Who Opposed Eichmann’s Execution?

The trial of Adolf Eichmann had a profound effect on Holocaust discourse in the young State of Israel. During the trial, a heated debate raged within Israeli society over the appropriate punishment for the senior SS officer…


The Eichmann trial, photo by David Rubinger

What is the punishment for absolute evil? What is the proper response to war crimes? Is it necessary to avenge inconceivable murders or does criminal punishment serve a different purpose? These are some of the enduring questions of jurisprudence, but exactly 60 years ago, they were being debated in Israel. The country’s political leaders and public intellectuals, along with leading figures from across the Jewish world, were all preoccupied with one question: what is the appropriate punishment for the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, one of the key figures in the effort to exterminate the Jews of Europe.

A concise summary of previous events: In May 1960, the Mossad abducted Eichmann from his home in Buenos Aires and brought him to Israel to stand trial. The trial, which began in April 1961, was a milestone in the history of Holocaust remembrance and consciousness in Israel, and it is considered to have significantly influenced the treatment of Holocaust survivors living in the country. Prosecutor Gideon Hausner’s opening speech, the dramatic testimonies of personalities like writer Yehiel De-Nur (Ka-Tzetnik) and Zivia Lubetkin, the documents and public discourse the trial evoked, left lasting impressions. The videotaped trial was covered by many international journalists, among them Hannah Arendt, as well as Israeli poets Nathan Alterman and Haim Gouri.

At the end of the year, the trial concluded with Eichmann being sentenced to death. His appeal was denied, as was his request for a presidential pardon. The execution was finally carried out at two minutes before midnight on May 31st, 1962. Throughout this period between the sentencing and the execution, a heated public debate raged on the morality of the punishment. While there was widespread support for the death penalty for the senior SS figure, there were also many prominent figures who opposed it. An examination of materials preserved in the National Library of Israel’s Archives Department as well as the Historical Jewish Press collection offers us a view of these dissenting opinions.

Eichmann’s case attracted worldwide attention, and Jews living in the Diaspora expressed their views on the issue. A review of the newspapers reveals that world Jewry—and world citizenry in general—also saw fit to make their voices heard, and some certainly opposed the death penalty, even for a man who had committed crimes of the magnitude of Eichmann’s. A letter from New York, preserved in the archive of Samuel Hugo Bergmann, then director of the National Library of Israel, is one example of several expressions of protest from around the world. The sender addressed the letter to “all true Jews in the United States, Britain, the State of Israel, and people of good will everywhere.” On a blue sheet of paper, at the bottom of which is typed three times, the commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” the writer claims that the death penalty is an act of vengeance and does not accord with Judaism. He concludes by asking his readers to work to change the decision.

From the Samuel Hugo Bergmann Archive, the National Library of Israel

One of the most famous examples of world Jewry’s resistance is that of Nelly Sachs, who was herself a Holocaust survivor, and later a Nobel Prize-winning author (1966). Sachs sent then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion a letter in which she asked for the death sentence to be changed to another punishment. She writes in the letter, which is preserved in the State Archives, “Israel is blessed with the words of Abraham: ‘Perhaps ten righteous people will be found there [in Sodom]?’ And I myself know such righteous people, who risked their lives and often even paid the price just to save [others]. These righteous people also worked in the time of Hitler, and the undersigned is one of their survivors. Please do not allow a death sentence for Eichmann. The righteous also worked in Germany, and if only for them there should be a measure of grace.” She ended her letter with a poem she wrote, which begins with the words:


So lonely is Man

seeking eastwards

where melancholy shows in dawn’s face.

