James Edward Johnson

my thoughts from right to left

The Irony of Today in Jewish History

with 6 comments

Today marks great tragedy and great triumph for the Jewish people.

Seventy years ago today, for two days in 1941, pro-Nazi Arabs rioted against the Jews of Baghdad.  In a wave of violence, the Jews of Iraq were destroyed on a shocking scale – even in the context of the developing Holocaust. In the Farhud, which means “pogrom” or “violent dispossession”, approximately twice as many Jews were killed in Iraq as were killed during Kristallnacht in Germany.   The only reason the Nazis did not succeed in exterminating the Jews of Iraq is that the British regained control shortly after the Farhud.  Even still, Baghdad would be nearly Jew-free within the next ten years.  One of the major centers of Jewish life for approximately 2,500 years was destroyed.

Forty three years ago today (on the Hebrew calendar), another center of Jewish life was restored.  In 1967, Jews had been barred from their holiest sites in Jerusalem for 20 years – during the Jordanian occupation of the city.  Although day-to-day control of the Temple mount, Judaism’s holiest site, remains under the authority of the Islamic Waqf, it and the Kotel, or Western Wall, was opened to the Jewish people under the sovereignty of the Jewish state.  The return of this area to Jewish hands is marked by Yom Yerushalayim.

So, while on this day we remember a terrible tragedy and the destruction of a center of Jewish life, we also remember a great victory and the restoration of a center of Jewish life.


Written by JamesEJ

Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 6:13 am

Posted in history, israel, judaism

6 Responses

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  1. Thanks for blogging about this. I did not know…


    Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 11:32 am

  2. Quite a different conclusion from some of those who were there:

    Ruth Walker

    Sunday, June 19, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    • bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-13610702

      Ruth Walker

      Sunday, June 19, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    • Overall, the BBC seems to corroborate and support my light comments here. I recommend the BBC article. The only complaint I have is that the claim that Baghdad had been a “model of peaceful coexistence” was not then recently true. My friend, Margot Lurie, writes about antisemitism in Baghdad as contributing to her family leaving there as early as 1913 http://www.tabletmag.com/life-and-religion/19238/the-boy-from-rangoon/

      I am curious, what points do you think contradict my post?

      James Edward Johnson

      Sunday, June 19, 2011 at 7:17 pm

  3. The BBC account’s “Until the Farhud, Baghdad had been a model of peaceful coexistence for Jews and Arabs. Jews made up about one in three of the city’s population in 1941, and most saw themselves as Iraqi first and Jewish second.” does not actually conflict with Margot Lurie’s explanation that her family left well before the problems: “In the spring of 1913, my family left Iraq, escaping the anti-Semitism that reached a terrible pinnacle there in the 1941 Farhud (pogrom).” Consider that she got her perceptions from her beloved grandfather, who was three years old when the family left.

    This concurs: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/iraqijews.html
    “During these centuries under Muslim rule, the Jewish Community had it’s ups and downs. By World War I, they accounted for one third of Baghdad’s population. In 1922, the British recieved a mandate over Iraq and began transforming it into a modern nation-state.”

    Jewishvertuallibrary substantiates the Arab version in that, except for the two-year Nazi influence, the problems were backlash from the Zionist take-over Palestine: “Yet, following the end of the British mandate, the 2,700-year-old Iraqi Jewish community suffered horrible persecution, particularly as the Zionist drive for a state intensified.” Since the British Mandate ended May 14, 1948, do you suppose their putting it before the 1941 pogram was with the intention to mislead?

    Did you even read the BBC account? Here’s more that conflicts with the conclusion of what you wrote:

    “Steve Acre witnessed the bravery of his Muslim landlord from a palm tree.”


    “A month earlier, a pro-Nazi lawyer Rashid Ali al-Gilani, had overthrown Iraq’s royal family, and started broadcasting Nazi propaganda on the radio.

    “But when an attack on a British Air Force base outside Baghdad ended in humiliating failure, he was forced to flee. The Farhud took place in the power vacuum that followed.

    “In a tragic twist to the tale, it turns out the British Army could have intervened to halt the violence. On 1 June, British cavalry were just eight miles from the city, having raced 600 miles from Palestine and Egypt under orders to prevent Iraqi oil falling into Nazi hands.

    “To Britain’s shame, the army was stood down,” says historian Tony Rocca, co-author with Farhud survivor Violette Samash of the book, Memories of Eden.”

    The Website for that book concurs: http://www.memoriesofeden.com/ Apparently Violette Smash was born about 1912 and it describes the harmonious relations the Jewish people had with the Muslims and Christians during her happy childhood. Your “The only reason the Nazis did not succeed in exterminating the Jews of Iraq is that the British regained control shortly after the Farhud,” doesn’t fit the story at the book Website and the BBC account that both say the British soldiers stood by and did nothing.


    Monday, June 20, 2011 at 6:17 pm

  4. The Nazis extended the Holocaust into North Africa – an area that did not experience a mass slaughter like the Farhud. The idea that a Nazi-supported regime in Iraq would have been any different seems poorly supported by the facts. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem had plans to extend the Holocaust throughout the Middle East and there is no reason to believe that Baghdad was immune to the antisemitic disease. The Farhud suggests that, if anything, antisemitism had already become much worse there and that there would have been local support.


    Monday, June 20, 2011 at 10:47 pm

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