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April 13, 1948 Hadassah Convoy Massacre – Firsthand Medical Staff Account

Mt Scopus Hadassah Hospital Massacre April 13, 1948“The Haganah Command in Jerusalem was busy monitoring a massive convoy entering Jerusalem in the wake of operation Nachshon. The commander was informed of the Sheikh Jarrah position. He sent along three of his essential vehicles as a relief force. The first car was raked with heavy fire and the driver flashed past the ambushed convoy to reach Zion Hospital with his wounded. The rear car was smothered with shots and the driver retuned to forthwith to Jerusalem with his killed and wounded. The second car fell into the mine crater alongside the first escort car of the convoy and another mine was exploded under it. There were fourteen en trapped in the relief car. They made verbal contact with Niki and the few wounded still alive in the original escort car.

The men in Niki’s car had succumbed one by one after shooting through cracks till the end. As one of the girl hitchhikers rose from the floor to aid a man with a new wound she was fatally shot in the mouth. At noon Niki had sent one of his survivors to Antonius House to summon help. The body was found later in a neighboring wadi.

When Stonehouse returned with a few men and two cars he saw the two vehicles in the crater in their tipsy postures. A little distance back, partly protected by the tilted bodies of the escort cars, Yosef’s ambulance stood astride the road. Fifty yards further back were the two buses, the most exposed of the four vehicles.

Stonehouse beat on the door of the last bus, shouting he had come to help. A nurse opened a peephole.

‘Quick. Open the doors. Run to my car.’

‘Can you assure our safety?’

‘No. Open the door. Run.’

‘We’ll be killed’

‘If you stay you’re sure to be killed.’

‘We’ll wait for the Haganah’ someone shouted.’

Stonehouse tried to put a towline on the bus but was interrupted by a cry. His gunner had been hit on the neck. Once again he shouted to the bus passengers ‘run.’  He stopped pleading and took his mortally wounded gunner to Antonius House…

The plain account of NS (e.g. Nathan Sandowski) one of the only two survivors of the crowded buses.

I was in a bus traveling to University. We left town at 9 a.m. immediately after we passed the road block in Shmuel Hanavi Street and approached the bend, strong fire was directed at the convoy. The driver was wounded by a splinter or a bullet and lost control of the wheel This was some meters from the bend. The car stopped. We asked the driver to continue. At the same time the firing intensified. The second driver was scratched and lost his presence of mind. After much imploring the driver tried to move the car from its place and we advanced a few meters. The driver informed us that the car had broken down. The firing grew ever stronger. The Arabs drew nearer, within grenade range, and began to use armor-penetrating bullets. At the same time I heard the crises of crowds of Arabs approaching with wild singing. I also heard a word in Hebrew, ‘Come here.’  In our car Y.B., who had a Mauser with eights bullets – which at first did not work—from time to time fired a shot at the approaching Arabs. We kept a constant lookout since there was the felling that they wished to approach and burn the car. The splinters of the grenades did not penetrate. We were amazed that with the thousands of bullets directed at us, the car did not break apart. An attempt was made on the left side to break open a peephole by frequent bursts of Sten fire and finally they did succeed in breaking it down, together with the frame. An order was given to transfer all the suitcases to the rear of the car and to make every effort to keep the shutter in place. Dr. Avmiri held the shutter with all his strength but finally was overcome by the heat and asked to be relieved. Apparently the Arabs intended to throw a grenade through the opening.

There were three lookouts all the time. At the front lookout was M., at the lookout on the right was Dr. F., and I was at the rear lookout; I relieved someone who had been hit by a splinter. From the rear opening I saw that all the time the British Army passed in large convoys which continued on their way in the direction of Ramallah. We called out: ‘Help! We have wounded women and men,’ but they did not stop. Armored cars of the police arrived, stood for a time and returned as they came, without extending any help whatever and without even communicating with us. At one time I counted up to 7 armored cars at once at a distance of 30 meters from us. We were sure that at least they would not let the Arabs approach so close as to burn the vehicles. All the time the question recurred among the occupants of the car as to whether the English were still there, but finally we despaired of them altogether and regarded them only as observers of the spectacle of destruction. There were those who distinguished among the voices of the Arabs: ‘Minshan Deir Yassin.’ Crowds of Arabs who approached the convoy with singing and wild cries, were forced to retreat when our escort cars opened fire on them.

