Tuesday, August 20, 2013
How my father survived the Farhud
Buckets of hot grease. These were Tiffany Gubbay's family's weapons of choice to protect themselves from the violent mob rampaging through Baghdad's Jewish quarters during the 1941 pogrom known as the Farhud. (Note that Tiffany's historical background facts are not entirely accurate: Haj Amin al-Husseini was one of several Grand Muftis in the Sunni Arab world, and his meeting with Adolph Hitler (pictured) to collaborate in the extermination of the Jews took place after the Farhud). She recounts her father's story in Front Page magazine.
On June 1, 1941, as Jews in Baghdad were preparing festive meals in anticipation for the holiday of Shavuot, a heavily armed mob of Iraqi Muslims took to the streets in a vicious rampage, targeting the city’s Jewish communities. Thousands of Islamic men equipped with guns, swords, knives, homemade grenades and other crude weapons searched out and slaughtered any Jewish man, woman or child they captured.
An image of a “hamsa,” or “Hand of God,” was painted on Jewish homes to single them out for attack. Ironically, this symbol is meant to be used as a talisman for protection. The families inside had no choice but to band together and steel themselves with whatever weapons they could muster.
My father was there. He recalled the savagery in complete and utter detail for the entire duration of his life. Although he was only a child at the time, the situation demanded he become a man, and he did.
Reliving the events for me on numerous occasions, Abba said that as the oldest son, he felt an onus to stand by his father and protect the family. Thankfully he was himself a hellion and shrewd as they come, devising a plan of ambush that, in the end, helped saved him and his family from extinction.
Somehow numb to the fear that should have, by right, overcome anyone such tender age, my father 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 and bricks, knives, metal pipes and any other makeshift weapons he could devise.
As several of the marauders rushed the grounds of my family’s home, my father launched his defensive, dumping the buckets of piping hot grease and hurling the projectiles he’d had on hand with all of the nerve and sinew in him. My grandfather (“Saba”), meanwhile, remained below, armed with a plan and weapons of his own.
How they managed to stave off that violent mob and certain death remains one of the great and many mysteries of my father’s life. To be sure, it would not be the last time the Hand of God would play a role in delivering him to safe harbor.
In the end, British forces came in to disperse the rampaging mob and restore some semblance of order, but it was too little too late. While estimates differ, those gleaned from the Babylonian Heritage Museum reveal that 800 innocent Iraqi Jews were killed — 180 identified and 600 unidentified that were later found buried in a mass grave. In addition, 1,000 Jews were injured, nearly 600 Jewish businesses were looted, and another 1,000 Jewish homes ransacked and destroyed.
The bloody, two-day massacre was called the “Farhud,” Arabic for “violent dispossession” and came to be known as the “forgotten pogrom of the Holocaust.”
It was also the beginning of the end of Iraq’s 2,700-year-old Jewish community.
“From that point on, I was a Zionist,” my father told me. “I saw evil. I saw how primitive and barbaric they were. All they wanted, all they wanted,” he repeated, “was to see us dead.”
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More articles about the Farhud