The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Murder of John Hron

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Wednesday evening

It's Wednesday evening, one of the last days of the summer vacation. John will start his next school year on Monday, the 8th grade. He has had a good summer in many respects. His great interest is canoeing - in July he won a bronze medal in the Swedish youth championship.

Before the end of the vacation, John and a friend have decided to go camping by a lake about 8 kilometers from their home. The lake is a popular place for the youngsters in the neighborhood. John's mother drives them to the lake, and like all mothers she is a bit worried. The boys think she is fussy. That's the way young boys feel about their mother's worries. They leave the car and follows the little path to the rocky cape at the south end of the lake.

That's where they are going to camp.

It's somewhere between eight and nine o'clock in the morning. The boys pitch the tent and light a fire near the shore. They are going to grill sausage.

No one knows that this is the last evening in John's life. They sit there talking, having a lot of fun. What are they talking about? The past summer? Music? Canoeing? Girls? Mopeds? School, that is about to start?

The Murder

It's the fire that attracts John's murderers.

Four youngsters, two aged eighteen, one seventeen and one fifteen, all of them skinheads, come a bit later to the lake, at another cape. T-shirt worn by one of John Hron's attackers

They sit there and drink - they are well supplied with beer and liquor. They shout at John and his comrade, but they do not answer, so they decide to find out who the people by the fire are. (Maybe this will be an enjoyable evening after all. Maybe they will find someone to pester.)

The fifteen year old boy is sent to observe. He is delighted: one of the boys by the fire is John Hron, a boy he doesn't like. During the past school year he has harassed and mobbed and beaten him, even threatened to kill him. At school the boy has been called "Rambo."

No one can say why he has been bullying John. Maybe it is because he hasn't been submissive enough, like other students. John is certainly tall (over 180 cm) and solid (nearly 70 kg), but right now Rambo has a powerful advantage - his three friends.

The fifteen year old boy returns to his comrades and tell them that he has found a jerk and the idiot Hron by the fire. He wants all of them to go with him and beat John, he even suggests that they should kill him.

The others wants to drink a little more, but between half past ten and eleven all of them tramp to John's campsite.

The harassment starts right away. One of the eighteen year old boys throws a bottle on John's head, and starts to beat and kick him. John tumbles down.

He is told to say that he loves Nazis. He refuses, and is beaten even more until he does what he is told. He then takes more beating anyway, perhaps because he was obviously lying.

The fifteen year old boy takes over and gives John several hard kicks, of which one hits the back of his head. At this stage John is panic-stricken. At least three of the gang attack him, often without any notice, sometimes from behind. According to one of the attackers, his eyes are wide open like bowls, and he cannot focus his vision.

His eyes wander constantly back and forth. He trembles and finally he sits on his heels, with his head in his hands in order to protect himself as well as he can against kicks and blows. That doesn't prevent him from getting more. He gets a violent jump kick, kicks to his side and to the head. Again and again he falls from the violent kicks. Someone beats him with a burning log from the fire. Another one pushes him so that he falls into the fire. They light the tent on fire. They steal and destroy their things. John and his friend want to go home, but they are not permitted to do so. Instead they continue to attack John with kicks and punches. Finally he is left lying on the ground, his face bloody and swollen.

The picture of what really happens during the hideous hours is unclear. The murderers doesn't remember, or don't want to remember very much during the police investigation. They blame each other. Sometimes they take a break from the torture. They insist that John have a beer, and the tone is friendlier.

Nothing seems, however, to stop each new outburst of violence. It is not enough that John, against all that he believes in, has said that he loves Nazis. He has to take more punishment anyway. They are the cats playing with the mouse, and they enjoy his anguish and fear. It's an intoxicating feeling for the four of them to have a scared boy so totally in their control.

Finally, after am outbreak of battering, they thow him into the lake.

John swims away from them. He is in pain, dazed and scared, but he is a good swimmer. Soon the skinheads discover that it wasn't a good idea to throw him in the water. They can't beat him anymore. They yell at him, and demand that he come back, but he stays out in the lake for about fifteen minutes. Then one of them comes up with the idea to force John's comrade to cry to John that he will have to take the beating if John doesn't return.

While John is out on the lake the mood seems to go down for the skinheads. The seventeen year old boy, and the other eighteen year old boy who has been relatively passive during the assault, are pleased. They want to go and take John's comrade, who is scared out of his wits, with them.

It is in just that moment John makes a disastrous decision: he turns back towards land. Is it because he is worried about his friend? Does he think that all of the skinheads are about to leave, or does he hope that they won't beat him anymore?

