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Was the Jewish Pogrom in Baghdad on June 1, 1941 a Holocaust Event?

In our June 2014 New English Review interview with Dr. Harold Rhode, we discussed the Farhud, the Nazi influenced pogrom that occurred on the Jewish festival of Shavuot, June 1, 1941, The Future of the Babylonian Jewish Archives.  Note this exchange:

Gordon: During World War II, the Jewish community in what we call Iraq really had a series of horrible experiences.  What was the experience during World War II and who were the persons who were involved?

Rhode:  The British had ruled Iraq and in the mid 1930’s, Iraq was given its independence. It had a king but there was a coup led by a man by the name of Rashid Ali who was working with the Nazis, in cahoots with the Mufti of Jerusalem who was living in Baghdad at the time. The Mufti was also working with Hitler. When Rashid Ali’s forces took over in 1941, there was a pogrom (farhood in Arabic) against the Jews. The Jews up until then never really worried. Yes they had been second class citizens because in the Muslim world, neither Jews nor Christians nor any non-Muslims were allowed to rule over Muslims.

In reality, however, the Jews actually ran much of the Iraqi economy at that time, and were involved in many other activities which helped Iraq run relatively smoothly. … After about six days in 1941 when approximately 180 people were killed, a lot of property was destroyed and many Jews were injured – all of a sudden Jews said: “wait a minute, something is wrong here. Maybe we don’t have a future here.” Iraqi Jews weren’t ardent Zionists at the time. But the farhood really shook them to their very foundations. The State of Israel was declared in 1948, i.e., it was the rebirth of the Jewish state which had existed 2000 years ago.

After Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the Arabs – including Iraq – did their utmost to destroy it. Life became almost unbearable for the Jews of Iraq. Especially in Baghdad but in other places in Iraq as well. Kurdistan, however, was a different story. Life was much better for the Jews in Kurdistan which was Northern Iraq.

On the occasion of the 73rd commemoration of the Farhud Ha’aretz published an article raising the question of whether it should be considered a Holocaust event, “Lawyers make case for giving Iraqi Jews Holocaust benefits”.    There is ample evidence of Nazi involvement in the coup by Iraqi strongman Ali Rashid al-Gaylani, the Nazi Foreign ministry, and the German Ambassador to Iraq.  Then there was the role of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al Husseini who was living in Baghdad after he was forced by British Palestinian Mandatory authorities to leave given his role in the Arab riots from 1936 to 1939. prior to the occurrence of the Farhud, for sanctuary in Berlin as Hitler’s house guest during WWII.  Edwin Black chronicled the 1941 Baghdad pogrom and both Nazi and Hussein’s involvement in his 2010 book, The Farhud: Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/rknnKYP5Iqg[/youtube]

See our January 2011 Iconoclast post on Eric Stakelbeck’s interview with author.

The Ha’aretz article presented evidence by experts representing the Farhud victims and surviving families, contested by Israel’s Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority at the Finance Ministry.  Ha’aretz cites Dr. Yaakov Toby of the University of Haifa, an expert retained by the Authority, saying:

 “Berlin’s affairs were directed toward the European continent, not elsewhere.” He added, “There was no expectation, and certainly no order, from the German government to the Iraqi government to carry out any government activity inside Iraq, and certainly not one of violent incidents or killing of Jews.”

The rebuttal to the Authority’s expert Dr. Toby is based on the investigative research of Professor Yitzchak Kerem, an expert on Spanish and Oriental Jewry.   Ha’aretz notes:

In his professional opinion, he wrote, “The deciding factor in the outbreak of the Farhud was Nazi incitement against Iraq’s Jews, which was carried out by the Nazi regime through the representatives and agents it appointed.”

He draws a firm conclusion. “The Farhud must be seen as an integral part of the Holocaust that the Nazi regime brought on our people.” He calls the Farhud “the Kristallnacht of Iraqi Jewry.”

Here is some of the evidence cited by Ha’aretz of Nazi involvement in the Baghdad pogrom supporting Professor Kerem.

On the devastation wrought by the Farhud, the Ha’aretz article noted:

According to statistics at Yad Vashem, 179 Jews were killed, more than 2,000 wounded, and 50,000 were victims of theft during the Farhud (an ancient word meaning imposing brutal terror on the subjects of a regime). “Terrible acts of cruelty were carried out during the pogrom. Babies, elderly people and women were murdered and their limbs hacked to pieces. Women were raped. Synagogues were damaged and Torah scrolls desecrated,” according to a brief paper in Hebrew about the Farhud at Yad Vashem’s website.

The extent of Nazi involvement in the Farhud revealed:

The historical material includes minutes of a German military discussion, the Nazi foreign ministry’s correspondence, British army intelligence reports and the report of the investigative committee established in Iraq after the pogrom. The Iraqi prime minister, Rashid Ali al-Gaylani; the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini; Adolf Hitler and his book Mein Kampf; the Nazi radio station that broadcast from Berlin and had reception in Iraq; and the fascist youth movement that mirrored Germany’s Hitler Youth all play major roles in the material.