The east turns red with the rooster’s cry


A page of Nelly Sach’s letter to David Ben-Gurion. Courtesy of the Israel State Archives

At the same time, the most pronounced opposition to Eichmann’s death penalty came from a group of intellectuals in Israel. Among the prominent members were the philosopher Prof. Martin Buber, the scholar of Kabbalah Gershom Scholem, and members of the Department of Philosophy at the Hebrew University, Samuel Hugo Bergmann mentioned above, and Nathan Rotenstreich, among others. Even the poet Leah Goldberg was among those involved. Their opposition stemmed mainly from moral grounds and a fundamental opposition to the death penalty. They did not seek to protect Eichmann or diminish the severity of his actions. They sought, they said, to prevent the Jewish people from committing what appeared to them to be a moral injustice. Beyond that, some feared that the execution would provide a basis for the assertion that this would atone for the Nazis’ sins and silence claims of the Jewish people against its murderers and executioners.

Invitation to a discussion on Eichmann’s death penalty sentencing, sent to Prof. Dov Sadan by Prof. Martin Buber. From the Dov Sadan Archive, the National Library of Israel

During the hearing of Eichmann’s appeal in 1962, this group urged the president to commute his sentence to life imprisonment. In Martin Buber’s archives in the National Library, we found a draft of a letter—without the names of the signatories. “We do not ask for his soul,” it says, “because we know that there is no man who deserves less mercy than he. . . . We do not want this hateful person to turn us into the hangman. . . Antisemites around the world wish for us to fall into this trap. For carrying out the death penalty will enable them to claim that the Jewish people have been paid with blood for the blood that was shed [by the Nazis].”

Letter to President Yitzhak Ben Zvi requesting that he consider changing the sentence of Adolf Eichmann. From the Dov Sadan Archive, the National Library of Israel

When word spread about the petition’s existence, some supporters of the death sentence protested and others wanted to know why the professors were asking to spare Eichmann’s life. In the archives of Samuel Hugo Bergmann, we also found a letter written by three female students (apparently), as well as the draft of Bergmann’s reply. The students wrote to the professor in July 1961 asking for clarification, “We heard a rumor about a petition regarding the pardon of Adolf Eichmann of which you are among the initiators and signatories . . . We would be grateful if you would also explain to us the reasons that motivated you to take such a step.”

The letter to Prof. Bergmann, the Samuel Hugo Bergmann Archive, the National Library of Israel

Bergmann explained in his reply that he was opposed to the death penalty in principle, and in particular to the idea that those responsible for the sentencing need not be involved in the execution. He stressed that in his opinion only He who gives life may take it. Bergmann also detailed other issues in his letter: he believed that even though there was no statute of limitations on genocide, the many years that had passed since the acts necessitated further consideration. He argued that the death penalty was a lighter punishment than life imprisonment in Israel (adding that there was no adequate punishment for Eichmann’s actions). Bergmann’s first concern, he stated, was for the soul of the Jewish people, and he explained his thinking that Israel must spread love throughout the world, whereas hanging Eichmann would only serve to perpetuate the cycle of hatred.

First page of Prof. Bergmann’s reply to the students’ question, the Samuel Hugo Bergmann Archive, the National Library of Israel

Another intellectual who dealt with the subject was the scholar of Kabbalah Gershom Scholem. In his archive, we found a draft of an article published in the journal Amot around 1962, which dealt with the issue of execution. According to the draft, Scholem believed that there was no effective punishment for Eichmann’s actions under any circumstances, and that his hanging might seem an unsuitable “atonement.” Scholem wrote: “There is no question whatsoever that Eichmann deserves the death penalty. I have no doubt about it, I do not seek his acquittal, nor do I discuss the arguments concerning his actions and his responsibility for them. All this belongs to the legal aspects of this trial. My assumption is that in this respect nothing can be argued in his defense, he deserves to die a thousand deaths a day and is unworthy of mercy . . . there is no appropriate punishment in the laws of humane society for Eichmann’s crimes . . . whether he is to be hanged or not, there is no conceivable correlation between his crime and his punishment. Furthermore, there is nothing in his execution that can serve for “the sake of watch and learn”, [as an example] to the antisemites and others who seek to destroy our people . . . carrying out Eichmann’s death sentence is a mistaken ending [emphasis in the original – A.N.]. It distorts the historical meaning of the trial by creating the illusion as if something of this event can be settled by hanging a man or the obliteration of one person. This illusion is extremely dangerous, because it may give rise to the feeling that something has been done to ‘atone’ for something for which there is no atonement.”

