On the eve of the 73rd anniversary of the outbreak of the Farhud pogrom in Iraq, Point of No Return is posting this vivid extract from the memoirs of Shmuel Moreh, who was then a Baghdad schoolboy. Some 179 Jews were killed and thousands wounded in the two days of anti-Jewish mayhem which swept through Iraq’s cities on 1 and 2 June 1941.
“The year 1941 was one of the most
tragic years in the life of the Jews of Iraq. It was a year of quick changes in
the political, economic and social relations between Arabs (Muslim and
Christian) on one side and Jews on the other side.
As a child who lived in the
modern Jewish quarter of al-Battawiyyin inhabited by upper middle class in
Baghdad, I was a pupil of the Al-Sa’doon Exemplary School. It was established in 1937 as a
Government mixed school founded for children of the Iraqi Royal
family, high-ranking civil and army officers, judges and secretaries. It mirrored the attitude of the government towards the Jewish citizens of
Iraq. I was one of three Jewish pupils who studied there among majority of
Muslims. We suffered daily harassments, insults and mockery.
A few days after the defeat of the Iraqi army in its war against the British army at its bases in Habbaniya
and Sin al-Dhubban, Jews were attacked in the streets; their houses were marked
as Jewish by anti-Jewish organizations, and I was able to narrowly escape being
lynched by my Muslim and Christians colleagues at my school.
On 31 May, 1941 after the defeat of the Iraqi Army against the British in
Iraq, Radio Baghdad announced that the next day, the Regent and the members of
the Iraqi government would return to Baghdad and urged the people to receive him
with joy. We were very happy and optimistic that the nightmare of the pro-Nazi
government had collapsed, and felt safe to go out of doors.
June 1, 1941 was the first day of Shevu’ot. My father went out to the Meir
Twaiq Synagogue near our home for the festival prayer. The minute he put
his foot out of our door, Abu ‘Alwan, the milkman who lived with his wives and
cows opposite our house in the date palm orchard known as Bustan Mamoo, called my
father in a warning voice: “Ibrahim, Abu Jack, return home quickly and close
your door, nobody should go out today. You don’t know what is happening in
Baghdad?” He whispered to my father some words.
My father’s face became very
serious and worried. He closed the door quickly and ordered his six children with
a severe voice to help him fortify the door with heavy furniture. He asked my
elder brother to bring the revolver from its secret pit under the tiles of the
bathroom, to load it and bring it to him.
He ordered the rest of his younger
children to collect bricks, iron bars and objects and to take them to the roof,
to defend ourselves in case we were attacked. We were all tense and frightened
at the news that some Jews were massacred in the Old Quarter of Baghdad.
the evening we noticed heavy smoke and heard shots coming from that direction. At
about eight o’clock a shot rang out near by from the direction of our uncle’s
house, followed by terrifying cries for help. We were able to recognize
the voice of our uncle, a former Police Officer and Commander of a police
station in Baghdad, Haim ‘Aynachi, and his daughters.
We were terrified. We
children couldn’t stop our teeth from chattering, my mother and my two sisters
were ordered to read a chapter of the Psalms asking God to save my uncle’s family
of four daughters and one son. Soon more fires and heavy smoke were seen; the
firing of heavy machine guns and bullets was followed by the terrifying cries of
desperate voices. Calls for help and mercy were heard from the faraway Jewish
houses of the Old City. We were unable to sleep all night.
The next day, our
gardener, the milkman, Abu ‘Alwan, knocked at our door; I went to the window to
see who was knocking. Abu ‘Alwan was standing at our threshold. He took a long,
sharp knife out of his clothing and told me, “Sami, look, tell your father that I
am guarding you and will defend you! Don’t be afraid. Anyone who would try to
attack you will be slaughtered with this knife!” I thanked him and ran to tell
my family of Abu ‘Alwan’s noble gesture and bravery.
We felt somehow relieved.
At least he didn’t betray us, as some Muslims did to their Jewish neighbors.
However, the thought that a single Muslim might help stop the incited
savage mobs, thirsty for the blood and property of defenseless Jews, was comforting.
