The holiday of Shavuot is now past. It is an occasion to remember the gruesome events of the Farhud, the pro-Nazi pogrom which devastated the Iraqi-Jewish community over Shavuot 1941. Tiffany Gabbay’s father was nine at the time. She writes in The Rebel (with thanks: Lily, Shulamit):
There are few chapters in history that have ever revealed the face of
evil or wrought more human suffering and degradation than the
Holocaust. What many don’t realize, however, is that the poisonous barbs
of Hitler’s final solution were not confined solely to Europe, but
stretched far beyond to the Middle East where Arabs, even more practiced
in their anti-Semitism, were eager to commit a genocide of their own.
Leading the charge was Palestinian-icon, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.
the Shoah, notorious “Palestinian” Jew-hater, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the
Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, sought to realize his long-held goal of
purging the Middle East of its Jewish communities. Believing that what
the Nazis were orchestrating in Europe could also be successfully
implemented in the Arab world, the mufti began his courtship of Adolf
Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and other prominent Nazis. Steadfast, the mufti
traveled to Germany requesting the practical and material support
required to “solve the problem of the Jewish elements in Palestine and
other Arab countries.”
After all, he reasoned, “the Arabs were Germany’s natural friends because they had the same enemies.”
While Hitler never publicly declared his support for al-Husseini, he
did fulfill his promise to furnish the Arab nationalist with “practical
aid to the Arabs involved in the same struggle” and help facilitate the
“destruction of the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere.”
One of the most significant gifts the Nazis bestowed on al-Husseini
were the tools needed to conduct successful propaganda campaigns — ones
far more sophisticated than the Islamic world were privy to before.
Their pilot program began in Iraq, where a pro-Nazi government had
already been successfully established.
By the late 1930s, Nazi-Arab momentum had gained considerable steam
and the German embassy in Iraq was headed by Nazi diplomat Fritz Grobba.
Under his stewardship dissemination of anti-Semitic propaganda material
increased markedly. By purchasing Arab newspapers and translating Nazi
content into Arabic, soon Iraqis were feasting not only on their own
brand of Quranic anti-Semitism, but also a Western equivalent that
validated their already-held, twisted beliefs.
In fact, one such newspaper, al-Alam al-Arabi (The Arab World),
published the first Arabic-language translation of Mein Kampf. Likewise,
Grobba ordered German Nazi broadcasts to be translated into Arabic and
aired across Iraqi radio. The German embassy also spurred the creation
of al-Fatwa, the Muslim counterpart of Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth).
To illustrate how effective Nazi-Arab collaboration was, consider
that al-Fatwa’s rallying cry invoked Hitler’s perceived grandeur.
Historian Edwin Black documented that a delegation of al-Fatwa members
even attended a Nazi rally in Nuremberg in 1938. Upon their return
they’d often be heard chanting in Arabic, “long live Hitler, the killer
of insects and Jews.”
Needless to say this was fertile ground for anti-Semitic atrocities
to take place and soon the Arab street became more dangerous than ever
for Jews who’d called Iraq home, in some cases, for millennia. With the
environment primed, the mufti’s next step was to organize a full-fledged
On June 1, 1941, Jewish families in Baghdad were home preparing meals
in anticipation of Shavuot, a holiday that marks the gifting of the
Torah (Bible) by God to the Jewish people on Mt. Sinai. By all rights it
is a festive occasion and although members of the Jewish community were
aware Arabs were conspiring against them, they were assured by local
leaders that they would remain safe.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
As the holiday commenced, Jewish homes and businesses were marked
with a bright red hamsa, or “hand of God,” to single them out for
attack. And, with the mufti’s plan in place, a violent mob of Iraqi
Muslims took to the streets armed with swords, axes, knives, guns,
torches and pipes. They killed every Jewish man, woman, and child they
No one was spared, neither young nor old. Jewish women were raped in
the streets while their infants were murdered before their eyes. Jewish
men were hacked to death with axes. Even bearing in mind the long
history of Islamic Jew-hatred, the massacre that took place on Shavuot,
1941, was bloodier and more gruesome than anything that had occurred, to
that point, in modern-day Baghdad.
My father was there. He recalled the savagery in complete and utter
detail for the duration of his life. And although he was only a child no
older than nine, the situation demanded he become a man. As the oldest
son, my father felt an onus to stand by his father and protect his
Somehow numb to the fear that should have overwhelmed anyone such
tender age, he resolved to fulfill his duty and positioned himself on
the roof of his house, poised with metal buckets brimming with scalding
hot cooking grease, heavy stones, bricks, a knife and a metal pipe. My
grandfather, meanwhile, remained below with his guns — a rare commodity
back then, but one he was fortunate enough to have.
As the rampage continued, savages stormed the grounds of my family’s
home and my father launched his defensive, emptying the pails of cooking
grease and hurling projectiles from on high. Once he’d depleted his
reserves he ran downstairs to fight the attackers off with knives while
my grandfather fired his shots with precision. The attackers were wild
with rage but ultimately, dispersed. How many of them were wounded or if
any were even killed, remains unknown. Also unknown is how my family
managed to stave off that violent mob and certain death, at all. Such
are the mysteries of life.
In the end, British forces intervened to disperse the rampaging mob
and restore some semblance of order, but it was too little too late. The
Babylonian Heritage Museum estimates that 800 innocent Iraqi Jews were
killed. In addition, an estimated 1,000 Jews were injured, nearly 600
Jewish businesses were looted, and another 1,000 Jewish homes ransacked.
The bloody, two-day massacre was called the “Farhud,” Arabic for
“violent dispossession.” It came to be known as the forgotten pogrom of
It was also the beginning of the end of Iraq’s 2,700-year-old Jewish community.
Shortly after the Farhud my father fled to Israel, but the rest of my
family, along with approximately 130,000 Iraqi Jews, would remain
another ten insufferable years until most were ultimately rescued by
Israel in Operation Ezra and Nehemiah. Their homes, businesses, money,
jewelry, even photographs and birth records were confiscated. It was the
price to pay to escape living under Islamic authoritarianism.