Section of the draft of an article written by Gershom Scholem about Eichmann’s death penalty. From the Gershom Scholem Archive, the National Library of Israel

As we know, the arguments against Eichmann’s hanging were not accepted. President Yitzhak Ben Zvi rejected the request for clemency. Eichmann’s sentence was not commuted and the execution was carried out. Eichmann’s ashes were scattered in the Mediterranean Sea. This year marks exactly 60 years since the beginning of the trial that drastically changed public perception and discourse concerning the Holocaust in Israel.

The Cry

A lamentation for Nechama, mother of Alec

A mother and child in Jerusalem, shortly after the War of Independence (Photo: Beno Rothenberg). From the Meitar Collection / National Library of Israel

There is no single memory for everyone. Each person has a willow upon which to hang one’s violin. Mine is the story of Nechama, the mother of Alec.

There is a headstone in one of the hidden corners of Jerusalem’s Har Menuchot Cemetery, in one of the first plots added as the city was engulfed in war in 1948. I would like to place its story here, like the stone traditionally placed on a Jewish grave; on the graves of all of those who have fallen in this land, on those of the friends and the foes, on all of those who gave their lives out of love for it. All of them, all of them, with great love.

On the eighth of Tammuz 5708, the fifteenth of July 1948, Nechama was brought for burial in the Sheikh Bader cemetery. She was the mother of Alexander Yehuda Cohen –  Alec as he was known – a simple soldier, a corporal who was killed a few months before, on the fifth of Shvat, the night between the fifteenth and sixteenth of January, along with all of his friends in the “Mountain Company”. Half a year passed between the death of the son and the death of his mother.

Alec, eighteen years old at the time of his death, was the only child to Nechama and his father, Moshe. According to Alika who was a year younger than him and from whom I learned the little I know, Alec was exceptionally brilliant, gentle and sensitive. No one – not even his parents – knew about his enlistment.

Alexander Yehuda “Alec” Cohen

But it is not the story of Alec that I wish to share. You may read about him elsewhere, and I don’t have anything to add to what can already be found there. I would like to share something about his mother and her grief, about Nechama, and also about his father Moshe and his grief, as I heard it.

In those days families did not hear about the death of a son from a messenger who came to the house. At least not everyone did. Usually not even via telephone, which there wasn’t, anyway. Often, they found out about it from the daily newspaper. In those days there was no home delivery of newspapers; subscribers had to go to the nearest newsstand where theirs would be waiting. The closest to Alec’s house at 10 Rashbam Street in Mekor Baruch was just a few dozen meters away on Tachkemoni Street. There, on that Friday morning, the sixth of Shvat, was where his father took his newspaper and learned that Alec was no longer among the living, the third of 35 who had grown up together in the tiny area of Mekor Baruch bordered by Rashi, Rashbam and Tachkemoni Streets. He erupted in a terrible cry of pain that startled the quiet neighborhood, a cry that went on and on, and was heard from one end of the neighborhood to the other; back and forth, with no end, until he reached his home. By the time he arrived, there was no longer any need to share the news.

The story of that cry, that one cry, I heard a few times from Alika, and also from Gouri who echoed her story time and again. When he told it, he was startled as if at that very moment he was hearing that terrible cry of the grieving father, rolling on and on, without rest. Anyone who knows how to take on some of the pain of another will hear that terrible cry in the ears of his soul, that which is somewhere between the roar of a lion and the howl of jackal.

