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Remembering The Farhud After October 7th

June 1st, 1941 as Baghdad’s Jews were preparing for Shavuot a massacre known as the Farhud broke out in the Jewish Quarter. For forty-eight hours Baghdad’s Jews were terrorized. The crowded Jewish Quarter was where the poorest of Baghdad’s Jews lived. Hordes of Arabs entered the gates with swords, guns and screams to kill the Jews. 

My mother, Khatoun, Lady, remembers. Women and girls were raped in front of their familes. Jews were slaughtered. 

October 7 2023 – Sound familiar? 

Remaining PTSD Farhud survivors like my uncle, who was alive on October 7th  remembered. No one forgets such trauma. Second hand, I remember my childhood with my mother and grandmother remembering the screams, their terror, the slaughter, that June in Baghdad 1941. 

I watch videos taken by Hamas GoPro cameras of Jews waking up to terror in their homes. I think of the fear and hatred they experienced. In their homes in their Kibbutzim and Moshavim and the beautiful idealistic hopeful young people celebrating sunrise at Nova Music Peace Festival.  

From joy and hope to gunshots and final calls home, “… they are shooting at us…I’m sorry… I love  you…” The goodbyes before the torture, the deaths, the unheard of brutality in the rapes, the barbarism. 

Two days later “protests” erupt all over the United States and Europe. Not against Hamas. Against Israel. Against Jews. For months. The indoctrinated to hate Jews are seen as “the resistance” to Jews living as a free People. 

I force myself to watch videos that keep me awake nights taken by Hamas GoPro cameras recorded on October 7 – horrors I am glad my mother and grandmother are not alive to see. 

Videos from Hamas show us the terrorizing and raping of young women dragged to trucks to be “taken” as slaves. Videos of families trying to protect their children, hands bloodied from touching a dead child. A little girl huddling with her family on the floor, begging for humanity, “my sister, my sister she is dead,” she repeats to the fully geared Hamas terrorists standing over her, as the family huddles on the floor in terror under their watch before they are slaughtered. 

In the kibbutzim and moshavim in the Gaza Envelope, the murdered maimed and kidnapped recognized their  “friends” from Gaza, the ones they actually trusted before Oct 7th. They didn’t know how deeply they were hated for being Israeli, for being Jews. They could never have imagined the carnage. The brutally slaughtered in their homes, burned to death inside their safe rooms and shot outside along with their beloved pets in a day. Pets were not a thing in Baghdad 1941, it’s a different story in 2023. I am haunted by all of it, of watching that dog, a beloved pet running out to see what the noise was as Hamas entered the neighborhood, shot.  

The Farhud, like October 7,  was “something we never imagined,” my mother said. 

Both broke out with no warning. “It was our pogrom,” she said.

Jews lived in Iraq since the Babylonian Exile – We had a 2,500 year history – predating Mohammed and the Muslim Conquest of the region. The Farhud, despite the cultural and systemic prejudice against Jews with Jim Crow discriminatory laws, was a shock. The level of destruction and the way it erupted, farhud, “violent dispossession” in Arabic, was beyond the imagination of Iraqi Jews. 

“They always let us know we were second class citizens, a hanging now and then, the ongoing open prejudice, our fear of being outside at certain times after speeches against Jews at a mosque..” The hate was worse depending who was in power –  “We mostly kept to ourselves …but this, the Farhud,that we never imagined.” 

My mother was sixteen during the Farhud. Khatoun Sherbanee and her immediate family lived in a mixed suburb outside the Jewish Quarter where most of the horror took place. They heard the news on the radio and word of mouth that Jews were in danger, a Jewish man was dragged off a bus and run over, “not once but twice,” a disabled girl was raped outside her house, Jews caught on the streets were being attacked and beaten…women were targets of sexual assault. It was a free-for-all. The chaos spread hard and fast.  

Everyone rushed out to their rooftop terraces to see what they could as blood curdling screams got louder and louder, the gunshots closer. For 48 hours the horror progressed with no intervention. 

My mother lived further out, in a mixed suburb of Baghdad. She ran like everyone else to the roof, to see where the screams and gunshots were coming from. “The screams, the screams, were something unbelievable,” my mother, grandmother and all who were there never forgot.

The screams kept getting louder and louder, punctuated by gunshots. A mob reached my mother’s neighborhood. Their Christian neighbor yelled, “this is a Christian house, no Jews, here.” My sixteen-year-old mother ran with her family from rooftop to rooftop, to a cousin’s home. “There were men in that household, so we felt it would be safer,” she explained. She slept with her shoes on for the next two weeks. 

