient Jewish community at the burial site of the patriarchs. The riots which erupted throughout the country were an organized Arab attack against the entire Zionist enterprise with the aim of preventing the eventual establishment of a Jewish state. They were the most violent eruption until that time in the conflict that has been termed “one long war between Arabs and Jews comparable to the Hundred Years War in medieval Europe.”
Unlike other parts of the country, where Jews resisted with force, the Hebron community reflected the mind‑set of the pre‑modern Jew, conditioned by almost 2,000 years of Jewish powerlessness. The reaction of the local leadership to the impending attack was to turn to the authorities — the British appointed governor and the Arab notables — for protection, which, when it arrived, was much too late.
The events in Hebron and my grandparents’ miraculous rescue are vividly described in a letter written by my grandfather nine days later to my mother, Blanche Greenberg.
In 1907, the peak year of Jewish immigration into the United States, my maternal grandfather, Aharon Reuven Bernzweig, his wife Breine Zuch Bernzweig, and their six children left Stanislaw, Galicia (then Austrian Poland), and settled in New York City. Twenty years later, in 1927, after their children were grown and they had accumulated a modest capital, they were in a position to fulfill the dream of many traditional Jews‑‑to spend their retirement years in Eretz Hakodesh, the Holy Land.
Late in the spring of 1929, my grandparents travelled to the United States in order to attend my brother’s bar mitzvah. Upon their return they decided to escape the heat of a Tel Aviv summer by vacationing in Hebron. Five days later the riots broke out.
Zeide Bernzweig’s health was affected by the Hebron ordeal, and he died of a heart attack in 1936. Baba Breine continued to live at 16 Bialik Street in Tel Aviv until her death in 1945. That is where I would visit and spend Shabbat in 1937‑38, when I studied at Hebrew University.
Aharon and Breine Bernzweig were buried on the Mount of Olives. In the summer of 1967, after the reunification of Jerusalem, my wife and I found and restored their desecrated graves.
While members of the family knew that Zeide had written a letter about Hebron, we were not familiar with the actual text. I found the original in my parents’ papers after their death. The Yiddish is closely written on ten pages and is difficult to read. I am therefore greatly indebted to Helen G. Meyrowitz, who deciphered the text and prepared the initial translation, which I have revised and edited.