Nechama died within the year. Just a few months after the death of her son, her grief overwhelmed her. When Moshe, a sensitive and introverted artist, transferred her to her final resting place, he had the following placed on her headstone:

Nechama who was not consoled
Like an angel to purity like Job to suffering

And at the base of the headstone he added – “In memory of her only son”. Above it the father placed the figure of a lioness lying down, her eyes closed and her paws spread over the top of the tombstone, perhaps protecting her dead son, perhaps preparing herself for the great roar – that rolling roar that would roll from its place, roll and cry, roll and howl, quickly to the hill, from the hill to the valley and back to the mountain again, God forbid. And will not rest.

David Ben David Cheated Death… and Missed Israel’s Birth

He swam to Haifa in 1940, unknowingly escaping the ill-fated "Patria", then spent most of the 1948 war as a POW, saved from death more than once by his Arab Legion captors

David Ben David during the 1948 siege of Kfar Etzion, where many of his comrades were killed by enemy forces. From his autobiography, Gesher al Tehumot (Bridge over the Abysses), in the National Library of Israel collection

David Ben David first crawled into the Land of Israel from the sea.

He was half-naked, soaking wet, exhausted and alone. His first night was spent in a cement mixer.

With restrictions on Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine, the British had transferred hundreds of European refugees – including Ben David – onto a ship known as the Patria, which would take them to the island of Mauritius off the coast of Africa.

On November 25, 1940, the Patria sunk in the Port of Haifa – the result of a failed Haganah attempt to disable the ship in order to prevent the deportation of its passengers, nearly 300 of whom perished.

The “Patria” sinking off the coast of Haifa, November 1940

Days before, unaware of the tragedy to come, 20 year-old David Ben David – never a great swimmer – had leapt from the ill-fated ship.

Just as his strength was about to give out, a wave came and lapped him ashore. As the sun rose the next day and he exited the cement mixer, Ben David found himself among the port workers and heavy equipment. He hid inside a tub, where someone threw him a sweater and a hat.

Ben David’s presence raised the suspicion of a local policeman. With no papers to show and no use trying to flee, he was taken to jail, where a Jewish police sergeant instructed him to pretend to be crazy, which he did well enough to be released with just a warning.

It was Friday afternoon, erev Shabbat. The sun was leaning to the west.

“For me, it was the happiest moment of my life. I was a free man in the Land of Israel. My greatest dream had come true,” he later recalled in his autobiography, Gesher al Tehumot (Bridge over the Abysses).

Ben David – who had been raised Hasidic before joining the religious Zionist movement – had not been at a proper Shabbat table for a year due to historical circumstance.

Still barefoot, he found the sister of an acquaintance from the Patria who gave him some food, drink, socks and shoes and then he went on his way to the local chapter of the Bnei Akiva youth group in which he had been active in his native Czechoslovakia.

“My first Shabbat in the Land of Israel, in the Hebrew Haifa, will never be forgotten. In the park, children played with their parents, two- and three-year-old children who spoke Hebrew… It seemed as if the entire world was joyful like I was…”


Missing Independence

Some seven years later, David Ben David was readying for a very different type of Shabbat.

The Etzion Bloc was falling.

Hundreds had been massacred in Kfar Etzion, where Ben David was known as the kibbutz’s mukhtar (village chief).

The funeral of those who fell at Gush Etzion during the War of Independence (Photo: Beno Rothenberg). From the Meitar Collection, courtesy of the State Archive; available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

He was injured and soon found himself in nearby Masu’ot Yitzhak, the last settlement not yet captured by Arab troops.

Ben David and his comrades prepared for the worst, knowing that Masu’ot Yitzhak would soon to be captured.

They frantically burned or otherwise destroyed anything that might be useful to the enemy.

Food was eaten quickly and plentifully. Clothing was piled on – a strange irony compared to the state of his 1940 arrival in the Land.

Spared a massacre like Kfar Etzion, Ben David and others were taken as prisoners of war and escorted onto a bus headed for Hebron.

