Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Farhoud: our sleepless night of terror

Saul Fathi, author of Full Circle, continues his account of the 1941 Farhoud, Kristallnacht for the Jews of Iraq. The word Farhoud is Arabic for 'violent dispossession'. (Via Zionation - Part ll: The Farhood).

Father and Mother immediately jumped out of their beds and stood near the edge of the roof, facing the downtown area of Baghdad. We all got up to stand with them and look. Normally, Father would have told us to get back to our beds, but he didn’t tonight. His eyes were transfixed on the glow emanating from the city’s central district where the Jewish and Muslim communities abutted each other. As we watched the glow crept toward us, spreading from block to block. On the night wind, we caught a faint wailing cry welling up from where we saw the orange light. Mixed with that wail were crashes and booms.

Mother began to weep, and Father’s jaw was clenched tight as he held onto Mother. As we watched the orange glow expand, we could see smoke against the growing light and an occasional lick of flame. The smell of burning wood was on the wind. Father gathered Berta, Yedida, and me, along with my baby brother Yeftah, who was already there whimpering, into our parent’s big bed with him and Mother. We clung to each other as we watched the fires and destruction creep closer hour by hour into the long night.

“That must be Sooq Ha-rage and Sooq Le-sfa-feer,” Father said, “the markets.” After awhile, we could hear screams and distinct curses. “They’ve come to Bab-el-shar-gee and Taht-el-takya,” Father whispered. These were wealthy Jewish neighborhoods. Father held us tighter and began to pray softly. I was afraid, but I wasn’t sure of what exactly. All I could see was that this orange glow was alive and growing and it brought pain. I squeezed closer to my father and my sisters. Around two o’clock, crashing and pounding stopped and all we could hear was the soft wail the seemed to come from everywhere now. After a little while, my parents’ muscles seemed to relax and I fell asleep.

I woke the next morning to screams and renewed crashing in the streets nearby. The destruction in the city was clearly visible now. We could see people struggling with men wielding knives. We saw Jews on faraway rooftops jumping from their roofs to their Arab neighbors’ roofs. Their neighbors quickly ushered them inside where they could hide.

The British army, which had now taken control of Iraq by then, remained just outside of Baghdad and was totally disengaged allowing the atrocities against the Jews to continue unabated.

The wave of destruction continued until about mid-afternoon. It was then that the Kurdish division of the military, ordered by the Regent, moved into the city, sweeping the neighborhoods, rounding up those responsible for this pogrom. By about two o’clock, Kurdish troops were beginning to take up posts in front of prominent Jewish homes. One soldier was stationed in front of our own door.

By Sunday afternoon, there were 180 Jews dead, 240 children orphaned, and 2,120 wounded. Countless numbers of women and girls had been raped and kidnapped. Babies had been disemboweled before their parents’ eyes. Rioters broke into marked Jewish-owned stores, especially those on Shorja Street, looting and destroying. Two thousand homes had been plundered and 2,375 shops had been looted. The property damage was estimated at £3 to £3.5 million. The Jews weren’t permitted to bury their dead themselves. The dead were collected by the government, and eventually, all were buried in one mass grave.

Read post in full

Part 1: Prelude

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