Have You Ever Heard of the Farhud? – Jewish Journal

Posted By on June 8, 2022

Warning: The following contains graphic imagery and language.

Last week, I conducted an informal survey: I asked five Ashkenazi friends and five Iranian-Jewish friends in Los Angeles if they had heard of Kristallnacht, the antisemitic pogrom that occurred in Germany in 1938. All of them said yes.

I then asked if they had heard of the Farhud, a deadly pogrom against Iraqi Jews during June 1-2, 1941, in which hundreds were murdered and raped. Out of ten friends in Los Angeles, nine of them had not heard of the Farhud.

And then, a strange thing happened: I asked ten friends in Israel if they had ever heard of the Farhud, given that hundreds of thousands of Israelis have grandparents or great-grandparents of Iraqi Jewish descent. Nine of them also responded that they didnt know what it was.

Im not an Iraqi Jew (Im a neighboring cousin from Iran), but as of the 81st anniversary of the Farhud last week, Im on a mission to expose as many Jews and non-Jews to the atrocities that were committed against this once-vibrant community as a result of a heinous combination of Muslim antisemitism and Nazi propaganda.

The Farhud (pogrom in Arabic) occurred in Baghdad during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. Muslim Iraqi mobs screamed Cutal al yehud (Slaughter the Jews!) and butchered nearly 200 Jews (some estimate that number is closer to 1,000). Hundreds were raped; over 1,000 were injured and over 900 homes were destroyed. The Farhud was the closest Iraqi Jews came to experiencing their own mini version of a genocide. One thing is certain: Jews who survived the Farhud were traumatized for the rest of their lives.

Shortly before the Farhud, assailants had compiled a list of Jewish homes and businesses. Jewish leaders begged local authorities for mercy, but to no avail. Jews were beheaded; Jewish babies were slaughtered (some Jewish family threw their babies over rooftops, hoping they would be caught in blankets below to save them); murderers waived severed limbs and other body parts, including in one case, the breast of a young Jewish woman (who had been raped). Perpetrators raped Jewish girls at a local school. Six girls were actually abducted to a village nine miles away.

Learning about the Farhud is not for those with weak stomachs. But here are some key facts about this dark moment in the history of Middle Eastern Jewry that everyone should know:

Nazism Found An Enthusiastic Partner In Arab Nationalism

The Middle East and North Africa were an enormous hub of Nazi activity, and that included actual SS boots on the ground (particularly as far as Nazi masterminds who collaborated with Egyptian leaders were concerned). Many of us have seen the infamous 1941 photo of Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, in conversation with Adolf Hitler.

Hundreds of Libyan Jews starved to death in Italian-controlled Libya during the Holocaust; most Jews in Cyrenaica were sent to the Jado concentration camp (250 kilometers south of Tripoli). Hundreds were sent to camps in Europe. The Nazis had a long-term strategy for the Middle East, and that included propagandizing Berlin as a friend of downtrodden Muslims everywhere. If they could successfully align with fanatics in the region, Nazi leaders surmised, they might convince jihadists to actually fight Germanys enemies (beyond Jews).

Before the Farhud, the Nazis began to broadcast Radio Berlin in Arabic throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Hitlers Mein Kampf was not only translated into Arabic, but printed in a local Baghdad newspaper, thanks to Fritz Grobba, Germanys charge daffaires in Baghdad. In 1933, he bought Al-Alem Al Arabi (a Christian Iraqi paper) and published Arabic translations of Mein Kampf in installments.

Whereas the Nazis had Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend), Iraq created the Futtuwa, a pre-military youth movement that was active in the 1930s and 1940s. These youth attended the Nazi rally in Nuremberg in 1938; when they returned home, they popularized a chant in Arabic: Long live Hitler, the killer of insects and Jews.

For further information on Nazi activity in the Middle East, I recommend reading Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz (Yale University Press, 2014).