At about 12 noon two escort cars arrived to help and the rejoicing among the occupants of the bus were great since we said that our people at least were coming. One of these cars already had punctured tires. We heard the supporting fire of the University. But this did not affect the Arabs who derived courage from the fact that the police and army cars which passed on the place did not raise a finger. The driver was the first to be wounded and the second driver received a scratch on the head. I gave him my battle dressing, Y.B dressed the wound. Afterwards someone sitting on the left side was hit in the head and we thought him to be dying. Subsequently a boy from the ‘Chish’ was lightly wounded in the eye and we could no longer receive his help. All this was in the early hours of the morning. Afterwards W. was wounded in the leg; he was bandaged with a towel and kept his spirits. While holding the shutter the Supernumerary M.S. was hit by a splinter of bullets. He said: ‘I got it in the chest’ and became silent. Dr. M.K. was wounded in the leg and lay on the bench. While on the lookout, M. received a bullet in the head. He raised himself up afterwards and took heart but did not speak again and finally he apparently lost consciousness.

Before the car was set alight I estimate that only Yehuda Bromberg (Y.B.), E.B., H.M., S.F., who lay by the middle door, and myself remained lightly wounded or completely uninjured. W.L. was wounded in the mouth only, at the moment when the left door was opened, after the odor of benzene flowing from the tank began to spread within the interior of the bus. Throughout, the people behaved in an exemplary manner. They did not weep, did not cry out, they did not despair and obeyed orders.

Already at noon I proposed throwing out rags dipped in benzene for its psychological effect on the Arabs. I also took matches for this purpose from M.C. although they opposed the plan. M.C. was appointed to use the fire extinguisher in case of need. When the smell of benzene spilt from the tank before 2 o’clock spread and I ordered the tank to be removed, M.C. informed me that it would be worthwhile doing so after the benzene had caught fire. In the meantime the atmosphere in the car became suffocating. At the same time Molotov bottles were thrown at us.

Y.B. ordered the opening of the left door towards the side of the ditch since he thought we were receiving covering fire. But it was clear to me that anyone who left would be shot dead by the Arabs who were at a distance of a few meters. And indeed, all the four who jumped were hit by bullets right by the bus. One woman cried out: ‘They are being killed.’  In spite of this one girl among the injured got as far as the first escort car. After the four were hit I sat at the side of the opening with a scalpel in order to prevent the entry of any Arab who would try to do so. Several seconds later the fire started, coming from the rear of the bus. I turned my head inward and was met by a gust of flames. I could still distinguish voices crying: ‘We are burning alive.’  I made a dive through the opening. The blade of the scalpel broke in my fall, I ran the length of the road in zigzag. I passed the Magen David Adom car and approached the escort car waving the knife above my head. I reached the escort car at 2 o’clock and asked the driver to let me in since I was ‘one of us.’  A hail of bullets was directed at me by the Arabs who only then identified me as a Jew.

The door of the second escort car was opened to me. Within, all lay wounded and there was a great deal of ammunition and a Spandau machine gun. In the driver’s seat sat the driver, who was slightly wounded in his hand, with a gun. Beside him sat a man wounded in the back, little dazed, but he too with a gun in his hand. They asked if I was a mechanic. I said that in time of need I was familiar with the job. Within a few minutes I had got to know the weapon and began to give bursts of fire which were the only ones until the Army arrived at 3 p.m. The driver filled ribbons with bullets. I encouraged two boys whom I saw could still be active. One of them used a Sten, lying on his back since he was wounded in the stomach and the leg; the other used a gun. The Arabs threw grenades at the end of the barrel of the machine gun but did not hit it. One of the injured held a grenade after he had withdrawn the pin and did not know what to do with it. I took it from him and threw it through the wing of the roof. The grenade exploded. From the right side we heard from the first escort car which stood over a pit created by the mine; they asked us for dressings and ammunition. The driver passed this on to them. At the back of the car the wounded asked for water but it was impossible to get to them.

In this way we kept going until 3 o’clock, when we observed army cars out of which there immediately sprang soldiers in steel helmets and in military formation, and with 2 in. mortars and ammunition they entered the houses. Some time passed before I believed that these were English who had come to take control of the situation. Within my escort car there was heard the cry: ‘We are saved,’ because we saw before us an army car with a young officer firing from a cannon in the direction of the Arab positions.

I got in touch with him and asked him to take the girl who was lying wounded between the two escort cars. He replied that he would arrange a smoke screen in which we could pass over to the ‘caterpillar’ cars of the army.

