How the expulsion of its Jews backfired on Iraq

This week is the 75th anniversary of the Farhud pogrom in Iraq. This excellent Times of Israel article by Edwin Black explains why it was a Holocaust event. A legacy of Nazi antisemitism led to the  expulsion of Iraq’s Jewish population, backfiring on Iraq itself. (With thanks to all those who pointed out this article to me)

Egypt was hardly alone in reinventing the Nazi
war against the Jews. German Nazis also took up postwar positions of
influence in Syria, Lebanon, and Iran. But Iraq, long a Nazi Arab
stronghold, was arguably among the most agitated in the Arab world.

Fritz Grobba (Courtesy)

Fritz Grobba (Courtesy)

From the moment Hitler took power in 1933,
Iraq had distinguished itself throughout the Arab world as a top Nazi
ally. The nexus was continually stoked by resident gestapo agents such
as Fritz Grobba. Grobba employed such tactics as dispensing lots of cash
among politicians and deploying seductive German women among ranking
members of the army. From 1933, Radio Berlin began broadcasting hate
messages in Arabic including fallacious reports about non-existent
Jewish outrages in Palestine. Grobba, cultivated many Iraqis as
surrogate Nazis. Iraqi Arab Hitler-style youth marched in Nuremburg
torch light parades hosted by their Berlin counterparts. German was
taught in Iraqi schools. When World War II broke out in 1939, Nazism
became a fervent cause among many Iraqis.

In May 1941, Iraqi fascists backed by popular
support tried to overthrow the pro-Western monarchy and seize British
oil fields in Iraq to facilitate the oil-dependent German advance east
to Russia. That failed. The Iraqi coup plotters in Baghdad decided to do
the next best thing, exterminate its Jews in a single blow. Jews were
ordered to stay in their homes, and their doors were marked with a red
hamsa. At the last minute, the extermination plot fell apart. But as the
coup leaders fled, in that momentarily power vacuum on June 1-2, 1941,
dejected swarms of soldiers, in concert with police, common criminals
and nondescript mobs rampaged through Baghdad hunting for Jews. They
were easily found. Hundreds of Jews were cut down by sword and rifle,
some decapitated. Babies were sliced in half and thrown into the Tigris
river. Girls were raped in front of their parents. Parents were
mercilessly killed in front of their children. Hundreds of Jewish homes
and businesses were looted, then burned.

A mass grave of Farhud victims (Wikipedia)

A mass grave of Farhud victims (Wikipedia)

The carnage continued unabated for almost two days until finally the British-backed monarchy was induced to restore order.

This Holocaust-era pogrom became known as the Farhud. In Arabic, it means “violent dispossession.”

Throughout the last years of the war, the murder spree was celebrated across the Arab world and in German ceremonies.

At war’s end, in mid-1945, hundreds of
thousands of dispossessed European survivors emerged from their ghettos,
concentration camps, and forests, desperate to enter Jewish Palestine
to restart their lives. However, rather than striking humanitarian
chords in Iraq, the European Jewish plight only heightened hatred
against Jews, especially in Iraq. Many mainstream Arabs resented and
belittled the Holocaust as nothing more than another ploy for expanding
Jewish Palestine’s population. This view was little more than a
continuation of the virulent wartime preaching of Hitler ally Haj Amin
al-Husseini, aka the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.

Many Iraqis seemed driven more by their
obsession with Jewish Palestine and perpetuating Nazi precepts and
anti-Jewish campaign than by a desire to rebuild their country or
strengthen their democracy. Everything escalated fiercely in February
1947, when the United Nations agreed to vote on the question of
Palestine’s partition. The 1937 Peel Commission’s recommendation for
partition had now evolved from a white piece of paper into a binding
international ballot among the world’s governments. The possibility of a
legitimized and recognized Jewish state in the midst of Arab lands in
Palestine was more than unthinkable. The Palestine conflict still
dominated and defined the Iraqi national agenda, paralyzing action on
Iraq’s other vital needs, such as the economy, infrastructure, health
services, and education. The country’s newspapers warned that if “the
Zionist entity” came into nationhood, no Iraqi government could control
the Arab street in Baghdad.

Uniformly, the Arab regimes, including the
Baghdad government, officially threatened that if the UN dared vote yes
to partition, the Arabs would exact reprisals against the approximate
850,000 Jews who dwelled in countries throughout the extended Middle
East and other Arab countries.

Violence against Iraqi Jews intensified in the
months leading up to the vote. For example, on May 9, 1947, a Baghdad
mob killed a hapless Jewish man after hysterical accusations that he
gave poisoned candy to Arab children. In the Jewish quarter of Fallujah,
homes were ransacked and local Jews were compelled to move in with
friends and relatives in Baghdad. Large Jewish “donations” were
regularly extorted and sent to Palestinian Arabs. The names of the
“donors” were read on the radio to encourage more of the same.

Yet the Jews still deluded themselves that as
loyal Iraqis, they belonged in the nation where they had dwelled for
2,600 years. This hardship would pass, they believed. But the Jewish
Agency emissary in Iraq, encouraging relocation to the Jewish state,
reported back to Jerusalem: “No attention is paid [by the Jews] to the
frightful manifestations of hostility around them, which place all Jews
on the verge of a volcano about to erupt.”

Kurdish Jews in Rawanduz, northern Iraq, 1905 (Wikipedia)

Kurdish Jews in Rawanduz, northern Iraq, 1905 (Wikipedia)

On November 29, 1947, the UN voted 33 yes, 13
no, with 10 abstentions, to create two states: one Palestinian Arab, the
other Jewish.

Once the UN vote registered, a new anti-Jewish
campaign exploded in Iraq. This time, it was not just pogroms but
systematic pauperization, taking a cue from the confiscatory techniques
developed by the Nazis who had now infested the government. Jews were
charged with trumped-up offenses and fined exorbitant amounts. All the
while, mob chants of “death to the Jews” became ever more commonplace.

Read article in full 

Edwin Black will take part in a special Farhud commemoration  on 2 June in London. The event will be livestreamed on the Harif Facebook page. See

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.