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Part of the Holocaust
Farhud mass grave.jpg
Mass grave for the victims of the Farhud, 1946
Location Baghdad, Iraq
Date June 1st-2nd, 1941
Target Baghdadi Jews
Attack type
Violent pogrom, massacre
Deaths 175[1] - 780[2] Jews killed
Non-fatal injuries
1,000 injured
Perpetrators Rashid Ali, Yunis al-Sabawi, al-Futuwa youth.

Farhud (Arabic: الفرهود‎) refers to the pogrom or "violent dispossession" carried out against the Jewish population of Baghdad, Iraq, on June 1–2, 1941, immediately following the British victory in the Anglo-Iraqi War. The riots occurred in a power vacuum following the collapse of the pro-Nazi government of Rashid Ali while the city was in a state of instability. Before British and Transjordanian forces arrived, around 175 Jews were killed and 1,000 injured. Looting of Jewish property took place and 900 Jewish homes were destroyed.[1]

By 1951, 110,000 Jews—80% of Iraqi Jewry—had emigrated from the country, most to Israel.[3] The Farhud took place during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot and has been called the "forgotten pogrom of the Holocaust" and "the beginning of the end of the Jewish community of Iraq", a community that had existed for 2,600 years. Farhud was instigated by mostly Sunni Iraqis, who were fueled by the combination of xenophobic Sunni nationalism and Anti-Semitism – which is intolerant of all others, including Shi’ites, Christians and Kurds, which produced a powerful hatred of the Jews. This hatred was abetted by Nazis such as the German envoy to Baghdad, Dr Fritz Grobba.[4]


The Jews lived in the land of Babylon for more than 2,500 years following the Babylonian captivity. There had been at least two earlier comparable pogroms in the modern history of Iraqi Jews, in Basra in 1776 and in Baghdad in 1828. There were many instances of violence against Jews during their long history in Iraq,[5] as well as numerous enacted decrees ordering the destruction of synagogues in Iraq, and some forced conversion to Islam.[6]

After the Ottoman Empire was defeated in the First World War, the League of Nations granted the mandate of Iraq to Britain. After King Ghazi who inherited the throne of Faisal I, died in a 1939 car accident, Britain installed 'Abd al-Ilah as Iraq’s governing regent. By 1941, the approximately 150,000 Iraqi Jews played active roles in many aspects of Iraqi life, including farming, banking, commerce and the government bureaucracy.

Events preceding the Farhud[edit]


Between 1932 and 1941, the German embassy in Iraq, headed by Dr. Fritz Grobba, significantly supported antisemitic and fascist movements. Intellectuals and army officers were invited to Germany as guests of the Nazi party, and antisemitic material was published in the newspapers. The German embassy purchased the newspaper Al-alam Al-arabi ("The Arab world") which published, in addition to antisemitic propaganda, a translation of Mein Kampf in Arabic. The German embassy also supported the establishment of Al-Fatwa, a youth organization based upon the model of the Hitler Youth.

The Golden Square coup[edit]

Michael Eppel, in his book "The Palestinian Conflict in Modern Iraq" blames the Farhud on the influence of German ideology on the Iraqi people, as well as extreme nationalism, both of which were heightened by the Golden Square coup:

In 1941, a group of pro-Nazi Iraqi officers, known as the "Golden Square" and led by General Rashid Ali, overthrew Regent Abdul Ilah on April 1 after staging a successful coup. Iraq's new government then was quickly involved in confrontation with the British over the terms of the military treaty forced on Iraq at independence. The treaty gave the British unlimited rights to base troops in Iraq and transit troops through Iraq. The British arranged to land large numbers of soldiers from India in Iraq to force the country to show its intentions. Iraq refused to let them land and confrontations afterward occurred both near Basra in the south and to the west of Baghdad near the British base complex and airfield. The Germans dispatched a group of 26 heavy fighters to aid in a futile air attack on the British airbase at Habbaniya which accomplished nothing.

Winston Churchill sent a telegram to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, warning him that if the Middle East fell to Germany, victory against the Nazis would be a "hard, long and bleak proposition" given that Hitler would have access to the oil reserves there. The telegram dealt with the larger issues of war in the middle east rather than Iraq exclusively.

On May 25, Hitler issued his Order 30, stepping up German offensive operations: "The Arab Freedom Movement in the Middle East is our natural ally against England. In this connection special importance is attached to the liberation of Iraq... I have therefore decided to move forward in the Middle East by supporting Iraq."

