June 1 has been declared International Farhud Day. To commemorate “The Farhud and the Creation of 850,000 Post-War Jewish
Refugees from Arab Lands”, Edwin Black, author of The Farhud–Roots of The
Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust , will give the keynote address at an event moderated by Rabbi Elie Abadie (from 1:15 to 2:20 pm, at an official side event at
the UN Headquarters in NYC in Hall 7. Those who cannot attend can follow the proceedings here).
The Jewish Journal interviews three surviving eye witnesses of the pogrom that marked the beginning of the end for Iraq’s Jews:
The Dabby family, circa 1940
Over the first two days of June 1941, countless numbers of Jewish women
in Baghdad were raped, more than 2,000 Jews were injured — many of them
mutilated — and 900 homes, as well as 586 Jewish-owned businesses, were
looted. All told, according to Iraqi-born historian Elie Kedourie, 600
Jews, including children and infants, were slaughtered. This
Nazi-inspired pogrom is known as the Farhud, which in Kurdish
means violent dispossession, and it marked the beginning of the
destruction of the Iraq’s 2,600-year-old Jewish community, which
beforehand had numbered more than 75,000 in Baghdad and 120,000
The Nazis’ influence in Iraq can be traced back to 1933, when Hitler
first came to power, which was just a year after Iraq gained its
independence from Britain. Excerpts from “Mein Kampf” began appearing serially in Iraqi’s newspaper Al-Alem Al Arabi (The
Arabic World), which had been purchased by Germany’s ambassador to
Iraq, Dr. Fritz Grobba. A youth organization, Al Fatwaa, similar to the
Hitler Youth, was formed, and Radio Berlin began to broadcast
anti-Semitic propaganda in Arabic.
Pro-Nazis had taken power of the Iraqi government just two months
before in a coup staged by Gen. Rashid Ali al-Gaylani and four generals,
called the Golden Square, with support from the Grand Mufti of
Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a Nazi collaborator in exile in
Baghdad. They overthrew the former, pro-British government and exiled
the young King Faisal II and his regent, Prince Abdul Ilah.
Al-Gaylani, intent on controlling Iraq’s oil fields for Germany, staged
the takeover, in league with the Nazis and the Grand Mufti. But
Britain, dependent on Iraq’s oil, returned fire by sending in additional
troops, and, after a month of fighting, emerged victorious. The British
army then stationed itself outside Baghdad, and on May 30, al-Gaylani,
his generals and the Grand Mufti fled the country.
The regent was to return the next day. And as a delegation of Iraqi
Jews was driving across the Al Khurr Bridge to Baghdad’s airport to
welcome him, they were attacked by a mob of Iraqi soldiers and
civilians. The violence spread from there, while the British remained
outside the city, as ordered by British Ambassador Kinahan Cornwallis,
who didn’t want to be seen as interfering in Iraqi politics. Finally, on
the afternoon of June 2, British forces restored order, but for the
Jews, life in Iraq had changed irrevocably.
Some Jews fled Iraq immediately after the Farhud. The majority of the
Jewish community was non-Zionist, and they stayed. Then, as the
persecution of Jews continued, including after Israel became a state in
May 1948, they reconsidered, and thousands were smuggled out by the
Zionist underground. In March 1950, Iraq passed a law allowing Jews to
depart within the year if they relinquished their citizenship. Shortly
afterward, in Operations Ezra and Nehemiah, the Israeli government
airlifted out more than 100,000 Jews. In March 1951, the Iraqi
government extended the law but forbade the Jews to remove any assets.
By early 1952, more than 120,000 Jews had participated in the mass
emigration, leaving behind approximately 6,000. In 2008 the Jewish
Agency of Israel estimated that only seven Jews remained in Iraq.
The following memories of the Farhud come from three Iraqi Jews, all
now living in Los Angeles, who as children witnessed what professor
Yitzchak Kerem of Hebrew University calls “the Kristallnacht of Iraqi
On June 1, 1941, a Sunday, Charles Dabby, then 6, looked out the small
recessed window of a second-story bedroom in his family’s house in
Baghdad. He could see men breaking into nearby homes on the narrow
street below, then hoisting stolen items over their heads or hauling
them away in donkey-driven carts. “People were taking sheets, pillows,
everything and anything,” he recalled. He also heard the shouts and
crying of both adults and children.
Charles’ parents pulled him and his two younger sisters, Bertha and
Tikvah, away from the window, saying, “Don’t worry. We have a guard.”
The family felt reassured by the presence of Azawi ibn Tabra, the
large, Muslim owner of the warehouse where Charles’ father, Heskel, a
spice importer and distributor, stored his merchandize. The keffiyah-clad
Azawi was standing guard outside the family’s front door, a sword in
one hand and a gun on his left side, patrolling back and forth. A few
men accompanied him. He had also stationed several men on the Dabbys’
roof in case attackers jumped over the short wall separating the flat,
attached roofs of the adjoining houses. Another guard remained inside
the house, making funny faces to entertain Charles.
Later, Heskel led the family downstairs to the basement, where they
slept for several nights. It was too dangerous to sleep on the rooftop,
as was the custom in warm weather.
After the Farhud, when Charles walked with his father along Main Street
to school, they often saw men hanging from scaffolding. When Charles
asked why they had been hanged, Heskel answered, “Because they’re
thieves.” He never explained that they were Jews.
On May 14, 1948, Charles remembers listening to the United Nations vote
on Israeli statehood on the family radio. “I could hear my heart. I was
crying,” he said. He had secretly begun learning conversational Hebrew,
leaving school for an hour at a time for classes taught by young Iraqi
Jews. At home, he buried his Hebrew papers in a box in the backyard,
hidden from his parents. “They would panic,” he said. Like most Iraqi
Jews, Charles’ parents were not Zionists.
Then, one afternoon in 1949, as Charles rode his bicycle home from
school, two boys attacked him — hitting him and trying to steal his
bicycle. Charles removed his belt and began thrashing the boys and
destroying their bicycles. He returned home with torn clothes, his own
bicycle on his shoulder. That night, after learning that the boys’
parents had important government jobs, Heskel put Charles on a train to
Basra, to stay with his uncle. In the summer, against his uncle’s and
father’s wishes, Charles crossed into Iran with a smuggler and, after
some time in Istanbul, he traveled to Israel. His two sisters followed a
year later, when Iraq allowed Jews to emigrate, while forbidding them
to keep their Iraqi citizenship.