It was Friday, May 14, 1948.

Israeli statehood would be declared in the afternoon.

Throughout much of the country, dancing and singing jubilantly marked the end of two millennia of helpless statelessness. Celebrations erupted in displaced persons camps across Europe. Jews around the globe could hardly believe the radio reports.

Crowds celebrating the declaration of the State of Israel in the streets of Tel Aviv, May 14, 1948 (Photo: Beno Rothenberg). From the Meitar Collection, courtesy of the State Archive; available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

Yet Ben David and his comrades, bandaged and fearful in the Hebron police station, knew nothing of it.

They sanctified the Sabbath over two biscuits and cried – over friends and loved ones that had been killed, over the fall of the Etzion Bloc and the uncertain future.

In his autobiography, Ben David recalled the feelings of sadness that night rivaling those he felt when the Patria had sunk and when he found out about the destruction of his hometown in the Holocaust.


Saved by the Arab Legion – more than once

The next day the mayor of Hebron – followed by an armed and angry gang of locals – came into the prison compound demanding the blood of Ben David and the other few remaining Jewish defenders of the Etzion Bloc.

As they cocked their weapons and prepared for a massacre, an Arab Legion officer stepped forward, warning them not to take another step, or they themselves would fall victim.

A fight broke out between the Legion men and the mayor’s gang, with the latter ultimately forced to flee.

The officer explained to the mayor that the Arab Legion was responsible for the welfare of the POWs and that King Abdullah I himself had ordered that not a hair on any one of their heads be touched.

Soon after, an Egyptian soldier planned on killing prisoners by dropping a grenade into their cell, an Arab Legion soldier once again interfered, sparing their lives.

The prisoners were held in Hebron for three weeks – a period remembered for its hunger, and crowded and filthy conditions. Finally, on the verge of starvation, the hundreds of POWs from the Etzion Bloc – men and women – were placed in a convoy to be taken to Transjordan.

The vehicles cruelly stopped opposite the remnants of what had once comprised the Jewish settlements of the Etzion Bloc – now virtually unrecognizable heaps of rubble.

The convoy crossed the Jordan River and Arab forces once again had to step in to save the Jews from being stoned to death at the hands of an angry mob. Saved again, they were taken to the Umm Al Jamal POW camp, where they were held captive until the end of the war.

David Ben David finally stepped foot in the State of Israel in early 1949. He had been imprisoned since the day of its birth.

David Ben David reunited with his family shortly after his release from the Jordanian POW camp, where he was when his daughter was born. From his autobiography, Gesher al Tehumot (Bridge over the Abysses), in the National Library of Israel collection

In the years to come, Ben David – who had also fought in the British Army during WWII and helped survivors come to the Land of Israel after the war – would work to give proper burial to those who had fallen defending the Etzion Bloc and support their widows and orphans.

He would also help establish the new communal settlement of Nir Etzion, just a few kilometers from where he had once washed ashore – half-naked, soaking wet, exhausted and alone.


This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to connect with people, institutions and communities across Europe and beyond, through storytelling, knowledge sharing and community engagement.

Thanks to the Toldot Yisrael team for their assistance preparing this article. Toldot Yisrael is an initiative dedicated to documenting the testimonies of the State of Israel’s founding generation. The collection is now deposited at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem. An extended Hebrew interview with David Ben David can be found here: Part IPart II.

The Surrender of the Old City’s Jewish Quarter

The tragic circumstances that led to the surrender of the Jewish Quarter's defenders in Jerusalem's Old City during the War of Independence

The Old City's Jewish Quarter in ruins. The photograph was taken by the Arab Legion following the battles.

“What is the meaning of the white flag that was seen being carried near the matzah factory?” – read the urgent telegram sent on May 28th, 1948th, from the Jerusalem District Headquarters to the command post in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The State of Israel had been declared exactly two weeks earlier, with the War of Independence underway for nearly six months already.

