The following article is adapted from “Banking on Baghdad,” a new book by Edwin Black about the history of Iraq.
At about 3 p.m., June 1, 1941, everything changed for Iraq’s Jews.
No American Holocaust museum pays homage to their tragedy. Holocaust studies have virtually overlooked the incident and its profound consequences. But the Jews of Baghdad found themselves caught between Hitler’s master plan to dominate Europe and the Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine.
At stake was the oil Hitler needed to succeed.
As the world finds Iraq once again at the center of competing international interests, a look back at this bloody chapter in Iraqi history illuminates how this region’s inherent geography and geology have given rise to a crossroads for conflict, conquest and commerce that has endured through the years.
That day in 1941, on the Jewish festival of Shavuot, the sight of Jews returning from the Baghdad airport to greet the returning Regent Abdul al-Ilah, ruler of Iraq, was all the excuse an Iraqi mob needed to unleash its vengeance.
The attack began at 3 p.m., as the Jewish delegation crossed Baghdad’s Al Khurr Bridge. Violence quickly spread to the Al Rusafa and Abu Sifyan districts. The frenzied mob murdered Jews openly on the streets. Women were raped and infants were killed as their horrified families looked on. Torture and mutilation followed.
Jewish shops were looted and torched. A synagogue was invaded, burned, and its Torahs destroyed in classic Nazi fashion. The shooting, burning and mayhem continued throughout the evening. Jews were dragged from their automobiles. Homes were invaded, looted and burned. On June 2, the fury continued with policemen and slum dwellers joining in.
At the Muallem-Cohen house, young Nezima was terrified. Her father had just returned from the synagogue, relating terrible stories about daughters being raped and homes burned, when suddenly shouting, armed men crashed through his own front gates. Quick, Mr. Muallem-Cohen rushed his family to the stairs to escape to the roof. Up they scampered, first young Nezima, then her mother, and then her father. A shot — Mr. Muallem-Cohen was dead.
Mrs. Muallem-Cohen looked back in horror. Just then a policeman appeared. “They killed my husband,” she shrieked. “How do you want to die?” the policeman snapped back, and then cracked her skull with his gun.
Finally, in the afternoon, British forces punched into the city. They opened fire on the rampagers. A 5 p.m. curfew was broadcast. Scores of violators were shot on sight. The disturbances were finally quelled.
The carnage of those 48 hours would be forever seared upon the collective Iraqi Jewish consciousness as “the Farhud,” best translated as “violent dispossession.”
It was the beginning of the end. From that moment, Iraq’s approximately 125,000 Jews would be systematically targeted for violence, persecution, commercial boycott, confiscation and eventually, in 1951, near complete expulsion.
For 2,600 years, the Jews of Iraq had dwelled successfully in the land of Babylon, achieving as much acceptance and financial success as any non-Muslim group could in an Islamic society that despised infidels.
What happened in 1941 and why? Folks, all this occurred before the “occupation” in 1967. They couldn’t use that excuse because 1948 and the creation of Israel hadn’ thappened yet.
Do you smell the stench of Islamic bigotry, racism and hatred? I do. And if you don’t, you’re a Jew hater.