A Temple defiled after the Farhud

After the Farhud massacre, the Jews felt their ‘Temple’ – the city of Baghdad – had been defiled. After more than 2,000 years, Iraq was no longer their home, Heskel Haddad tells Sarah Ehrich in The Jerusalem Post: (with thanks: Lily)

Fattal cries quietly as he remembers that night: “We could hear screams from our neighbors, which was a horrifying sound, a sound of agony. All of them all together started to shout and scream and it would last for two minutes or so, and then the sound died. Then the same sound would renew from other directions. Their voices transmitted the tragedy of Jews in our neighborhood, and I can remember it until this day, as these voices have never left me. They were so strong, so close and so clear.”

By the second day, Fattal could see from his balcony that the mob was attacking his neighbor Habas’s house. “We could see them right under our noses, and if they had decided to attack us then, no one could have stopped them, as it was very easy for the rioters to move from roof to roof. So we called our armed policeman from outside and begged him to assume control and fire a few bullets in the air to scare them away. Our policeman insisted on more payment, and my Uncle Na’im argued that they we had already paid him generously. But our policeman kept repeating, ‘How much will you pay?’ while our situation was getting more and more threatening by the minute.

“The policeman kept repeating, ‘One dinar per bullet,’ and Na’im kept saying back that one dinar was enough for 50 bullets and offered him a quarter of a dinar. Finally they agreed upon half a dinar per bullet. Had he refused, we would have taken his gun. The policeman fired two shots and paused, and then two more shots, until he saw the rioters move away.”

While the violence continued unabated, British troops were waiting on the outskirts of the city, forbidden to enter. British historian Tony Rocca, the author of Memories of Eden, explains that according to the archives in Kew, it appears that “Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, Britain’s ambassador in Baghdad, for reasons of his own, held our forces at bay in direct insubordination to express orders from Winston Churchill that they should take the city and secure its safety. While the Farhud raged, Cornwallis went back to his residence and played a game of bridge.”

By the second day of fighting, the mob’s violence had spread to such a degree that Muslim shops were also being looted, and a curfew was eventually called at 5 p.m. Remaining violators on the streets were shot, and a relative calm was soon restored.

Haddad learned that his cousin had been trying to save the life of a fellow Jew and been fatally stabbed in the back.

“I went to my uncle, and as soon as I opened the door, my uncle… was crying, his son was killed. It was very tragic because he was like an older brother to me,” he recounts.

“It felt like the destruction of the Temple, like on [Tisha Be’Av]. I felt the same way because… this city was our Temple. We were living there,” he goes on. “One third of the population of Baghdad were Jews. Baghdad was closed on Saturday, the whole government was closed on Saturday because Jews were the majority in the city. And yet here, I suddenly saw that this city was no longer our Temple. It was their Temple, and they can destroy it… It transformed me completely… From an Iraqi, loving Iraq, loving Muslims as Jews, I became fanatic Jewish, fanatic anti-Iraq.”

Despite the apparent calm in Baghdad, Jews were routinely imprisoned on trumped-up charges. Carrying Jewish prayer books was made illegal, and after the declaration of the birth of Israel in 1948, the situation became treacherous for Jews.

Morris Zebaida, who escaped to Israel illegally in December of that year with his two young sisters, describes the city he left: “We learned to live like mice. If we made any noise, we would be spat upon, beaten or thrown in prison on ridiculous made-up charges.”

WHEN THE State of Israel was created, life in Iraq became unbearable, with public hangings of prominent Jews that shocked the community to new depths. When the Iraqi government finally allowed to Jews to leave in 1950 on condition they forfeit their nationality and all their money and property, the entire community registered en masse, leaving only 2,000 Jews by 1952.

“We were the wealthiest Jewish community in the world,” says Haddad. “We were well-educated, cultured, and 85% were high school graduates, with hundreds of doctors among us. And in order to leave, we had to leave behind all our money, all our property and even our nationality. And that all happened because of the trauma of the Farhud. The Farhud was something that showed us we are not welcome in that country… We lived there for 2,400 years – before Islam, before the Arabs came there, but now it was no longer our home.”

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