“We began negotiations on the retrieval of the bodies of the dead in order to stall. The first result of this was the Arabs ordering a ceasefire. Further details are still unknown” – replied the Haganah-appointed commander of the Jewish Quarter, Moshe Rusnak. A few hours later, the entire Jewish Quarter surrendered; nearly all of the Quarter’s buildings were blown up, soldiers were taken captive, and the remaining civilians were evacuated to the new city.

On August 17th, 1948, with battles still taking place throughout Israel, the Jerusalem District Commander David Shaltiel appointed a committee to investigate the surrender of the Old City to Jordan’s Arab Legion force.

The first page of the committee of inquiry‘s report, in the handwriting of Zohara Wilbush, the committee secretary, the National Library of Israel collections

On February 14th, 1947, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee announced to his cabinet that Britain would be withdrawing from Mandatory Palestine. Four months after his appeal to the United Nations to appoint a committee to make recommendations “concerning the future government” of the country, the UN presented what would soon be known as “The Partition Plan”, dividing the land into two states – one Arab, one Jewish – that would coexist alongside each other.

The section that was most difficult for both sides to stomach related to the future of Jerusalem: Unlike the rest of the country that would be divided, Jerusalem would not be the capital of either state, but would rather be placed under an international regime sponsored by the UN. Although David Ben-Gurion, then chairman of the Jewish Agency (the Zionist government of the state “in-the-making”), agreed to the plan, many in Jerusalem believed that “even though no violence had broken out as yet, it felt as though all of a sudden an invisible muscle was suddenly flexed. It was not sensible to go to those areas anymore.”(Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness)

UN Resolution 181 – the Partition Plan – was approved with the votes of 33 countries in favor and set off the battles of the War of Independence. On the very evening the resolution was adopted, dozens of Arabs rushed to the city’s center, looking to harm any Jew they could find. Within two weeks the Old City’s Jewish Quarter was under attack and its residents found themselves under siege of the superior Arab forces. As the fighting grew more intense, the Zionist leadership became more and more convinced they were losing their hold on Jerusalem.

Residents of the Jewish Quarter wait in line for food distribution (from the book “The Battle for Jerusalem in the War of Independence” by Oved Michaeli [Hebrew])

Four people were present at the inquiry meeting on August 17th, 1948: Haganah commander Avraham Erst; military jurist Gideon Hausner; the chairman of the Old City council during the siege, Mordechai Weingarten and the meeting’s secretary Zohara Wilbush.

First, Erst and Hausner wanted to explore the military developments that preceded the surrender. They asked Weingarten, “Did we lose a lot of territory between the day of the breakthrough and the surrender?” The “breakthrough” to which they referred was most likely the capture of the Old City’s Zion Gate by the Haganah’s elite Palmach force on the night of the 18th-19th of May. This force, however, was not able to make any further progress, and in fact it was the Arabs who soon stormed the besieged Quarter and began to seize control of more and more positions. The Quarter’s handful of defenders put up a courageous and determined defense to block the Arab advance, staving the invaders off of Sha’ar HaShamayim street, one of their very last strongholds.

“We lost most of the territory”. Page 3 of the committee of inquiry’s report of the committee of inquiry‘s report, the National Library of Israel collections

Weingarten recounted that as the military situation deteriorated, the fighters’ morale suffered a severe blow: “Spirits were very low. Some of the men were at the synagogues along with the locals and had to be located.” “There were various rumors about the supply of ammunition,” Weingarten added, “there were no grenades” and every bullet was counted before being fired. This was in stark contrast to the Arab Legion soldiers who used mortars, submachine guns and explosives to conquer the Quarter’s buildings as well as the defensive positions scattered throughout.

