The Forgotten Kristallnacht

In a new poem written by Rachel Avraham in honor of Jewish Refugee Day, which Israel is honoring today in remembrance of the expulsion of Jews from Arabic speaking countries, Avraham raises awareness about the Farhud pogrom in Iraq, where up to 600 Iraqi Jews were massacred.
Mass grave from Farhud Pogrom Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

It was a dark day in Baghdad, the city my ancestors had lived in since ancient times;
It was Shavuot and we were all excited about the holiday without foreseeing the mines;
That were about to explode at any second that day as the Nazi inspired coup rose up;
Before we had time during our festive meal to drink the wine from our cup;
I am a female victim of the Farhud, the forgotten Kristallnacht;

Without us expecting anything bad, Arab mobs knocked on our door;
In my beautiful pink holiday dress, I went to open it up for the hordes;
‘Farhud, oh nation of Mohammed’ they cried out;
While raping me before I had time to wander about;
I am a female victim of the Farhud, the forgotten Kristallnacht;

My brother cried out to the gang of death to leave me alone;
After all, I was nothing more than an innocent Jewish girl made of flesh and bones;
At that moment, they drew out their knives;
They tore him apart with all of their might;
I am a female victim of the Farhud, the forgotten Kristallnacht;

My seven-year-old sister snuck out the door;
In order to try and hide from the Arab Nazi-inspired coup in my father’s store;
But they caught up with her and tore off her white dress;
Which was reserved for the holiday as it was her best;
I am a female victim of the Farhud, the forgotten Kristallnacht;

On that day, the youth of all of the Jewish children was in ruins;
As the blood from the rape of the Jewish girls was running down their veins;
The Jewish boys were massacred en masse;
As the shops and the synagogues were destroyed by the fanatics in turban hats;
I am a female victim of the Farhud, the forgotten Kristallnacht that no one speaks of today!

Story Behind the Poem:

In the 1940’s, about 135,000 Jews lived in Iraq with about 90,000 residing in Baghdad. Jews have been living in that region of the world since the Babylonian Exile during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar in 722 BCE, implying that the Jewish community in Iraq predated Islam by hundreds of years. Between 500 and 700 CE, Iraqi Jewry produced the Babylonian Talmud, which is utilized by Jews around the world to date. Great Judaic scholars such as Hillel were Iraqi. In essence, Judaism as we know it today was born in Iraq.

But aside from being rich regarding Jewish learning, Iraqi Jews had vastly contributed towards Iraqi society. They introduced the olive tree into Iraq and helped to develop Iraq’s postal and judicial systems. Iraq’s first Finance Minister Yehezkel Sasson was Jewish. However, Iraqi Jewish refugee Mazal Elijah emphasized in a Jewish Press interview I conducted that the plight of Iraqi Jews was always horrible. Elijah asserted that rapes occurred all of the time and that if an Arab barged into your home and demanded to marry your daughter, it was impossible to refuse him. Iraqi Jewish women were forced to wear the face veil for their own protection. Pretty Iraqi Jewish girls were hidden by their families, so that Arabs would not demand to marry them. Women could not leave the home without an escort and they weren’t allowed to work, except to sew, knit or do beauty jobs for women. It was not even possible for Iraqi Jewish women to go out for a movie.

In 1921, following the establishment of Iraq under the British Mandate, Jews were granted citizenship but starting in the 1940’s, they would suffer a wave of persecution that was inspired by Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini, who sought refuge in Iraq after being forced out of the Palestine Mandate following the failed Arab Revolt between 1936 and 1939. On June 1, 1941, which fell over the Shavuot holiday, a Nazi-inspired coup known as the Farhud broke out in Iraq that was inspired by Hajj Amin Al Husseini and the Nazis that lasted for about two days.

On that day, the Jews had emerged into the streets of Baghdad in their holiday clothing in order to welcome the pro-British ruler that returned to Iraq. But within hours, Iraqi forces fell upon them and Jews were being attacked all over Baghdad and in other places as well. The rallying cry of the Arab mobs at that time was “Farhud, oh nation of Mohammed.” Following that, the mobs would murder, rape and rob the Jews. Thousands of Iraqis celebrated the massacre, theft and rape of Iraq’s Jewish community.

Up to 600 were killed. Between 1,000 and 2,000 were injured during the Kristallnacht-style pogrom that threatened the entire local Jewish community. During this period of time, Jewish property was looted, over 1,500 Jewish homes and stores were damaged, a synagogue with its Torah scrolls was burnt to the ground, and Jewish women were raped en masse. 2,500 Jewish families were adversely affected by it. The only reason it ended was because the British brought the coup to a halt. Otherwise, the results would have been more devastating.

Elijah related that some Arabs were decent and tried to save Jewish people from the Farhud, yet other Arabs behaved horribly and sought to do the same to the Jews of Iraq as Hitler did to the Jews in Europe. However, they were fortunately stopped by the British. Nevertheless, it was a turning point in Iraqi Jewish history for the worst. Although there was a small period of calm after the Farhud, the situation drastically deteriorated for the ancient Iraqi Jewish community once Israel was declared to be a state and in the end, the Jewish people would be expelled from the country. To date, most people have never heard of the Farhud.


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