Professor Kerem collected testimonies proving that al-Gaylani’s government had been funded by the Nazis. In a telegram sent on May 21, 1941 from Baghdad, Dr. Grobba, Germany’s ambassador in Iraq, writes that he transferred tens of thousands of gold ingots to al-Gaylani. Alongside that, he gives an update about al-Gaylani’s request for 80,000 more gold ingots and mentions the agreement that was about to be signed between Germany and Iraq, as part of which the Nazis would grant a loan of one million gold ingots to their allies in Baghdad.

Money and propaganda were not the only things the Nazis provided to Baghdad. They also sent weapons to Iraq in an attempt to help the Iraqis fight against a common enemy — the British. Professor Kerem found evidence of that in the archives of Germany’s Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry. He says that in the minutes of a meeting of the supreme German command from May 7, 1941, it is written that “Hitler decided to assist Iraq in every possible way, including sending arms, ammunition, money and military aid.”

While the German effort failed, before the British returned to install a new government, the Farhud occurred:

Indeed, the German attempt to help the Iraqis fight the British failed On May 29, 1941, after the British reached the gates of Baghdad, al-Gaylani fled from Iraq. The Jews thought that the danger had passed, and on the morning of the Shavuot festival, June 1, 1941, they emerged wearing their holiday clothing to welcome the pro-British ruler, who had returned to Iraq. But Iraqi troops set upon them, and within hours Jews were being attacked all over the city and in other places as well.

“Farhud, ya ummat Muhammad!” (Farhud, O nation of Mohammed!) was the cry of the mob when the signal was given to murder and rob the Jews,” Hela Kargola later said. “Thousands, regardless of gender, age or status, took part in the celebration of slaughter and theft.”

Carol Basri President of the Corporate Lawyering Group, LLC, published a monograph in the Fordham Journal of International Law  in 2002 entitled,   “The Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries: An Examination of Legal Rights: A Case Study of the Human Rights Violations of Iraqi Jews”. In a section concerning the Farhud in Baghdad, she cited six causes of the rampage drawn from the Official Iraqi Government Report prepared by the British. They appear to support the arguments of Professor Kerem:

First, was the German Legation spreading sustained anti-Jewish Nazi propaganda under the direction of Dr. Fritz Grobba?

Second was the Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, and his entourage, which accompanied him to Iraq in 1940.

Third, the Report blamed Palestinian and Syrian schoolteachers, installed in every school, which had “poisoned the pupil’s [sic] minds and turned them into instruments of their propaganda. Whenever they perceived that the government was taking any steps against Nazism, they went into action, arousing the students who would then go out in demonstrations and issue harmful manifestos.”

Fourth, the Report blamed the German Arabic-language radio station, which also spread Nazi propaganda (and had an increased effect after Rashid Ali made it legal to listen to the station).

 Fifth, was the Iraqi Broadcasting Station, which over the two months Rashid Ali was in control,” broadcast false reports about misdeeds in Palestine. The broadcasts contained patently inflammatory agitation against Jews and powerful appeals to Nazism.”

Sixth, the Report blamed the Futuwwa and Youth Phalanxes, both pro-Nazi paramilitary groups, which have participated heavily in the Farhud. The Report also laid blame on the hierarchy of the Baghdad Police for its inaction and ordered it brought before a military tribunal.

As Basri noted the British Ambassador could have ordered British forces encamped near Baghdad to quell the two day rampage, but didn’t. Moreover after the Farhud was over, Nazi sentiments were still rampant. She cites Freya Stark who was at the British Embassy, who observed in 1942, Iraq was a “country seething with disguised Nazis and swastikas appearing everywhere (even on the back of my car).” Then Basri cites a British Intelligence report in the same year saying:”whatever the outcome of the war.., the Iraqis will punish the Jews eventually.”  The report noted “fear inspired by Moslem threats” and the fear of Hitler’s upcoming Spring Offensive in the Middle East.

After the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 the Iraqi government moved to deprive Jews of citizenship and passed  national legislation expropriating property including personal possessions. The estimates cited by Basri of property stolen by the Iraqi government ranged from $150 to $200 million and with economic indexing may be in well excess of a billion.  For the Israeli Finance Ministry’s Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority to suggest that the Farhud wasn’t a Holocaust event would appear too questionable in view of the evidence. The irony is that while Iraq’s Jews were not Zionists at the time of the Farhud, following their repatriation to Israel in Operation Ezra and Nehemiah  in 1950 to 1951, they became highly productive and committed citizens of the Jewish nation.  The repatriation, resettlement and absorption of Iraq’s Jews was paid for by the State of Israel with contributions from world Jewry. No UN or American government funding was involved.

EDITORS NOTE: The featured photo is of  a mass grave of victims of the Farhud, 1941. It is a scan of a page from the book ‘Iraq’, edited by Haim Saadoun, published by the Ministry of Education and the Ben – Zvi, Jerusalem, (5762, 2002) page 17.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.