Remembering the Farhud
By Leor Karp
During one of the many wars in the Middle East during the 20th century there is one massacre that to date has received little publicity. This massacre took place in British controlled Iraq during the early 1940’s, and is called Farhud, meaning violent disposition. This event is thought to have killed more than 180 and injured over 2000 of the already dwindling Jewish population of Baghdad. Unfortunately, neither the exact sequence of events preceding this event nor the total numbers of fatalities resulting from this event are known.
Within Iraq there was ongoing turmoil during the year of 1940. The traditionally pro-British government was first replaced by Rashid Ali, a pro-Nazi, that helped the Baghdad German consulate spread anti-Semitic messages, including translations of Mein Kampf. Furthermore, his administration was instrumental in the establishment of Al-Fatwa, a youth group based upon the model of the Hitler Youth in Germany.
Post British gains in North Africa saw support for the Ali administration dwindle, ultimately forcing his resignation in January 1941. Not content with this fate, Ali joined by some of his generals staged a coup deposing the Iraqi Regent Abd al-Ilah, forcing Ilah to flee.
Although initially successful, this coup was short lived. An alliance of British and some of the Arab Legion soldiers quickly deposed the Ali led coup, forcing him to flee to Iran. Subsequent advances by British and Russian military continued during this period, eventually securing Iran. Post this victory the armistice was signed, leading the Iraqi regent’s return to claim Iraqi rule.
Upon the Regent Ilah’s return British troops had yet to advance to within the Baghdad city limits. He summonsed a delegation of Iraqi Jews to meet him, which on route were attacked by an angry mob. Two days of riots and violence against Jews ensued, during which many more civilians and members of the Iraqi police force joined this mob. This led to the death of more than 180 Jews, the injury of 2000 more, the looting of Jewish business, destruction of many synagogues and the start of the expulsion of the Jewish Iraqi population.
Many alternate theories as to the reasons for the delay in British troop deployment exist, but it was in this two day period, 1-2 June 1941, that the Farhud occurred.
This Shavuot marks the 70th anniversary of this horrific perpetration of injustice onto an unsuspecting population of Jewish Iraqi’s. Let their memory never fade in our consciousness and let us work, pray and hope that this is never repeated.
Leor Karp is an engineer living in Perth.