How ‘Nazi’ an event was the Farhud?

 The Farhud victims were hurriedly buried in a mass grave

In a groundbreaking case working its way up through the Israeli courts, lawyers are trying to prove that Nazi Germany was behind the 1941 Farhud pogrom in Iraq. But the case for the prosecution minimises the intent of local Nazis, led by the Mufti of Jerusalem, to bring the final solution to the Middle East, argues Lyn Julius:

Last week fell the 73rd anniversary of a cataclysmic event in the tragic annals of Iraq’s Jews: the outbreak, on 1st and 2nd June 1941,  of the Farhud.

The Farhud — a Kurdish word meaning “violent dispossession”  —  erupted at the peak of World War ll. Over two days of rioting coinciding with the Jewish festival of Shavuot, a frenzied mob, including Arab neighbors and policemen, murdered around 180 Jews in Baghdad and other cities (the exact figure is not known); 242 children were orphaned, scores of women raped, hundreds wounded, 900 homes and 586 Jewish-owned shops were looted.  Although some Arabs did heroically defend their Jewish neighbors, stories abound of pregnant women eviscerated, babies mutilated and Jewish hospital patients refused treatment or poisoned. The dead were hurriedly buried in a mass grave.

Was this just another spasm of violence, as occurred from time to time throughout 14 centuries of Jewish-Muslim “coexistence”? Or should the Farhud be considered a Holocaust event?

In a fascinating development reported in Haaretz, three lawyers are fighting a case against the Israeli government: If they could prove that Nazi Germany was behind this particularly gruesome bout of bloodletting, then the Farhud’s survivors are entitled to claim compensation and state benefits under Israel’s Disabled Victims of Nazi Persecution Law.

The plaintiffs claim that the riots against the Jews in Iraq were “a direct result of incitement and deliberate, organized, German-Nazi propaganda whose purpose was to make the Jews hateful to the Arab inhabitants of Iraq and motivate them to strike at the Jews.”  The historical evidence includes German and British army correspondence and minutes, and an investigative report into the Farhud which Iraq made public in 1958.

The key player in the financing and dissemination of Nazi propaganda was Fritz Grobba, the German ambassador to Baghdad from 1932.

Among other activities, Grobba acquired the newspaper Al-Alam Al-Arabi, in which he published an Arabic translation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. He sent Iraqi officers and intellectuals on trips to Germany as guests of the Nazi party. He also gave financial support to nationalist youth groups in Iraq and provided them with Nazi propaganda materials. A delegation from the Al-Futuwwa nationalist youth movement even visited Germany in May 1938, attended the Nazi party conference in Nuremberg and returned to Iraq armed with antisemitic messages of Jewish power, corruption and conspiracy.

The Farhud took place immediately after the defeat by British forces of Iraq’s short-lived pro-Nazi government, headed by Rashid Ali (al-Gaylani), and the flight of its main actors. Grobba funded Rashid Ali’s May 1941 coup by transferring him tens of thousands of gold ingots.  At a meeting of the supreme German command on May 7, 1941, Hitler resolved “to assist Iraq in every possible way, including sending arms, ammunition, money and military aid.”

Putting the case for the defense (the Holocaust Survivors’ Rights Authority at Israeli Finance ministry), historians claim that Iraq was way down the list of Germany’s priorities; that Grobba was not a “sworn” Nazi; that Nazi propaganda was marginal; that Arab nationalists enlisted Nazi support in order to defeat the British, which they failed to do; and that the Farhud was simply classic Arab antisemitism, without adding Nazism to the mix.

But as Edwin Black argues in his seminal book Farhud, Nazi Germany needed more and more Iraqi oil as the war progressed. Arab overtures to Hitler, initially rebuffed, were ultimately welcomed.

 In its enthusiasm to indict Grobba, the case for the prosecution appears to downplay the role of the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, exiled to Baghdad between 1939 and 1941. Through the prosecution’s focus on Germany,  the Arab supporters of Nazism become puppets, without agency.

The Mufti sought Nazi license to exterminate Jews in Arab countries as well as Palestine “in the same way as the problem was resolved in the Axis Countries.”(1) He played a key role in inciting the Muslim population against the Jews in his two-year sojourn in Baghdad.  With him were hundreds of Palestinian and Syrian teachers, spreading their noxious antisemitism. Fleeing Baghdad before advancing British forces a few days before the Farhud,  and after the collapse of the pro-Nazi Rashid Ali government which he had plotted to put into power, the Mufti nailed his colors firmly to the Nazi mast when he spent the rest of the war as Hitler’s guest in Berlin.

