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|Shmuel Moreh||July 23rd 2012|
Following the Farhud—the pogrom of 1941 in Baghdad—and following the sack of Basra on 7–8 May 1941, many formerly Iraqi Jewish scholars tried in vain to keep the event alive in Jewish collective memory. The Jewish Holocaust is generally believed to have been confined to European Jewry, and has overshadowed all the other WWII calamities.
I was shocked to discover during a 1986 visit that the Holocaust Museum in Los Angeles made no mention of the Farhud, in which 137 Iraqi Jews were murdered. I wrote a letter to the Director of the Museum, but to this day, I have received no answer. The Arab world and the media, even in Israel, have maintained a conspiracy of silence. But with the recent publication of two important books on the Farhud, perceptions are changing.
In the Arab world, mainly in Iraq, a conspiracy of silence has been carefully maintained against concerning the successive massacres committed against Jews since the Farhud of 1941 and the Arab defeat in 1948 war. In Iraq, the cover-up started even before the blood of the innocent victims dried. Army and police officers still roved the streets of Baghdad, warning the Jews not to testify against the murderers and looters. Even the official report on the massacre was not published until 1958 by the Iraqi historian ’Abd al-Razzaq al-Hasani in Saida in Lebanon.
Later on, a few articles were published in Hebrew and English by well known historians such as Dr. Haim Cohen of the Hebrew University, in 1966, and Prof. Elie Kedourie of LSE, London University, in 1970. These researches drew the attention of few scholars and Orientalists, especially British and German. The situation did not change appreciably even when a collection of articles and documents was published in book form: Hatred of Jews and the Farhud in Iraq, edited by Zvi Yehuda and me.
This strange indifference towards the Farhud continued even in Israel, where it is rare that an official or MK attends the annual memorial ceremony of the Farhud held every year at the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda.
Nor did this pogrom succeed in attracting the attention of the Israeli media, which are known for their indifference to subjects they consider Oriental, communal, and sectarian. Many journalists are not aware of the fact that the Farhud, and the transport of the Jews of Libya to Nazi concentration camps in Europe, were in fact a part of the Nazi global plan to annihilate the Jews wherever they were, including the Middle East.
This satanic task was handed by the Nazis to their Arab supporters, headed by Hajj Amin al-Husayni, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and a diligent student of the German Templars in Palestine. These Arabs did their best to take an active part in the Nazis’ anti-Jewish operations. As in the case of Nazi Germany, the Arab majority believed, under the influence of the Arabic translation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, that the Jews, who helped the British authorities to build a modern administration in Iraq, were planning a conspiracy to control and exploit the Iraqi economy and dominate important posts in various Iraqi ministries.
The Palestinian refugees of the 1936 and 1939 revolts in Palestine, who had escaped to Iraq, were headed al-Husayni. They were shocked to see the great role that Jews played in the Iraqi economy. They imposed their political ideology upon the Prime Minister of Iraq, Rashid Aali al-Gailani and his national government instigated attacks against the British military air bases in Habbaniya on 2 May 1941. The defeat of the Iraqi army aroused panic among the pro-Nazi government. Its members, and the Palestinians who joined the revolt, escaped to Iran and Turkey and later on to Germany.
In the resulting vacuum, the pogrom took place on 1–2 June 1941. According to a temporary list of names compiled by Dr. Zvi Yehuda, 138 Jews were killed in Baghdad, and 8 Jews outside Baghdad—a total of 146 killed and 2,500 injured. Children and women were raped, and hundreds of Jewish houses and stores were looted and burned. These tragic events in the Orient were eclipsed by the atrocities of the Holocaust in Europe, the greatest disaster in Jewish history.
The failure of the Israeli media to see the connection between the pro-Nazi Arab nationalists, directed, backed and equipped by Nazi Germans in the Arab world, with the Holocaust, was among the main reasons why Western Jewry have not been aware of the Farhud and the tragedy of the Jews of Libya and Iraq.
Strangely enough, it was only in 2003 that American scholar Samuel Edelman heard of the Farhud. This happened not in Israel or in the USA, but in northern Iraq, when he went to interview Kurdish survivors of chemical warfare. There he heard for the first time of the Farhud. On the other hand, in 2006, Iraqi historian, Prof. Kadhim A. Habib, a resident of Berlin, published The Jews and Iraqi citizenship, or the Tragedy of the Iraqi Jews between Tyrannical Captivity and Betrayal [by] Forced Expulsion. The book was published in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyya.