On May 30, the British-organized force called Kingcol led by Brigadier J.J. Kingstone reached Baghdad, causing the "Golden Square" and their supporters to escape via Iran to Germany. Kingcol included some elements of the Arab Legion led by Major John Bagot Glubb known as Glubb Pasha.

On May 31, Regent Illah prepared to fly back into Baghdad to reclaim his leadership. To avoid the reality of a British-organized countercoup, the regent entered Baghdad without a British escort.

Antisemitic actions preceding the Farhud[edit]

Sami Michael, a witness to the Farhud, testified: "Antisemite propaganda was broadcast routinely by the local radio and Radio Berlin in Arabic. Various anti-Jewish slogans were written on walls on the way to school, such as "Hitler was killing the Jewish germs". Shops owned by Muslims had 'Muslim' written on them, so they would not be damaged in the case of anti-Jewish riots."

Shalom Darwish, the secretary of the Jewish community in Baghdad, testified that several days before the Farhud, the homes of Jews were marked with a red palm print ("Hamsa"), by al-Futuwa youth.

Two days before the Farhud, Yunis al-Sabawi, a government minister that proclaimed himself the governor of Baghdad, summoned Rabbi Sasson Khaduri, the community leader, and recommended to him that Jews stay in their homes for the next three days as a protective measure. An investigative committee later found that Yunis had the intent of killing the Jews, although his rule of Baghdad lasted only a few hours, to be seized by a public security committee.

During the fall of the Rashid Ali government, false rumors were circulated that Jews used mirrors to signal the Royal Air Force.

Farhud (June 1–2, 1941)[edit]

According to Iraqi government and British historical sources violence started when a delegation of Jewish Iraqis arrived at the Palace of Flowers (Qasr al Zuhur) to meet with the Regent Abdullah, and were attacked en route by an Iraqi Arabic mob as they crossed Al Khurr Bridge. Iraqi Arab civil disorder and violence then swiftly spread to the Al Rusafa and Abu Sifyan districts, and got worse the next day when elements of the Iraqi police began joining in with the attacks upon the Jewish population, involving shops belonging to it being set on fire and a synagogue being destroyed.

However, Prof. Zvi Yehuda has suggested that the event that set off the rioting was anti-Jewish preaching in the Jami-Al-Gaylani mosque, and that the violence was premeditated rather than a spontaneous outburst.[7]

Civil order was restored after two days of violence in the afternoon of June 2, when British troops imposed a curfew and shot violators on sight. An investigation conducted by the journalist Tony Rocca of the Sunday Times attributes the delay to a personal decision by Kinahan Cornwallis, the British Ambassador to Iraq, who failed to immediately carry out orders he received from the Foreign Office in the matter, and initially denied requests from British Imperial military and civil officers on the scene for permission to act against the attacking Arab mobs.[8] Other testimonies suggest the possibility that the British delayed their entry into Baghdad for 48 hours because they had an ulterior motive in allowing a clash between the sectarian populations within the capital city.[9]

The exact number of victims is uncertain: some sources say that about 180 Jewish Iraqis were killed and about 240 were wounded, 586 Jewish-owned businesses were looted and 99 Jewish houses were destroyed.[10] Other accounts state that nearly 200 were killed and over 2,000 injured, while 900 Jewish homes and hundreds of Jewish-owned shops destroyed and looted.[11] Bernard Lewis writes that according to the "official" statistics 600 Jewish Iraqis were killed and 240 injured, but the unofficial estimates were much higher.[12] The Israeli-based Babylonian Heritage Museum maintains that in addition to 180 identified victims, around another 600 unidentified ones were buried in a mass grave.[2] An estimate published in Haaretz newspaper cites 180 killed and 700 wounded.[13]


Legal action[edit]

Eight men, included amongst them Iraqi Army officers and policemen, were legally sentenced to death in consequence of the violence by the newly established pro-British Iraqi government.