The driver and myself jumped into the pit. I took a gun with me after filling my pockets with bullets. A boy from the second escort car who was lying in the pit asked me to take the Spandau from his car so that it should not fall into the hands of the Arabs. I was afraid since the Arabs were all the time directing their shots at the Army car and at our car, but in spite of this I took down the Spandau and the ribbons of ammunition. They also passed me two guns from our car. As the army ‘caterpillar’ approached the pit I and the driver help the wounded girl to get into it. The English themselves lifted her up and the driver went after her. I remained in the pit and only when the ‘caterpiller’ returned from Antonius House did I jump up. A soldier told me to lower my head since they were sniping at us.

He took us to Antonius House where a first aid post had been arranged. There I already found a Zion doctor who attended to the wounded and also an Army doctor and his assistants. They constantly provided medicaments, blankets, and acted with great courtesy. I asked to which unit they belonged and they replied they were Scots. I informed them that there were still injured people by the burned cars and they informed me that the British Army would do its best. Some of their own men had been wounded. I also spoke to one of their wounded and he showed no ill feeling.

They gave cigarettes, water, and biscuits with margarine to the people. An officer with the rank of Major gave encouragement to Dr. Yaron’s wife. One of the boys of the escort recognized among the officers one whom he had come across during his mission to Yugoslavia on behalf of the Agency during the last war. He asked him to promise him that the arms would go with us, since otherwise he himself would want to blow them up. The officer himself with the help of some soldiers brought all the arms to the first aid station. At that moment I still managed to see how the armed Arabs approached the army ambulances and stood around them. The Arabs continued to fire at the Army after the wounded and unhurt survivors had been concentrated in Antonius house. The Amy asked who wanted to go to town and who to the Zion Hospital on Mount Scopus.

A survivor in the second escort car reacted to the appearance of N.S (e.g. Nathan Sandowsky). Here is his account:

When N.S. climbed in we were waiting for the final assault. It was now a tradition in the Haganah not to be caught alive. We had five dead. G. was paralyzed by a head wound. I had three bullets in my arm. I piled up the six grenades left in the car and pulled the pin on one to blow us up if the Arabs tried to take us prisoner. We had plenty of ammunition left but there was no one left to fire it. Then N.S. appeared. His face was blackened from the fire in his bus. He grabbed the grenade from my hand and threw it outside where it went off. Then he took one of our two machine guns and kept shooting short bursts. That Kept the Arabs at bay since they knew we could still shoot back. He saved our lives for soon after the British picked us up.”

Gad Romov a passenger in the second ambulance

At about 9:45 a.m. the ambulance in which I was traveling hit a mine and fell into a road trap. Hundreds of shots were fired at us and in addition explosions occurred around. At 10:15 a.m. the bullets first penetrated the ambulance and Dr. Yaron was the first wounded person when pieces of shrapnel hit his leg.

Dr. Yaron sat next to the driver throughout and opened the peephole of the ambulance from time to time to see what was going on and to report. His activities were quickly observed outside and he had become a special target because the largest concentration of bullets was direct at his part of the vehicle. He was asked to come to the interior of the ambulance but refused, wishing to stay at his observation post and encourage the driver.

At 11:15 a.m. the second casualty occurred in the ambulance when Dr. Mala, children’s physician, was also hit by shrapnel. At 12 noon Dr. Yaron reported that Arabs were approaching ever nearer to the vehicles. At 1 p.m. a convoy of British Army cars was seen by him to turn into the Ramallah Road. He shouted to them for help and waved a white handkerchief which he reported must have been clearly seen by the soldiers. At 2 p.m. a second army convoy took the same road again they were signaled. No help was forthcoming.

At 2:45 p.m. more bullets penetrated the car near Dr. Yaron and he was slightly wounded in the face. A little later he reported that a bus was burning and that its occupants had surely perished. Soon afterwards he had to report that the second bus was burning. He then said farewell to the occupants of the ambulance and to his wife. All began to say farewell to one another. Just after 3 p.m. a bullet penetrated the lower part of the ambulance, apparently going through the engine and hit Dr. Yaron in the liver. He began to bleed profusely. He asked for an injection of morphine, which he was given. He said goodbye to his staff and to the patients in the ambulance and then ‘Shalom, my love’ to his wife.

