The Farhud Baghdad, 1 June 1941

Photo:  The Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin Al-Husaini and Hitler, the Reich Chancellery, Berlin, 28 November 1941

560 words / 3 minute read

… the British forces allowed the defeated Iraqi troops to return to their barracks without surrendering their weapons.  Stung by their humiliating defeat, and already fuelled with anti-Jewish rage, al-Sawabi’s followers decided to act.  On June 1 a group of Jews were attacked and stabbed while travelling to the airport to welcome the Regent back to the city.  A full-scale pogrom – the farhud – began at three o’clock that afternoon.

On June 2, in an attempt to defuse the volatile situation in Baghdad, the newly returned Regent appointed as Prime Minister Jamil al-Madfai, a man known to be well-disposed towards the Jews.  At noon that day, the Regent also ordered the Kurdish division, which had remained loyal, to enter Baghdad and open fire on the rioters.  His order was obeyed.  The Kurdish soldiers acted with unrestrained zeal, shooting the rioters without mercy and dispersing the mobs.  Yunis al-Sawabi and two of his closest collaborators were arrested at the Iranian border, and hanged in Baghdad on the morning of July 20, at the entrance to the Jewish Quarter.

This brought an end to the violence, but the farhud marked the beginning of the end of the vibrant life of Iraqi Jewry:  178 Jews had been murdered in Baghdad and nine outside the city.  Several Muslims who had tried to come to the defence of their Jewish neighbours were also murdered.  Several hundred Jewish women and young girls were raped.  More than 240 Jews were orphaned and at least two thousand Jews were badly wounded.  In addition, 911 Jewish homes and 586 Jewish-owned shops and stores were looted, as were four ancient synagogues.

Abraham Elkabir, who served in the Iraqi administration for a quarter of a century, later reflected – while living in Israel – on what went wrong between the Muslims and Jews.  He traced Muslim hostility to three factors:  the Palestine issue, the Mufti of Jerusalem’s campaign in Iraq identifying Jews and Zionists, and the “anti-Semitic tendencies” of the British officials and other Westerners in Iraq.  He recalled a speech by Dorothy Thompson, Secretary of the American Friends of the Middle East, to an audience of the women’s branch of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society:  “She warned the Arabs to beware of the Jews.”  The Hitler regime in Germany had also given “an additional and greater stimulus to the embryonic anti-Jewish movement.”  The striking German military successes in the early stage of the war, the formidable German propaganda machine led by the Mufti and assisted by the Iraqi pro-Nazi broadcaster Younis Bahri, and the savage attacks of the farhud all “had a tremendous effect on the population already infected by the anti-Semitic virus.”

Elkabir also commented on a social divide between many Jews and Muslim in Baghdad.  The “beautiful villas” of the Jew “were photographed and published in the proximity of some miserable looking Arab huts.  Well-dressed beautiful Jewish ladies were a striking contrast to the then-veiled Muslim women and the bare-footed Arab female milk sellers …. For every two Muslims walking along Rasheed Street, the great artery of Baghdad, you would certainly find a well-dressed Jewish passer-by.”  Envy and frustration, Elkabir noted, “prevented people’s looks from taking account of the Jewish dwellers of the slums and the wealth of Arab politicians and nouveaux riches.”  The large number of Jews in higher education had likewise become a cause of envy.

Excerpt from In Ishmael’s House

 Read:  In Ishmael’s House

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