Later on, frightening scenes and desperate screams were seen and heard once more. The
turmoil of fast-driving lorries and cars, the firing of machine guns and screams were
heard once more. At the end of the
second day of the massacres we were able to hear the news bulletin on the Radio
of Baghdad announcing safe conduct. A Muslim cleric called to save the life of
the Jews since they were Dhimmis, protected by the Qur’an and the Prophet
Muhammad; order was maintained and people could go out for shopping and
return to their business.
The first thing we did was to visit our uncle’s family. He showed us the
heavy furniture with which he fortified his door and was proud that he ordered
his young beautiful daughter to cry for help while escaping from one roof to
another to avoid being raped. He was furious with his Muslim neighbor for his betrayal:
he had warned my uncle not to complain to the police.
My brother Raymond and I went to
buy bread and food for the family. A Muslim girl ignored our queue. We ordered
her to wait for us in the long queue. She looked us with hate and anger and
shouted toward us: “You bloody Jews! In spite of our massacre, you are
still daring to face us with your arrogant remarks. You will see, in the next
Farhud, we will slaughter you all.”
Two days later, an endless stream of wounded and humiliated, hungry, and penniless
Jews came knocking on the doors of the lucky Jewish neighborhoods which the
rioters and murderers did not dare to attack. The told us with streaming tears
in their eyes, about their horror and suffering, telling us terrible stories of
rape, murder of men who dared to defend their wives and daughters’ honor,
their Muslim neighbors who defended or betrayed them, the merciless soldiers
and policemen who kidnapped, raped and killed even small children. Our parents
tried to prevent us from hearing about these vicious atrocities.
All the Jewish
neighborhoods were kind enough to help with money, clothes, shoes, bedsheets,
pillow, kitchen utensils for cooking. The poor victims would murmur angrily:
“The damned rascals robbed us of everything. They even took with them brooms and old shoes”.
One of our relatives told us how her 12-year-old son was shot by a
policeman when trying to escape to the next roof.
Even after 50 years when
I questioned her about the massacre of the Farhud, she started weeping as if it
happened yesterday. “When my son fell by the bullet in his thigh, I took him
in my bosom, trying to bind his wound in vain and ease his horror. He was
bleeding heavily. He looked at me ‘with his big blue eyes’ screaming horrifying
screams, asking for help. But nobody could help. Bullets were whistling above
our heads and all around. Screaming, hungry and wounded men and women begged us
for help, and anyone who dared go down to the streets would be killed
by the maddened mob. My son was bleeding in my arms a slow, horrible death. Even
God did not have mercy upon us, and he died, he died… He died upon my breast,
from where I fed him when he was a child!” She was weeping and knocking
upon her chest with great grief.
Back at school, we heard of other tragedies of friends. My brother Mordechai brought home one of his
friends who lost his parents in the terrible massacres. Our mother asked us to
help him with clothes, money and supply all his needs.
At first, the attacked Jews felt that the main aim of the soldiers and
policemen was to kill as many Jews as possible, but when the mob started stealing
Jewish property, they joined in the plunder, and in this way many escaped
From the report of the Investigating Committee set up by the Iraqi
government, we learned that the massacre known as the Farhud started when the
Regent, his entourage and the former Prime Minister of Iraq returned and the
British Army desisted from entering Baghdad to maintain order.
two days 179 Jews were killed and thousands were wounded. We felt humiliated
and betrayed. When the State of Israel was declared in 1948, we were afraid
that another Farhud would start. Most of us felt that the Iraqi government and
the people did not consider us their citizens. A Jewish state had been
established and a wave of persecution started. We felt that Iraq was not safe
any more and in fact we have had to replace the Palestinian refugees who
escaped the territory of the new Jewish State. When we had the choice to
leave to Israel during 1950-1951, we left en masse to Israel on eagles’ wings.”
Shmuel Moreh is an emeritus Professor of Arabic Language and Literature at
the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel Prize Laureate in Oriental Studies
1999); Commander of the Order of the Lion of Finland (1986); Chairman of the
Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq in Israel and Chairman of the Academic
Committee, The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda, Israel.