The Farhoud, 1941: Kristallnacht for Iraq’s Jews

Saul Silas Fathi’s account of his early life in Baghdad, related in his book, Full Circle, seems to bear out that life was both wonderful and terrible for Jews in Arab lands
. It was very good until it was very bad. Saul’s father was director of the Iraqi railway system. His family lived well, but by the 1930s, the storm was gathering. Below is Fathi’s account of the prelude to the Farhoud , the 1941 Iraqi pogrom against the Jews. [Via Zionation (Iraqi Jews before the fall), with thanks: Ami].

The treatment of Jews in Iraq during the early part of the twentieth century had been relatively positive. The British under the 1917 mandate saw the value of having Jews work with them and later with the newly formed monarchy. They realized that the Jews, who were already holding prominent positions in government and commerce, understood the Iraqi culture and knew both English and the local dialects.

In Iraq, Zionism, or the encouragement of Jewish identity and culture, was permitted from World War I to the early 1930s. However, with the rise of pro- German and pro-Nazi sympathizers in Iraq, restrictions began to be leveled on Jews. In 1933, the Iraqi government forbade the teaching of Hebrew and restricted its use to the Holy Scriptures and in prayers. Extra permits and licensing fees were levied on Jews; and sometimes an extra bribe had to be made in order for Jews to ship or receive goods, without their merchandise sitting in a customs dock indefinitely. Many Jews also were fired from their government jobs.

By the mid 1930s, Nazi-inspired policies became more widespread. Arab boys in Baghdad were often sent to Germany to attend Hitler Youth events. Public high schools stopped teaching French, the language of diplomacy, and began to teach German. Junior high school boys were encouraged to join the Futtuwa, paramilitary programs based on the Hitler Youth groups. Finally, in 1938, no Jews were permitted to attend the public high schools, nor were Jews permitted to leave the country. The Jewish community restricted its own movements to known safe places: work, school, and the marketplace. Though the Balfour Declaration after World War I favored British support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the British in Iraq could do nothing about the growing Arab support of Arab Palestinians and anti-Zionist hate. Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda found its way into Iraq and was actively distributed. German-backed anti-Jewish radio broadcasts filled the Iraqi airwaves, and short-wave radio receivers could pick up anti-Jewish broadcasts from Germany. Hajj Amin al Hussayni, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (1920-1937) under the British mandate, had fled to Iraq after authorizing terrorist attacks on the British and the Jews in Palestine, and was welcomed by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri Al Sa’id. In response, Hussayni and his old friend, Fawzi Kawakchi [Kaukji, Kawkji], spent a year agitating the Iraqi populace against the monarchy, the Regent Abd Al-Ilah, the British, and, of course, the Jews. They used Iraqi radio as their primary propaganda tool.

It was in 1938 that Iraq and the rest of the world heard the awful news of Krystallnacht in Germany. Called “Crystal Night” or the “Night of Broken Glass,” two-days of violence swept through a large Jewish community. German soldiers systematically marched from city block to city block, burning, looting, and killing. One hundred Jews were murdered. Thirty thousand were rounded up and moved to concentration camps. Seven thousand Jewish owned businesses were destroyed and two hundred synagogues were burned.

“With growing pro-Nazism in Iraq and the rise of hatred of the Jews there, the Jewish community feared open violence would reach their people as well. When World War II began in late 1939, Iraq’s treaty with the British stipulated that Iraq would officially and politically side with the Allies. This served only to fan the flames of Arab nationalism that found sympathy with Nazism and anti-Jewish sentiment within the country.

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Part 2 to follow


  • Saul Fathi has provided a clear, concise account of the Jewish experience in Iraq before 1948 and the rise of Israel –specifically under the monarchy through the 20s, 30s, and early 1940s. As such, it is helpful in dispelling the monumental fraud of Shatz and his colleagues and allies.

    I had read much of this data earlier but Fathi has put it together in one account. Which makes it more useful. My first reaction when reading it was anger at Shatz and the Guardian for outreageously disregarding known historical facts in creating and promoting a false narrative for anti-Zionist [actually, anti-Jewish] motives.

    If we look at the more recent history of Iraq, from the Ba`ath takeover circa 1961 [1963?], through Saddam’s rise and subsequent total takeover of power [circa 1970], and then the aftermath of the war that toppled Saddam, we see a land of massive violence and slaughter. Kurds, Assyrians, even Shi’ite Arab Muslims –more recently followed by Sunni Arab victims at the hands of Shi`ites and al-Qa`ida– have all been victims in their tens of thousands. How could a Jewish community have continued to live there in peace, safety, and security, given the massive, endemic violence in the country?? How is it that the “Left” of today, many of them self-styled Marxists, cannot put 2 and 2 together to comprehend the realities, and instead tell the Jews that they should have stayed there??

    This reminds me that after the Holocaust, the Communists called on Jewish survivors of the concentration camps and the forest partisans to stay in Poland and other Eastern European countries, instead of going to Israel or USA or elsewhere. I was told that a Yiddish-speaking Communist from New York, Paul Novick, came to address a gathering of survivors at a DP camp in Poland. He told them that things would be wonderful in the new Communist Poland and that they should stay. Somebody in the crowd called out: Give us your passport and you stay here and build Communism!!!

  • This can’t be true!! Adam Shatz said that nothing bad happened to the Jews in Iraq until the independence of the State of Israel! Who gave this Fathi person permission to contradict Shatz? To write these politically incorrect lies?? Did Fathi get permission from Shatz before picking up his pen??

    [desperate sarcasm — black humor!]

    Actually, much or all of what Fathi writes was published long ago. Even the Nazi propaganda influence in Iraq and the Nazi ties of Husseini [Husayni] and Gaylani, etc., were known and reported, for instance by John Gunther, Majid Khadduri, Elie Kedourie, Lukasz Hirszowicz, Joseph Schechtman, etc. But somehow, the “Left”, which believes itself to be omniscient, has been unaware of these facts. In conclusion: The Guardian is unreliable and the “Left” in general is unreliable and not to be believed.


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