Friday, November 27, 2015

'My grandfather lost three siblings in Farhud'

 This Facebook post by Binyamin Arazi  is remarkable in its power and pathos. It brings home the suffering of ordinary Jews - somebody's grandfather, uncle, mother. That's why Jewish organisations, schools and Israeli embassies worldwide are  commemorating the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran this month, culminating on 30 November.

Destruction following anti-Jewish riots in Aleppo, 1947

Until the 1950's, my grandfather's family lived in the Jewish quarter of Baghdad, where they had been since the Babylonian exile. As for my grandmother, her family lived in Aleppo. As Jews, they both suffered under a system known as 'dhimmitude', which had been in place since the 7th century Arab/Islamic conquests. For centuries, we lived as second class citizens. All of that changed during the second world war, when Haj Amin al-Husseini (the British-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem and an ally of the Nazis) began broadcasting Nazi propaganda throughout the Arab world.

This culminated in a wave of deadly massacres against Jews all over the Middle East. The second most notable of these is the Farhud (Arabic for "Violent Dispossession"), of which my grandfather and his family were victims. He lost 3 of his siblings that day, and one of them was an infant. The rioters caught up to his mother, who was carrying his baby brother. They ripped him straight out of his mother's arms and cut him to pieces, right in front of her. His older brothers were eventually lynched and burned in the town center. There were crowds of people joyously dancing under their rotting corpses. All of that being said, the massacre most people remember was the (failed) extermination attempt carried out in 1948 by six Arab armies. We all know how that one ended.

By 1949, my grandfather's situation became unbearable. He and his family were eventually able to leave Iraq, but all of their money and property was seized by the government. They were officially forbidden from ever returning. In Syria, my grandmother was effectively trapped, since the government feared that any Jew who left Syria would wind up in Israel. Massacres against Jews were increasingly commonplace, particularly in her hometown of Aleppo. The community there was completely destroyed, Jewish bank accounts were frozen, and our property was taken by the government and handed over to Arabs. They were soon smuggled out of Syria and made their way to Tel Aviv, where my uncle still resides.

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