Tuesday, May 22, 2018

On the 77th anniversary of the Farhud, a Holocaust event

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): 

 Tiffany Gabbay

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.

During 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 pogrom.

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 could find.

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 family.

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 the Holocaust.
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.

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