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Notes from Limmud 2011

Seventy Years Since the Arab Kristallnacht

Lynn Julius

[Standard disclaimer: All views not in square brackets are those of the speaker, not myself. Accuracy of transcription is not guaranteed.]

The Arab Kristallnacht of June 1941 is known as the farhud, an Arabic term meaning dispossession, occurred three years after Kristallnacht, in Iraq. It's been called the Forgotten Pogrom of the Holocaust. It resulted in 130-160 dead, thousands injured, over 500 shops and businesses looted, women raped and babies mutilated, in Baghdad, Mosul and Baṣra—which indicates this was planned in advance: you couldn't use Facebook then. The Hitler Youth were planning a pogrom for that day, but were prevented from publicising it.

Actually, we don't know how many were killed because they were buried in a mass grave. Maybe six hundred actually killed (someone else said between 400 and 900). The government suppressed this because they didn't want such a high figure to appear in the official report.

Arab countries are not generally associated with the Holocaust, but the Nazis had influence there, and in Iraq in particular there were Nazi newspapers and broadcast, Mein Kampf translated into Arabic.

In 1939 the Mufti of Jerusalem was exiled from Jerusalem to Baghdad. He brought four or five hundred Palestinians who set about instilling hatred of Jews in Baghdad. This was the oldest Jewish population in the world, going back to the Babylonian exile.

Jews then formed quarter to a third of the population of Baghdad. They were very influential in business and the civil service, etc, and had played a key role in Iraq following its independence.

So what happened on the 1-2 June 1941 (which coincided with Shavuos)? There had been a pro-Nazi coup, but the leaders of the coup were routed and were on the run, so why did it happen?

Over the month preceding the Farhud there was such a degree of incitement, everyone knew something terrible was going to happen. The Nazi Yunis al-Sabawi had proclaimed himself governor of the southern provinces of Iraq, and intended to built camps in the desert to kill the Jews.

By the time of the Farhud, the leaders of this coup had all fled, but they'd left the machinery in place for a pogrom. They'd followed the Nazi model: freezing of bank accounts, dispossession, stripping of citizenship.

The Farhud is important because it marks the arrival in the Arab world of the modern form of antisemitism, which is still with us today.

Within ten years, 90% of the Iraqi Jewish population had left. Eli Amir wrote the story of their exodus.

[Film: Voices of the Farhud]:

"We threw the children from the roof to the neighbouring house, which was that of our landlord, an old-school Muslim. He fired a shot in the air and said, 'Anyone who touches this house is dead. These people are under my protection.'"

"The mob was let into our house by our gardener. I will not generalise 100%, but maybe 98%: these people have no loyalty to anything. When push comes to shove, these people will kill you. A lot of people were killed by their neighbours, not by the mob from the street."

"The next day when we went to get bread, a Muslim skipped the queue. We said 'stay in the queue'. They said 'What; you Jews, after we have massacred you. The next Farhud we will see what we will do to you.' So from then there was no trust, and no future for us in the country."

Radio Berlin's Arabic broadcast at the time was Iraqi.

"They were given orders not to interfere. The [British] ambassador refused to allow the [British] army, even though they heard the bullets and the shouting of the Jews, and they saw the crowds looting, they said this is an internal affair; we shouldn't interfere, although the Jews were the great helpers of the British and the most faithful to the British who had ministered in Iraq."

"In the early moments of the Farhud there were four attempts made to by the Oriental Secretary asking Cornwallis to get the troops to intervene, but Cornwallis refused. They were camped eight miles outside the city."

"Two days later Cornwallis held a dinner party for his generals who had been in the invasion squad, and had been thwarted. They said they had wanted to go in but had [lacuna]. They were now invited to dinner; and were sitting at a rosewood table, drinking from crystal glases, with chandeliers, silverware, air-conditioning. They retired after dinner to play bridge. It was as casual as you like that Cornwallis turned to his fellow players, and said 'It's amazing how quiet it was, and just two days ago two thousand Jews were killed just there.'"

[Film: The Farhud]

"The Jews had been simmering for about a month. They knew, from the experience of the First World War, what was going to happen."

[eyewitness accounts of wholesale slaughter of a survivor's family by a policeman, but also of protection of Jews by policemen.]

"The next day peasants from the vilages outside Baghdad came there and started looting without distinguishing between Jewihs and non-Jewish properties. At that point the order was given to fire upon the rioters, and the riots immediately stopped."

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