Wednesday, June 01, 2016

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 www.harif.org


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