Baghdad massacre poem read in Knesset

Yvonne Green reads her poem at the Lauderdale Road synagogue commemoration for the Farhud massacre in Baghdad. She later travelled to Jerusalem to read the poem in the Knesset (photo: Laurence Julius).

Harif,the organisation for Jews from Arab lands, turned to verse to
commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Farhud, the pogrom in Baghdad in
June 1941. It commissioned a poem from London poet Yvonne Green
(below), who recited it at a memorial at the Knesset this week, The Jewish Chronicle reports.
(You can see the full video of the 2 June commemoration in London and the 6 June Knesset commemorative event here and here*.)

Harif’s Lyn Julius said “at these commemorations it is usual to have a
witness tell his or her story, but we had very few people in London
able or willing to give their testimonies at a public event. We asked Simon Yadoo, a RSC actor of Iraqi-Jewish descent, to read from five
works published in English about the Farhud.

“Yvonne’s poem complemented the readings perfectly: it encapsulates
this cataclysmic event, which sounded the death knell for the Jewish
community of Iraq after 27 centuries.”


TheJewish News reports: A poem composed to commemorate the 75th anniversary of a massacre of 180 Iraqi Jews was recited in the Knesset this week.

by prize winning poet Yvonne Green, it was commissioned by ‘HARIF – the
UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa’, to
mark the Farhud; a Nazi-era massacre of Jews in Baghdad.

The poem was read on 2 Juneat Lauderdale Road Synagogue in London and at the Israeli parliament on Monday 6 June, by Yvonne.

At the event at Lauderdale Road, hosted by Harif, 
Israel’s Embassy, and Stand With Us, a candle lighting
ceremony took place in addition to the recitation of the poem.

Eight candles were lit to signify the 800, 000
Jews driven from their communities in Arab lands, whilst a shofar was
sounded to recall the 27 centuries of Babylonian-Jewish life, which all
but came to an end during the 1941 pogrom.

300 people attended the memorial at Lauderdale Road with 400 at the Knesset.

You can read the poem in full here:

The Farhud: Baghdad’s Shabu’ot 1st and 2nd June 1941

We walked on Shabbat

in the Bustan al-Khass

(lettuce orchards)

on the East bank

of The Dijla (The Tigris),

or in al-Saa’doun, built

to look like Hyde Park.

Watch us work, prosper, plod

tread the middle ground during

a two thousand six hundred year

sojourn with family, food, festivals.

Listen to us speak Aramaic, Qiltu,

then Gilit. You never learned

our languages after you arrived,

we wrote literatures preserved

for you now in different geographies.

Watch Britain’s renegade Grand Mufti

translate National Socialism into

his Promised-Land apartheid, listen

to the whispers that the Fuhrer

was born in an Egyptian village.

Watch him and hundreds of Palestinian

and Syrian intellectuals-in-exile train soldiers,

police, militia-men and children, watch

nothing stop the Golden Square Generals,

even once their leaders temporal and spiritual

run away from the British, for whose oil-fuelled

infantry eight kilometers was further than the walk

from Ambassador Cornwallis’ dinner plate

to his card table.

Look, there’s a man in a dark suit at Maqbra,

who’ll later press his cheek and arms up

against a semi-cylindrical grave where

one hundred and eighty Farhud-dead are buried.

This is not the only tomb, they were not the only dead.

     But go back before the Omer, watch us

tremble as we asked “Mnein Jitem”

that Erev Pesach after the lawyer,

Rashid al-Gaylani’s coup turned

the hilleq bitter. Watch our hopes surge

when within the month he and the Grand Mufti

escape from the British to Iran, plummet

when Yunis al-Sab’awi declares

himself Governor General and orders us

penned in our homes, soar again when it’s he

who’s deported within the day. Hear us attest

to our treble-terror reprieved when we eat

our Tbit on the Shabbat which runs

into Tikkun Leyl, and hear Regent

Abd al-Illah’s due back the next day,

Sunday June 1st. Watch us cheer him home

on the first day of ‘Eid al Ziyarah.

      Then watch soldiers, police, civilians attack us

on al-Khurr bridge, at al-Rusafa, Abu-Sifain

everywhere until 3 a.m. and silence. Watch

at 6 a.m. on the second day of Hag when

they start again. Not just the poor from al-Karkh

who cross the river empty handed,

then load-up having cruelly sacked

our homes, shops, synagogues,

but from everywhere they yelp

“Idhbahu al-Yehud” (butcher the Jews).

Drilled by Salah al-Din as-Sabbagh,

or by centuries of knowing our place,

keeping the rules, paying the price

being no guarantee of protection.

      They cut up Jewish babies and threw them

into the undertow, no Moses survived.

They raped girls and old women,

cut their breasts, no Dina survived.

They beheaded and severed, taunted

and tore. Dragged Jews from buses

which they used to run them over.

Every attack intended to humiliate.

The dead, hurt, stolen, destroyed

uncountable, even once the Regent

called in the cut that felled

the saturnine mob. Where was natural,

civil, military, sharia law? The assumed

duty to dhimmi?

         In the stand taken by Moslems

like Dr Sa’ib Shawkat, Dean

of Baghdad’s Medical College.

In the acts of landlords

who risked their lives to save those

whose houses the Hitler Youth-styled

Futuwwa had painted with red khamsas.

In the arms of neighbours

who caught children in blankets

when they were thrown to safety

and sheltered families who jumped

across flat roofs where Baghdad

used to spend its summer nights.

     Yes, we fought back, we boiled

siraj (sesame oil) and threw it

from our shnashil (latticed balconies)

where women, unseen, had watched

their households’ comings and goings.

We used the bricks from our parapets,

we had no guns, few had iron fists.

Since the funerals our children

remember with new knowledge

and their picnics of beith-bla’ham,

timman-ahmar, and kahi never go south

to al-Kifl for the pilgrimage, sing

Shirit Hagvarim at its seven

waystations, or hear the tomb

of Yehezkel cry for its Jews.

Yvonne Green 

*With thanks to SWUs and Tsionit F K

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