The pro-Nazi regime which ruled Iraq during April and May 1941 under Rashid Ali Al-Gaylani had a plan to establish Jewish ghettos throughout the country. The first such ghetto operated between 1 and 31 May 1941 in Diwaniyya, a city on the river between Baghdad and Basra.
The information comes from Daniel Sasson in this 12-minute interview by Lynette Hacopian, recorded in January 2020 for the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center at Or Yehuda in Israel. Sasson's grandfather, who arbitrated between local tribes, heard about the plan from policemen who belonged to these tribes.
Sasson, then aged five, left Baghdad with his family after riots broke out. He was imprisoned in the Diwaniyya ghetto. He describes how 600 Jews from Baghdad and other places in Iraq were corralled into the ghetto, which comprised several Jewish homes. His grandfather's 750 sq metre house was the largest, but the ghetto extended to the other side of the river.
Men and women were separated, the inmates suffered greatly from hunger and the area was patrolled by police, stationed inside the ghetto, and armed with guns and bayonets .The men were sent to work a 12-hour day watering trees on the river bank. Towards the end of May, the guards disappeared, and Sasson understood that the Rashid Ali regime had been overthrown.
However, the family's trials and tribulations were not over. The Farhud riots spread beyond Baghdad. Sasson's uncle was shot dead when standing just two metres outside his own house in Shamiyya.
Daniel Sasson's testimony tends to confirm that the Rashid Ali regime had a plan to round up all the Jews of Iraq in ghettos, as the Nazis had done in central and eastern Europe. Many still believe that had the regime survived, the Jews would then have been sent to extermination camps.
Sasson's evidence has far-reaching implications. It flies in the face of the verdict reached by Israel's High Court. In 2019, the court concluded that Nazi influence was not decisive in causing the Farhud and that survivors were not entitled to reparations like other Holocaust victims.
The High Court saw the Farhud as just another pogrom as broke out sporadically against Jewish communities in the Arab world. Now it appears that establishing the Diwaniyya ghetto was the first step in a systematic plan to rid Iraq of its Jews.
*Page 227 of Al-Farhud (Yehuda and Moreh) quotes the memoirs of Izzat Sasson Muallim corroborating the existence of a ghetto in Dawaniyya. Muallim found that the order had been given to open a ghetto in the town of Shamiyya and many Jews had been arrested.