Shlomo Slonim gazes at four large black and white photos of family members adorning the dining room wall of his apartment in Ra’anana, a city in central Israel.
He battles with his health. He has recurrent flashbacks. But some memories cut even deeper than the one-inch indentation above his freckled forehead and the scars on his right hand from where his fingers were nearly severed.
“Sitting across from them, I feel the sadness of loss, especially now as I am getting older,” says Slonim, 84, pointing to the frozen, perched images of his slain parents, grandparents and 4-year-old brother. “I realize how much I lost in life and how I didn’t have much of a family. There is no substitute for parents.”
He is one of the last known survivors of the 1929 massacre on the Jewish community of Hebron. That tragedy, which occurred 83 years ago this week, took the lives of 67 Jews and left scores of other maimed, in ways both physical and emotional.
He was only 1 year old when marauding Arabs with knives and machetes rampaged through Hebron’s streets. They burst into Slonim’s family home, where dozens of community members had sought refuge. Slonim’s parents, Chana Sara and Eliezer Dan Slonim, were politically connected and well-known. Eliezer was the director of the Anglo-Palestine bank. He also spoke fluent Arabic.
Eliezer’s father, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Slonim, was among hundreds of Jews who survived after being hidden by local Arabs. But Chana’s parents were not so lucky. Rabbi Avraham Yaakov HaCohen Orlansky, the chief rabbi of Zichron Yaakov, was, along with his wife, among the 22 who were murdered at the Slonim’s home.
Young Shlomo was stabbed in the head by an attacker, and the fingers on his right hand were partially severed. He was later found in the arms of his dead mother by a survivor who sifted through the home.
“I have never had control of this finger,” says Slonim, holding out his right hand and showing his ring-finger, which won’t flex when he attempts to makes a fist.
Ruth, his wife of 50 years, hands him two pictures she found in an old album. They were taken not long after the massacre.
“You see the sad eyes,” says Slonim, looking at the images of him as a baby. In one, he appears alongside with his aunt, Esther, who, together with his paternal grandfather, would raise him in Jerusalem. His head and right hand are wrapped in white bandages. In the second photo, he looks frightened and appears to be crying. The scar on his head is visible, and there are deep rings under his eyes.
“You can really have mercy on this boy,” says Slonim. “Maybe he deserved mercy. He went through some difficult days.”
Slonim is a fifth-generation Hebronite from an illustrious rabbinic family that arrived from Eastern Europe in the first half of the 1800s.
At 14, Slonim enlisted in the Irgun Tzva Leumi, a pre-state Zionist militia, joining its ranks in 1947 and serving in its propaganda and combat units. He also served in the Haganah, another pre-state underground army, before completing several tours in the Israel Defense Forces as a platoon commander.
As a teenager, Slonim began his nearly half-century long association with Bank Leumi. He started as a clerk and eventually worked his way up to bank manager before retiring in 1993. He and his wife, Ruth, have four children and 13 grandchildren.
A reporter asks Slonim about vengeance and forgiveness.
“Retribution is no longer in the hands of man,” he says, referring to 1929’s blood massacre. “But to forgive them? Absolutely not.”
Slonim didn’t go back to Hebron until 1967, after the Six-Day War. He wanted to visit the mass grave where he had been told the remains of his family were buried, but soon discovered that it had been desecrated while in Arab hands.
Had he ever considered moving back to Hebron?
“I’ll tell you the truth: I’ve never considered it,” he says. “I felt I couldn’t live among the Arabs, not knowing who killed all the Jews and my family… I couldn’t stand living among them, and that’s the truth.”
Although he is a survivor, Slonim doesn’t think he deserves any credit. “The credit goes to those who have returned to Hebron and resettled it, and I admire them,” he says. In Hebron, which he calls “the symbol of our eternal bond to our heritage,” they are rebuilding synagogues and destroyed buildings, doing the work, he says, of “continuing our legacy.”
Slonim never really knew his family beyond the sepia faces framed on his walls, but he nevertheless feels an unshakable bond with them.
In one photo, taken about a year before the massacre, his parents, grandparents and younger brother stare at the camera. His mother’s pregnant belly is full and round.
“I’m there,” says Slonim, pointing to his mother. “I was with them right until the end.”