Was the ‘Farhud’ Really a Nazi Event?

June 10, 2014 1:09 am 9 comments

A Jewish weaver in Ramadi, Iraq, in 1918. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Last week was the 73rd anniversary of a cataclysmic event in the tragic annals of Iraq’s Jews: the outbreak, on June 1-2, 1941, of the Farhud.

The Farhud – a Kurdish word meaning “violent dispossession”  –  erupted at the peak of World War ll. During two days of rioting coinciding with the Jewish festival of Shavuot, a frenzied mob, including Arab neighbors and policemen, murdered approximately 180 Jews in Baghdad and other cities (the exact figure is not known); 242 children were orphaned, scores of women raped, hundreds wounded, 900 homes and 586 Jewish-owned shops were looted. Although some Arabs did heroically defend their Jewish neighbors, stories abound of pregnant women eviscerated, babies mutilated, and Jewish hospital patients refused treatment or poisoned. The dead were hurriedly buried in a mass grave.

Was this just another spasm of violence, as occurred from time to time throughout 14 centuries of Jewish-Muslim “coexistence”? Or should the Farhud be considered a Holocaust event?

In a fascinating development reported in Haaretz, three lawyers are fighting a case against the Israeli government. If they can prove that Nazi Germany was behind this particularly gruesome bout of bloodletting, then the Farhud’s survivors are entitled to claim compensation and state benefits under Israel’s Disabled Victims of Nazi Persecution Law.

The plaintiffs claim that the riots against the Jews in Iraq were “a direct result of incitement and deliberate, organized, German-Nazi propaganda whose purpose was to make the Jews hateful to the Arab inhabitants of Iraq and motivate them to strike at the Jews.” The historical evidence includes German and British army correspondence and minutes, and an investigative report into the Farhud, which Iraq made public in 1958.

The key player in the financing and dissemination of Nazi propaganda was Fritz Grobba, the German ambassador to Baghdad from 1932.

Among other activities, Grobba acquired the newspaper Al-Alam Al-Arabi, in which he published an Arabic translation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. He sent Iraqi officers and intellectuals on trips to Germany as guests of the Nazi party. He also gave financial support to nationalist youth groups in Iraq and provided them with Nazi propaganda materials. A delegation from the Al-Futuwwa nationalist youth movement even visited Germany in May 1938, attended the Nazi party conference in Nuremberg, and returned to Iraq armed with anti-Semitic messages of Jewish power, corruption, and conspiracy.

The Farhud took place immediately after the defeat by British forces of Iraq’s short-lived pro-Nazi government, headed by Rashid Ali (al-Gaylani), and the flight of its main actors. Grobba funded Rashid Ali’s May 1941 coup by transferring him tens of thousands of gold ingots. At a meeting of the supreme German command on May 7, 1941, Hitler resolved “to assist Iraq in every possible way, including sending arms, ammunition, money, and military aid.”

Arguing the case for the defense (the Holocaust Survivors’ Rights Authority at the Israeli Finance ministry), historians claim that Iraq was way down the list of Germany’s priorities; that Grobba was not a “sworn” Nazi; that Nazi propaganda was marginal; that Arab nationalists enlisted Nazi support in order to defeat the British, which they failed to do; and that the Farhud was simply classic Arab anti-Semitism, without adding Nazism to the mix.

But as Edwin Black argues in his seminal book Farhud, Nazi Germany needed more and more Iraqi oil as the war progressed. Arab overtures to Hitler, initially rebuffed, were ultimately welcomed.

In its enthusiasm to indict Grobba, the case for the prosecution appears to downplay the role of the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, exiled to Baghdad between 1939 and 1941. Through the prosecution’s focus on Germany,  the Arab supporters of Nazism become puppets, without agency.

The Mufti sought Nazi license to exterminate Jews in Arab countries as well as Palestine “in the same way as the problem was resolved in the Axis Countries.” He played a key role in inciting the Muslim population against the Jews in his two-year sojourn in Baghdad. With him were hundreds of Palestinian and Syrian teachers, spreading their noxious anti-Semitism. Fleeing Baghdad before advancing British forces a few days before the Farhud, and after the collapse of the pro-Nazi Rashid Ali government  - which he had plotted to put into power, the Mufti nailed his colors firmly to the Nazi mast when he spent the rest of the war as Hitler’s guest in Berlin.

Even so, the case for the prosecution does not seek to prove intent on the part of Iraqi Nazis to bring the final solution to the Middle East.

But to Edwin Black, their purpose was clear. He writes:”The original plans for the anti-Jewish action of June 1st was intended to mimic Nazi extermination campaigns in Europe. ”

As in Poland, lists of Jews were compiled. In a chilling meeting on May 28 with the Chief Rabbi, Sassoon Kadoori, the self-styled pro-Nazi governor of Baghdad, Yunis al-Sabawi tells the Jews of Baghdad to lock themselves in their homes, cook enough food for three days’ travel, pack a small suitcase, and prepare to be transported to detention camps in the desert.

The next day, al-Sabawi was due to broadcast a call  to military and Iraqi Nazi units  to exterminate Baghdadi Jews in what Edwin Black calls a ‘massive murderous pogrom’. He even had his ‘victory’ speech ready.

In anticipation of certain slaughter, the Futuwwa youth movement went around marking red ‘hamsa’ handprints on the doors of Jewish homes.

Although al-Sabawi’s plans were thwarted at the last minute, the stage was set for the Farhud as Jews, in their Shavuot best clothes – thinking the danger had passed, ventured out of their homes.