Even so, the case for the prosecution does not seek to prove intent on the part of Iraqi Nazis to bring the final solution to the Middle East.

But to Edwin Black, their purpose was clear. He writes:”The original plans for the anti-Jewish action of June 1st was intended to mimic Nazi extermination campaigns in Europe. “(2)

As in Poland, lists of Jews were compiled. In a chilling meeting on 28 May with the Chief Rabbi, Sassoon Kadoori, the self-styled pro-Nazi governor of Baghdad, Yunis al-Sabawi, tells the Jews of Baghdad to lock themselves in their homes, cook enough food for three days’ travel, pack a small suitcase and prepare to be transported to detention camps in the desert.

The next day, al-Sabawi was due to broadcast a call  to military and Iraqi Nazi units  to exterminate Baghdadi Jews in what Edwin Black calls a ‘massive murderous pogrom’. He even had his ‘victory’ speech ready.

In anticipation of certain slaughter, the Futuwwa youth movement went around marking red ‘hamsa’ handprints on the doors of Jewish homes.

Although al-Sabawi’s plans were thwarted at the last minute, the stage was set for the Farhud as Jews in their Shavuot best clothes, thinking the danger had passed, ventured out of their homes.

“The perpetrators of the Farhud were not a gang nor a few errant officers,” continues Edwin Black. ” It was a mass movement unleashed, one that broadly adopted the Nazi desire to destroy the Jews.”(2)

By focusing mainly on the activities of the ‘unlikely’ Nazi – Fritz Grobba – the prosecution fails to convey a sense of how deeply Nazi thinking had infected Iraq. Already in the 1930s, Nazi-style numerus clausus quotas were being applied to Jews in public service and education. Nazism inspired Arab nationalist movements, such as the Ba’ath Party, to marginalise and exclude Jews and  non-Arabs. Independent Iraq’s first act was to massacre 600 Assyrians.

 Shockingly, the legacy of Nazism endured after the end of the war when the Arab League  drafted a raft of discriminatory lawsreminiscent of Nuremberg. The mass exodus of the 140,000 Jews of Iraq, and the destruction of pre-Islamic, Jewish communities across the Arab world, followed a Nazi pattern of victimisation – dismantlement, dispossession and expulsion – for which  Arab states have never been called to account.

But  the lawsuit is significant because, for the first time, it  attempts formally to cast light on links between the Nazis and Arab countries. The plaintiffs’ claims have so far been rejected, but they are determined to pursue their case to the highest court in the land.

1)The Exodus of Jews from Arab Countries by Yaakov Meron in “The Forgotten Millions” (ed Shulewitz, Continuum)

2) The Farhud by Edwin Black (Dialog), pps 297 – 8

Cross-posted at the Algemeinerand The Huffington Post

New English Reviewarticle by Jerry Gordon (with thanks: Eliyahu)


  • That is most interesting. Kunzel has written about how Ayatollah Khomeini in neighbouring Iran was also influenced by fascism.

  • Not directly related, but on a Facebook thread with Canadian journalist and professor Terry Glavin, I was advised that the Taliban are not a '70s invention against the Soviets, but rather existed during the '30s – '40s and were enthusiastic supporters of Hitler.

    He spent time in Afghanistan and published a book about it. Balkh, the ancient capital of Bactria had a thriving Jewish community for 10 centuries, when the Third Reich arrived in the area and had lots of local help:

    " Forgotten to seemingly everyone but the people of Northern Afghanistan, the precursor of the Taliban terror was the ethnic cleansing carried out by the identically oriented Pashtunist supremacists of the 1930s. Hitler's Germany maintained far and away the largest foreign legation in Afghanistan and the Pashtunists' patrons among Germany's master-race theorists were busily bullying and bulldozing and reconfiguring Balkh to make it masquerade as the cradle of the mythical Aryan race. Odd that it is uncontroversial among Afghan northerners that the Taliban are fascists, directly descended from the Nazis, but that in the 'west' you'll cause perfectly intelligent people to wet their trousers upon merely hearing the term Islamofascism spoken out loud."

    He went on to cite Mathias Kunzel's work.

  • many of the facts brought forth by both sets of lawyers and academic experts were known many years ago. I recommend several books published years ago that contain many facts about the Farhud and related matters in Iraq and other Arab countries.

    Lukasz Hirszowicz, The Third Reich and the Arab East, ca. 1966 [also in Polish original and Hebrew translation]

    Majid Khadduri, Independent Iraq
    [1st edition]
    [2nd edition]
    –both editions are important and each has important info that is not in the other edition

    Joseph Schechtman, The Mufti and the Fuehrer, circa 1965


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