Where Theres Anti-Zionism, Jews Will Always Be Killed

Im particularly fascinated by one aspect of the Farhud thats worth sharing: In 1941, seven years before the establishment of the modern State of Israel (which antisemites continue to use as justification for isolating, defaming and attacking Jews today), Muslim Iraqis who led the pogroms accused Iraqi Jews of being Zionist sympathizers in the conflict between Jews and Arabs in then-Mandatory Palestine. They also accused Iraqi Jews of working with the British in colonizing Iraq. Does any of this sound familiar? Im reminded of post-revolutionary Iran (1979-today), whose regime identifies Zionism as a capital offense. Maybe thats why every few months, theres a story about a Jewish leader in Iran denouncing Israel publicly or proudly attending an anti-Israel rally.

Heres the worst part about Iraqs history of violent antisemitism today: Whereas other Arab countries, including the former behemoth of Arab nationalism, Egypt, have made peace with Israel, two weeks ago, Iraqs Parliament passed a law criminalizing relations with the Zionist entity. Anyone who violates this new law, including businessmen, faces life imprisonment or even the death sentence. The government said it was only reflecting the will of the people. Hundreds gathered in Tahrir Square (yes, it shares its name with the famous Tahrir Square from Egypts 2011 revolution) in central Baghdad to celebrate the passing of the law.

Hows that for progress 81 years after the country shamefully allowed for the mass slaughter of its ancient Jewish population in Baghdad? Even the regime in Iran had the decency to criminalize Zionism over 40 years ago, rather than today.

For The Last Time, Jews Are Not White.

I can nearly guarantee that certain American celebrities who believe that the Holocaust was a white-on-white crime dont know that Nazism spread its hideous tentacles throughout the Middle East.

I can nearly guarantee that certain American celebrities who believe that the Holocaust was a white-on-white crime dont know that Nazism spread its hideous tentacles throughout the Middle East. Ive also never believed that Jews are white (if thats the case, why are we the target of white supremacists?), but I challenge anyone who weaponizes race against Jews by calling us white and privileged to see photos of brown-skinned Iraqi Jews running out of their destroyed homes in 1941 and screaming in horror, and to tell me that these Jews are white (or privileged).

And then, theres the deeply offensive and untruthful argument that Israel ethnically-cleanses Palestinians. Do you know which once-thriving Jewish population was actually driven out completely from the Arab Middle East? Iraqi Jews. And if you want to get technical, Libyan Jews. And Syrian Jews. And Yemenite Jews.

Three to five Jews remain in Iraq, from a former population of over 135,000 before the Farhud (including 90,000 who lived in Baghdad). Forty or so Jews remain in Syria; while six Jews are still in Yemen. These are estimates and some of the numbers might actually be smaller.

Not a single Jew remains in Libya. Im not a mathematician, but something about that wreaks of ethnic cleansing.

Anyone who knows even minimally about Jewish history knows that modern-day Iraq was one of the most important epicenters of Jewish learning. The Babylonian Talmud was completed there, and Jews have had a continuous presence in the region since they were brought there as captives after the Babylonians conquered the Kingdom of Judea in the sixth-century BCE. That means that for nearly 3,000 years, Jews lived in present-day Iraq. Again, only three to five Jews remain there today.

The Farhud not only marked the beginning of a mass exodus of Iraqi Jews from the country, but tragically, it also marked the end of an ancient Jewish community.

The Farhud not only marked the beginning of a mass exodus of Iraqi Jews from the country, but tragically, it also marked the end of an ancient Jewish community.

I shouldnt have been surprised that my Israeli friends had not heard of the Farhud. A recent poll found that half of Israelis that were polled knew about Kristallnacht; only seven percent had ever heard of the Farhud. That, in itself, is another tragedy.

For more information on the Farhud, read Edwin Blacks The Farhud Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust (Dialog Press, 2010).

Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer, speaker, and civic action activist. Follow her on Twitter @TabbyRefael

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Have You Ever Heard of the Farhud? - Jewish Journal

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