“The perpetrators of the Farhud were not a gang nor a few errant officers,” continues Edwin Black. ” It was a mass movement unleashed, one that broadly adopted the Nazi desire to destroy the Jews.”

By focusing mainly on the activities of the ‘unlikely’ Nazi – Fritz Grobba – the prosecution fails to convey a sense of how deeply Nazi thinking had infected Iraq. Already in the 1930s, Nazi-style numerus clausus quotas were being applied to Jews in public service and education. Nazism inspired Arab nationalist movements, such as the Ba’ath Party, to marginalise and exclude Jews and  non-Arabs. Independent Iraq’s first act was to massacre 600 Assyrians.

Shockingly, the legacy of Nazism endured after the end of the war when the Arab League  drafted a raft of discriminatory laws reminiscent of Nuremberg. The mass exodus of the 140,000 Jews of Iraq, and the destruction of pre-Islamic, Jewish communities across the Arab world, followed a Nazi pattern of victimisation – dismantlement, dispossession, and expulsion – for which  Arab states have never been called to account.

But  the lawsuit is significant because, for the first time, it  attempts formally to cast light on links between the Nazis and Arab countries. The plaintiffs’ claims have so far been rejected, but they are determined to pursue their case to the highest court in the land.

9 Comments

  • David Zarmi

    Why does it have a Kurdish name? The truth is some complex mix of course, but given that many European countries happily joined the Nazis as Allies and Israel undoubtedly counts Jews there as victims, maybe it’s enough.

  • Hmmmmm! That the Jews have survived this and several well orchestrated pogrom should give every person on the earth today that the Jewish nation is a God-idea that man can never exterminate, no matter how hard they try.

  • There is much more to all of this. The Farhud was indeed one of the Nazi-sponsored pogroms against Jews. But a confluence of Allied interests in the ME has made the Iraqi Jews’ fate even worse. Al-Husseini’s role in the Holocaust has recently been proven to have been much more important than initially considered. He was in fact protected by Britain and France after the war, which is why he wasn’t judged and hanged in Nuremberg (the Mufti was wanted in Yugoslavia for horrible war crimes he organized and committed there under Nazi auspices). The Allied also used the antisemitic political card in the ME to attempt to gain Arab support against the Soviet Union. As for Israel, it should not be surprising that the government is reluctant to recognize the Holocaust survivor status of Iraqi Jews victimized by the Farhud. This is in essence the same Israeli establishment which defended Nazi collaborator Reszö Kasztner instead of hanging him as required by Israeli law – and they use Israeli taxpayer money to defend the memory of this man to this day. You can find information on the facts above in most university libraries across the US, as well as in Edwin Black’s books and the website http://www.hirhome.com.

    • Julian Clovelley

      I am certainly no expert for the period under discussion but I do think it is an oversimplification to say Al-Husseini “was in fact protected by Britain and France after the war, which is why he wasn’t judged and hanged in Nuremberg…”

      The opinion expressed in the British Parliament in answer to a question asked of the Secretary of State was “The Mufti is not a war criminal in the technical sense of the term, since he is not an enemy national, nor a person who served in the enemy forces. The matters in respect of which he could be accused would be that, being a person who owed allegiance to the Crown, he committed offences against his own national law.” (Hansard 1946)

      Prior to this question being asked, the extradition question had been raised as to whether the French, in whose custody he was held, had been asked to extradite the Mufti – the reply being “The offences with which the Mufti might be charged are not extraditable offences under the Anglo-French Extradition Treaty. No useful purpose would, therefore, be served by applying for his extradition.” (Hansard 1946)

      The involvement of the Mufti in various events has been often discussed but never clearly established. It remains, so far as I can see, an area for valid research.

      The Mufti escaped on a TWA flight to Cairo and was granted asylum in Egypt. To the best of my knowledge no charges relating to Yugoslavia were ever proven in court.

      One would hope that one day a full and accurate account will be assembled of the relationships between the Nazis and the Arab world. There is little doubt however that irrespective of these , Hitler’s actual attitude towards the Arab people was one of contempt. He is reported as describing them to his commanders as being considered at best as half-monkeys “Wir werden weiterhin die Unruhe … in Arabien schüren. Denken wir als Herren und sehen wir in diesen Volkern bestenfalls lackierte Halbaffen, die die Knute spüren wollen.” – Various translations are on the internet

  • Unfortunately in current days we still have followers of NAZI doctrines who are trying to implement BDS & Jewish persecution in Europe & USA.

    • Julian Clovelley

      I really don’t think it that simple. I have doubts as to whether I would rush out and buy a Sodastream (in part I might add because you can’t connect it up to normal economical CO2 cylinders)

      But I still buy Matzos made in Israel, although I confess to spreading them with butter and using them as the world’s best cracker for cheese. The wines I have tried from the Carmel region seem a little sweet.

      No boycott is ever as simple as “they’re all Nazis”. I yearn for the day when this is all over and we can celebrate peace. Palestine Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Gaza, could be such fun – and a haven for tourists. please G-d this madness soon passes once and for all. We are all victims of people long dead who never learnt to be nice to each other.

  • Just one small correction: Farhud is an Arabic word, not Kurdish as the article states here. There is a mention of these brutal pogroms in Ariel Sabar’s book “My Father’s Paradise.”

  • linda menuhin Abdel Aziz

    Edy Cohen a Lebanese Jew has researched the relationship between the Mufti Haj Amin Al Husseiny as mentioed in your article and proved to be very effective . The mechanism of the justice is indeed slow but in this case I doubt it would be hard to prove. Time will tell

  • In the late sixties at Arizona State University I had a professor from Iraq who remembered the Farhud as a child. He also remembered his father trying to hide Jewish neighbors.

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