While the Jews of Europe were facing death across Nazi Europe, the Jews of Iraq encountered brutality at the hands of former colleagues, neighbours and fellow citizens in a massacre known as The Farhud. It took place on June 1-2, 1941, coinciding with what Iraqi Jews called “’Iyd Ez-Zyagha” – Shavuot.
For descendants of one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, the Farhud was its equivalent of Kristallnacht – an event which rocked an established community, whose members were prominent in all fields of endeavour in Iraq – he arts, literature, public administration, the law, banking and overseas trade.
In the space of 48 hours more than 180 Jews were murdered, 600 injured, countless women raped and 1500 homes and businesses destroyed. Communal leadership estimated that 14,000 of the 90,000 Jews in Baghdad suffered directly in the Farhud.
The Farhud will be commemorated at the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies plenum next week on Tuesday 26 April at the Sephardi Synagogue, featuring Dr Myer Samra as guest speaker.
During the Farhud, thousands of protestors took to the streets, murdering and raping Iraqi Jews, looting homes and businesses in mob violence directed at the Jewish communities in Baghdad and Basra.
Just two months earlier, a coup had been staged by Nazi sympathisers, inspired by propaganda from German Consul Dr Fritz Grobba and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Haj Amin Al-Husseini, a Nazi sympathiser.
The British led a counter attack and the coup leaders fled the country on 29 May, 1941. Many Iraqis had supported the coup, and felt aggrieved by Britain’s role in the country, as colonial administrator under a League of Nations mandate from 1921 to 1932, and its continued “interference” in the affairs of independent Iraq thereafter.
Thousands of Jews fled Iraq in the wake of the Farhud. Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, hostility among the populace flared up once more, and by 1951, all but 10,000 Jews out of a pre-war estimated total of 150,000 had left the country.
In 2015 the United Nations proclaimed June 1 International Farhud Day in memory of those who were killed, in honour of those who survived, and to commemorate those who later became Jewish refugees from Arab lands.
Dr Samra is a lawyer employed by the NSW Department of Family and Community Services and a specialist in children’s law. He is also a part-time lecturer in the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies at the University of Sydney on the Jewish communities of India and China, and is the editor of the Australian Journal of Jewish Studied. He will speak about the experiences of the Jewish community during the Farhud, touching on his family’s experiences as well.
In 2011, the Sephardi Synagogue commemorated the 70th Anniversary of the Farhud, featuring a lecture from historian Edwin Black. This year, the 75th Annivesary of the massacre, will be the first time that our community as a whole will be commemorating the Farhud.