The passage of time in the ambulance became blurred. One or two people actually dozed off for intervals and each one was resigned to his death. Some made neat packages of their watches and personal belongings and sat awaiting their bullet. Indeed, several were longing for this bullet to arrive. S to Yosef, he chattered nervously from about 11 a.m. on.

‘Because of Pharaoh and the Exodus we celebrate Passover and eat Matzot. Because of Haman we celebrate Purim and eat poppy seed cakes. Because of Hitler, Ashkenazis came to Palestine and eat falafel. Because of the Mufti – may his buttocks drop off—our families will live to celebrate Independence and will eat the Seven Varieties.’

Close to noon Yosef thought it was better to run for it than to sit and await being butchered. He jumped out. Rather later Dr. Malal also thought that the slim chance of a run for safety was better than the certainty of being trapped and killed though wounded, he wriggled out of the car and crawled on all fours towards Antonius House.

The other physicians in the ambulance discussed Malal’s move. Whether he and Yosef had succeeded or failed was unknown to them. Two of the doctors suggested risking a joint dash. The third opposed. ‘We have survived here since 9 a.m. We can wait.’

At 3 p.m. two British army ambulances passed by the stranded cars, help was asked for and again was not extended. Sometime during the afternoon a number of Molotov bottles hit the ambulance but failed to set it on fire. On one occasion one of the wounded bus drivers crawled to our ambulance and was able to get into the driver’s seat. He became nervy, thought the chances in the ambulance were hopeless, crawled out again and was killed.

All the time bullets, bombs, mortars, Molotov bottles, Mobs of shrieking Arabs approaching in waves. The ordeal lasted seven hours and then British help arrived. Once this help was extended we all declared how gracious and good-humored it was.

I should like to add a word on Mrs. Yaron who sat transfixed in her agony. With the head of her husband in her arms she silently awaited the sole consolation, her own turn in the circle of death…

And now let Dr. Malal the pediatrician speak for himself.

Once out I jumped into the ditch and began to crawl. I saw the dead body of Yosef. The Arabs spotted me. I got one bullet next to my spine. I kept crawling and got to Antonius House where the British troops welcomed me. Just opposite on the other side of the road were Arabs, apparently the leaders of the whole thing. The British took me in and bandaged me. They were apologetic. They said they were a small unit and they could not do anything. They had been asking for reinforcements but could not get any. I was not able to convince them to o anything for the Convoy.

Six hours after the vehicles were ambushed, the British Brigadier allowed his soldiers in the vicinity to react decisively. While Stoneouse and his men gave protective fire, another unit went with armored cars to the trapped vehicles. They saw an inferno. In the remains of the buses burning and smoldering bodies lay in heaps. The soldiers made a screen and rescued the survivors of the escort cars and ambulance, Niki among them. The British suffered appreciable casualties in dead and wounded, and killed some attackers.

Harry Temkin had spent the whole day desperately trying to get aid to the convoy. By his side was Professor Leifenberg, distinguished writer and expert on ancient Jewish art, who was the liaison officer between him and the Haganah. They tried and tried and tried. They gave the Haganah no rest. The heads of the National Council in Jerusalem were mobilized and exerted maximum influence and pressure. The British Police were sought, contracted, told of the facts and the reactions. Effective intervention was demanded and the impression was that it would be forthcoming. One senior police officer who tried to help at the site of the trap was gravely wounded. The Jewish Liaison Officer with the British Army was under an avalanche of pressure to do something. Harry made contracts with the Army at all levels of command. When he saw that no response was forthcoming he got leadership of the Yishuv to urge the Army to intervene. Temkin and Leifenberg were told in the first hours that the Army was trying to arrange a truce. When nothing happened the President of the University, Dr. Barness, approached the Brigadier in command of the Army.


The Red Cross delegate who always seemed to be on hand when the Arabs were in trouble was in Amman and returned to Jerusalem when the battle was over, lost to the Jews, won by the British after the dreadful delay. An apparent triumph for the Arabs which resulted in intensified resistance by the Yishuv.

By nightfall the Army had arranged for the transfer of most of the dead bodies to town. Many were burnt to the bone, utterly unidentifiable.

After the first aid treatment at Antonius house, 17 wounded were treated in Zion hospital and eight in the newly set up hospital in town. Two days later in addition to 30 dead identified, 46 human beings of the convoy were still not accounted for. They were later presumed dead, burnt to obliteration.

Source: Davis, Eli. Saga of a Siege. P 108-120.

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