He is in pain and he is scared, and he cannot understand the magnitude of the hate his tormentors feel. He is only fourteen years old. He doesn't understand that his two main torturers are drawn into a grotesque competition, a competition neither of them can afford to lose. John's life is at stake, and right now it isn't worth anything. We cannot know what he thinks at the moment he decides to swim back to the beach, but that decision means ghastly consequences for him.

The fifteen year old boy and one of the eighteen year old boys are waiting for him. They are the two that have mainly been the active ones during the battering, and they have got more than enough hate left. The beating starts all over with a new decisiveness and efficiency, and there is no escape now.

A fist lands square on John's face and throws him to the ground. He falls backwards, hits the back of his head on a rock, and is knocked unconscious. He is dragged over to a grassy spot, because the murderers want the kicking session to be more convenient. Hard kicks smash his head, but he can't protect himself with his arm. He is unconscious.

The executioners see that he moves but doesn't scream. He just writhes in pain and mumbles things they can't understand. The cat and mouse play is over. The murderers are pleased, and they lift, drag and roll John over the cliff to the shore. They kick him into the water. Just before he falls they hear him mumble something again.

John doesn't notice when he falls into the water. Drowning, he sinks slowly to the bottom of the lake. The murderers stand there and watch, one of them rolling a cigarette. No one lifts a finger although they understand that John is dying.

The competition was a draw. Nobody won but no one lost either. The murderers turn their back on the dreadful scene and join the others. One of them says that John sank like a stone when they throw him into the water for the second time. The skinheads go home and go to bed.

John's comrade gets a lift, returns home and tells his family. Only a few hours after John's mother drove the boys to the lake, John lay at its bottom, beaten into unrecognizability.


It is very painful even to think about the last hours of John's life. He was tortured and humiliated in a outrageous way. His executioners forced him to lie about the ideals he believed in and now stands for. With blows and kicks they finally managed to force him to say what they wanted to hear: that he loved Nazis.

A boy only fourteen years of age was tormented and murdered, and his tormentors cannot even explain why. There is no limit to the brutality that they displayed as they cheered each other on, competing in a mad spiral toward more brutality. They kicked him everywhere, in the back, on his side, on his legs, but mainly toward his neck and head.

When they had thrown him into the lake the first time, putting a temporary end to the assault, they didn't realise at first that they had let him out of their power voluntarily. Then they demanded that he swim back and take more. For hours they had given free outflow to a reckless rage and a limitless sadism, but still there was time for consideration. Yet nothing indicates that they even for a minute considered ending their torture. They used John's comrade as a hostage and exploited John's sense of justice to prevent him from saving his own life. Not even the wildest animals behaved like John's murderers.

What more did they request from John? They wanted his life. That's all he had left, but he gave it to them anyway. He returned voluntarily to his executors, to be exposed to more torture. Were they disarmed by his courage? Did they feel ashamed? Not at all. They were even more brutal in their assault, spurring each other on to kick him even harder.

Were they at least content when they had a broken tormented, unconscious bundle at their feet, a rag of a human being, a lifeless body, that could not even express pain when kicked? Not even then was it enough. They dragged a unconscious fourteen year old boy to the water and drowned him.

If they previously didn't understand how serious their battery was, there was still a last chance for them to come to their senses. When they saw that John didn't wake up when he was thrown into the water, they could have jumped in and pulled him ashore. For a short moment, before everything was lost, they had the chance to realise that they had gone too far, they they could save the boy from death by drowning.

They did nothing.

Anxious and miserable, afraid to appear weak in front of one another, they watched. They rolled a cigarette and then left, letting a fourteen year old boy who had done them no harm sink like a stone and die.

A boy with all his life ahead went to a lake to camp. After a few hours everything was turned into a nightmare. He was assaulted, tortured and murdered in a mad outbreak of violence. Such a thorough-paced cruelty and sadism, such a total lack of humanity, has seldom been displayed by teenagers.

John is dead, he is gone forever, but his death must not be without any meaning. We have all a responsibility for the society in which we live. We must not do as John's murderers did, turning our back to a poor boy's horrible, painful death, and moving on. The society we live in and what it looks like is our responsibility.

There are many of us who want to live in a country where two boys can safely go out for an adventure in the summer, and camp by a lake. If this is the society we want, we must be prepared to be courageous like John. We must show that we stand for every human being's right to his life and his freedom.

We must remember John Hron, a boy that refused to flee and therefore lost his life.

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