As the attackers advanced, communication between the Quarter’s headquarters and the fighters deployed in the remaining positions broke down. “A sore wound, the last days were chaos. At times Pinkas [referring to Mordechai Pinkas, one of the commanders in the field] was able to take control; other times he was not. It was like ‘a mouse in a trap’.” The besieged Quarter was not only cut off from food supply from the outside; all of the Quarter’s bakeries were conquered by the invading force, and the only food left for the residents was pita bread they made themselves. “Pita was flour + salt. And some jam.

Residents of the Quarter fortify their posts ahead of the Arab Legion’s arrival (from the book “The Battle for Jerusalem in the War of Independence” by Oved Michaeli)

Two days after the assault began, the Arab Legion’s 6th battalion entered the Old City. 650 Arab fighters now faced 131 Jewish defenders. The attackers were encouraged by the difference in numbers and by their superior arms. There was no doubt the Quarter would soon fall; it was only a matter of time.

Though the Palmach force was able to get as close as Zion Gate, the failure to actually reinforce the desperate defenders of the Jewish Quarter only led to more frustration. Weingarten reported that “The military command did not make a substantial attempt to communicate with the civilians. It was known – ‘backup coming in 30 or 15 minutes’– and this led to disappointment.”

“The military command did not make a substantial attempt to communicate with the civilians.” Page 5 of the committee of inquiry’s report of the committee of inquiry‘s report, the National Library of Israel collections

As the days went by and ammunition ran out, the bitter truth was revealed: “A few fought fiercely; others hid.” The idea of ​​negotiating surrender was first suggested by the Arab Legion. “Every day, the Arabs spoke through a loudspeaker in three languages, requesting that we negotiate. We did not answer.”

An Arab soldier views the Jewish Quarter from a market rooftop. In the photograph, the Hurva synagogue and the Tiferet Yirael synagogue are still intact (from the book “The Battle for Jerusalem in the War of Independence” by Oved Michaeli [Hebrew])

By May 28, it became clear there was no hope for rescue, and if they did not soon surrender, the Quarter’s residents would be slaughtered by the attackers. Weingarten believed that none of the residents had the courage to personally engage in “negotiations with the Arabs”. At that point, Weingarten conveyed, the Quarter’s commander, Moshe Rusnak, appeared to have been “cracking”, but he refused to consider surrendering. Subsequently, a delegation of rabbis led by Weingarten approached Rusnak and demanded that negotiations for surrender begin before the Legion forces moved against the last remaining defensive positions. Rusnak refused to allow the delegation to discuss surrender; he demanded that the meeting’s agenda be the evacuation of both sides’ injured and dead. Their persistence paid off: “We were sent with a man holding a white flag.”

Around 10 am, the delegation of rabbis met with the commander of the Arab Legion’s 6th Battalion, General Abdullah El Tell, at Cafe Alsheich. The Jordanian commander refused to discuss the evacuation of the injured and dead. Instead, he gave the rabbis an ultimatum: Surrender or else. He gave them an hour and 15 minutes to return with an answer.

At one o’clock in the afternoon, the Quarter’s commanders and delegates gathered to discuss the surrender proposal. All attendees, save for an Irgun representative who abstained, voted in favor of surrender. This time Rusnak joined Weingarten to settle the surrender with the Jordanian commander. Minutes earlier, Rusnak sent a telegram to the District Headquarters, reassuring them and explaining that the talks were about transferring the wounded and dead, and not about the terms of the Quarter’s surrender. Though it is not mentioned by Weingarten, historian Yitzhak Levy suggests that both parties – district commander David Shaltiel and the besieged Quarter’s leader, Moshe Rusnak – knew the defenders had no choice but to surrender, yet they both refused to admit this bitter truth to each other.

“Perhaps more could have been done,” Weingarten concluded, refusing to point an accusing finger at the Jewish Quarter administration or at the Jerusalem District Headquarters, “The Jewish people have a long and bloody history.”

The Old City’s Jewish Quarter in ruins. The photograph was taken by the Arab Legion following the battles.