She had eyes of the traumatized when she told me what she remembered… the screams, the fear, news of the slaughter, the untold numbers of girls and women raped, the mutilations, the survivors begging at her door for weeks afterwards. “We helped in any ways we could.” 

In Baghdad’s business district Jewish businesses were destroyed. When she went to the Jewish Quarter to see relatives who survived, “it was as if locusts came in and wiped out everything, not even a grain of rice was left.”

The Quarter was decimated. The looters carried off all furnishings after the killings, the maiming, the rape of women and girls. The mob spread out and looted Jewish homes in nearby neighborhoods. The British who had a base in Habbaniya did not interfere for 48 hours. Let the Arabs blow off steam on the Jews. They were furious with the British for dismantling Iraq’s pro-Nazi government of Rashid Ali the previous month. 

And then came the announcement like some kind of sick joke, “Return to the Jews what you took.” Return what? The electrical appliances the Bedouin who came in from the outskirts of the city to join in the slaughter had no use for? The looted sewing machine, lamps, a sad piano she saw dumped into the Tigris?

Return what? The homes and businesses burned down? The lifelong terror in veins and ruined lives? The untold and unreported numbers of rapes, mutilations, the at least 300 dead bodies buried in mass graves, and minds traumatized for life? Most went unreported for fear of reprisal from the Iraqi government. 

“Even before the Farhud we were sitting ducks,” my mother explained. “There was nowhere to go, there was no Israel then… we had no choice but to keep quiet to stay alive.” 

My mother grew up like most Iraqi Jews, knowing her place, as a second-class citizen, without equal civil rights, in her own country. There is a name for this status in Islam, Dhimmi. A “protected minority” until the protection vanishes at different times. And “peace” until Hamas breached.

When my mother left her house to go to school she learned to duck the slurs and intimidation by keeping her head bowed and eyes down. She tried not to take in the terrifying threats, “Slaughter the Jews! We are coming for you!She saw her brother beaten up and daring not to fight back. She witnessed the Shia date merchant in Karbala dutifully wash his hands after doing business with her father, a Yahud, Jew. An insult to Islam and humanity. She witnessed the threats her mother suffered on the street, “when the time comes you will be for me, and (pointing to the daughters) she for me, her for him…” 

In good times living as a Jew in what became Arab lands meant just knowing your place, paying special taxes no matter how impossibly poor, bribes for this or that if you had money. In bad times money did not stop imprisonment and public hangings without a fair trial. Jews who remained in Iraq after 1951 were, as the title of a book published in the late 1960’s was titled, “All Waiting to be Hanged.” 

Most people have never heard about the Farhud. Eclipsed by the unimaginable magnitude and horror of the Holocaust, and the lack of knowledge about Jews in Arab lands, it’s understandable and unacceptable to ignore the Farhud. Nothing compares to the Shoah. To weigh Jewish persecution in comparison to the Holocaust is way too high a bar. 

Today Iraq is Jew-Free. Iraq’s 150,000 Jews were allowed to flee in the 1950s, forfeiting citizenship and all their worldly possessions for freedom. They left pauperized and stateless with one suitcase of clothing, and a one way exit. Most settled in Ramat Gan, Israel.

In the USA where I live, the anti-Israel sentiment from certain liberal sectors is terrifying. AntiZionist Jews and their allies, while commemorating the Holocaust with tears and “Never Again” blame Israel for Oct 7. Antisemitism, the hatred of Jews, has been successfully internalized by too many Jews. It’s a horror to see JVP (Jewish Voice for Peace) in action in our city halls, universities, and streets. 

The United Nations dedicated June First as International Farhud Day some seventy four years later. Maybe they will have a day or a monument someday for October 7 – Dara Horn says it all in her book “People Love Dead Jews.” 

Anti-Zionist apologists for Islamic Jew hatred continue to claim the Farhud was purely a European Nazi driven import and nothing to do with Islamic hegemony.  Today college students set up “encampments” and scream on streets against Israel, bamboozled into thinking Hamas barbarism is “resistance” instead of a genocidal ideology. 

The long history of dhimmi laws and pervasive cultural contempt for the offending infidel Jew, is the sad historical truth. And with most of the Arab world Jew-free, living Hitler’s dream of Judenrein, Israel is the target. The “complicated situation” has a very uncomplicated root poison.

Originally posted on Times of Israel June 1st, 2024



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