The Iraqi Committee for Investigating the Events of the Farhud set up by the government of Iraq, in 1941, stated that the basic causes of the Farhud were:
- Nazi activities and propaganda by the German legation in Baghdad, headed by Dr. F. Grobba, and his staff of attractive young German ladies and professors who helped spread Nazi ideology among politicians and army officers
- The Mufti of Jerusalem and his companions;
- Nationalist Palestinian and Syrian teachers who incited their students to attack Jews;
- Military and police anti-Jewish officers who took an active part in killing and refused to give orders to shoot the plundering mobs during the massacre;
- The German Arab language radio station, which helped to spread Nazi propaganda in Iraq;
- The pro-Nazi al-Futuwwa and Kata’ib al-Shabab semi-military organizations headed by Iraqi, Palestinian, and Syrian nationalists.
All these facts convinced me that the Farhud was an integral part of the Nazi final solution to the “Jewish problem.” After a careful study of the ideological bases and the Nazi and pro-Nazi elements that instigated the pogrom, I arrived at the following conclusions:
The research and testimonies in this book demonstrate that the Jews of Iraq were victims of ideology, led by representatives of Nazi Germany and those Arab leaders who cooperated with them in hopes of ending British influence in the Arab world. We are grateful to the U.S. House of Representatives for unanimously passing Resolution 185 on first April 2008, which recognizes the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries as equal to those of Palestinian refugees.
Moreover, representatives of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. visited the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda, Israel in 2008, and requested documentation on the Farhud, emphasizing that they accept the Farhud as part of the Holocaust. We think that it is time now to reconsider the possibility that both the U.S. authorities and German government will include the survivors of the Farhud in their list of Nazi victims and an integral part of the Holocaust. – Introduction to Al-Farhud: The 1941 Pogrom in Iraq.
However, only after the publication of two comprehensive and well documented books in English by important publishing houses, in Israel and the USA, is there now hope that the Farhud will receive the recognition it deserve as part of the Jewish history of WWII. Readers in the West can see now for themselves the clear connection between the two tragedies initiated by Nazi Germany. The first book is Al-Farhud, The 1941 Pogrom in Iraq, edited by Shmuel Moreh and Zvi Yehuda. The second is the historian Edwin Black’s original, outstanding, comprehensive, and painstakingly researched The Farhud: The Roots of Arab-Nazi Alliance during the Holocaust. Edwin Black arrived independently at the same conclusion and faced not only indifference, but also strong opposition towards his daring results.
In fact, this second important book on the Farhud is considered one of the best books on the common Jewish destiny during the WWII and the cooperation between Arab-Nazi leaders and Hitler. It is Black’s seventh book on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust during the WWII. The author is a well-known American journalist whose parents were lucky enough to escape the Nazi gas chambers of Europe. Black’s intensive research in his book reveals new facts concerning the close cooperation between the Mufti al-Husayni and Hitler and renders great service to the history of the Jewish people during the WWII.
Although Black based his arguments on extensive documentation, and arrived at new and daring conclusions which upset former conceptions and research, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and a coalition of groups and institutions resisted the inclusion of “information about the Farhud and the Mufti of Jerusalem.”
The recent positive step taken by the Holocaust Memorial Museum towards the Farhud, came in the wake of great efforts made by Edwin Black and his supporters. It is hoped now that “the documentation in [Edwin Black’s] book, will help the USHMM (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) acknowledge further that of the millions of Jews murdered in the Holocaust, the ones who lived in Arab countries should not be forgotten. History must never be political, even in a political city.”
An acknowledgment that the suffering of the Jews in Iraq and in other Arab lands during the WWII is a part of the Holocaust will emphasize the unity of Jewish destiny all over the world. It will further unite the two parts of the Jewish nation, the Sephardic and Ashkenazi congregations, by the united memory of the Holocaust. These facts should be taught in schools and universities in Israel and abroad. Moreover, we hope that Israel Ministry of education, Jewish institutes and university departments of Jewish History all over the world, would add these two books to their curriculum, and translate them to other languages. These steps would at last do justice to Jewish history.
On July 3, 2012, Dr. Zvi Yehuda (the Director of the Research Institute of Babylonian Jewry), Black, and I watched a new film produced by the Babylonian Heritage Center in Or-Yehuda. The film was very moving and tragic. Tears could be detected in Mr. Black's eyes. Only a great man who cares for the destiny of his people everywhere would be able to show such noble emotion.
Dr. Shmuel Moreh, born in Baghdad, is Emeritus Professor of Arabic Studies, the 1999 Israel Prize Laureate in Oriental Studies, and Chairman of Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq. Dr. Moreh and Dr. Zvi Yehuda are the editors of Al-Farhud: The 1941 Pogrom in Iraq.