Long term impact[edit]

In some accounts the Farhud marked the turning point for Iraq’s Jews who, following this event, were targeted for violence, persecution, boycotts, confiscations, and near complete expulsion in 1951. Historians such as Orit Bashkin, however, see the pivotal moment for the Iraqi Jewish community much later, in 1948, as systematic persecution of the Jews did not begin in earnest until the height of the Arab-Israeli conflict.[14] Rather than being a turning point, the Farhud marks the start of a process of politicization of the Iraqi Jews in the 1940s. In the direct aftermath of the Farhud, many joined the Iraqi Communist Party in order to protect the Jews of Baghdad, yet they did not want to leave the country and rather sought to fight for better conditions in Iraq itself. After the Farhud, the ICP saw a massive influx of new members, and organized rallies against the Iraqi government became more frequent.[15]

At the same time the course of the Iraqi government which had taken over after the Farhud reassured the Iraqi Jewish community, as ringleaders of the coup d'état and the riots were imprisoned or hanged and normal life soon returned to Baghdad, which saw a marked betterment of its economic situation during World War II.[16] It was only after the Iraqi government initiated a policy shift towards the Iraqi Jews in 1948, curtailing their civil rights and firing many Jewish state employees, that the Farhud began to be regarded as more than just an outburst of violence instigated by foreign influences, namely Nazi propaganda. Once Shafiq Ades was executed on October 23, 1948 for selling weapons to Israel, after a short show trial and despite the fact he was an outspoken anti-Zionist, anti-Jewish violence in Iraq had become institutionalized, and as such the Farhud could no longer be dismissed as an isolated incident.[17] After the execution of Ades, staying in Iraq was no longer an option for most Iraqi Jews, and once the opportunity presented itself to leave the country, they left the country. And aiding the massive logistical effort that it took to organize Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, the airlift of Iraqi Jews to Israel, were the young generations of Iraqi Jews which had joined the ICP and Zionists after the Farhud.[18]

It is estimated that in 2003, the Iraqi Jewish population numbered less than 100. In 2008 the Iraqi Jewish population dwindled to an estimated 7 people.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Martin Gilbert. The atlas of Jewish history, William Morrow and Company, 1993. pg. 114. ISBN 0-688-12264-7.
  2. ^ a b [1]
  3. ^ United States. Dept. of State. External Research Division. Middle East, Volume 14, Europa Publications, 1960. pg. 139.
  4. ^ Farhud Article
  5. ^ The terror behind Iraq's Jewish exodus by Julia Magnet (The Telegraph, April 16, 2003)
  6. ^ Bat Ye'or, The Dhimmi, 1985, p.61
  7. ^ Nehardea Magazine
  8. ^ Memories of Eden - Haaretz - Israel News
  9. ^ Shenhav, 2002, p. 30.
  10. ^ Levin, 2001, p. 6.
  11. ^ The Middle East's Forgotten Refugees by Semha Alwaya
  12. ^ Lewis, Bernard. Semites and Anti-Semites. 1999, page 158
  13. ^ A distorted historiography
  14. ^ Bashkin, Orit. New Babylonians : A History of Jews in Modern Iraq. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804778749. 
  15. ^ Bashkin, Orit. New Babylonians : A History of Jews in Modern Iraq. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. pp. 141–182. ISBN 9780804778749. 
  16. ^ Gat, Moshe (1997). The Jewish exodus from Iraq : 1948-1951 (1. publ. ed.). London [u.a.]: Cass. pp. 23–24. ISBN 071464689X. 
  17. ^ Bashkin, Orit. New Babylonians : A History of Jews in Modern Iraq. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. pp. 189–190. ISBN 9780804778749. 
  18. ^ Friedman, Shlomo Hillel ; translated by Ina (1988). Operation Babylon. London: Collins. ISBN 978-0002179843. 
  19. ^ Baghdad Jews Have Become a Fearful Few - NYTimes.com

Further reading[edit]

  • Cohen, Hayyim (1966). The Anti Jewish Farhud in Baghdad 1941. (Middle Eastern Studies, 3, 2–17)
  • Levin, Itamar (2001). Locked Doors: The Seizure of Jewish Property in Arab Countries. (Praeger/Greenwood) ISBN 0-275-97134-1
  • Shamash,Violette (2008,2010) "Memories of Eden: A Journey Through Jewish Baghdad."(Forum Books, London; Northwestern University Press, Evaston, IL, USA) ISBN 978-0-9557095-0-0
  • Shenhav, Yehouda (2002). Ethnicity and National Memory: The World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC) in the Context of the Palestinian National Struggle. (British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. 29 (1), 27–56)
  • Kedouri Elie (1974) The Sack of Basra and the Farhud in Baghdad, (Arabic Political Memoirs. London), pp. 283–314.
  • Meir-Glitzenstein Esther (2004). Zionism in an Arab Country: Jews in Iraq in the 1940s. (London and New York: Routledge)
  • Zvi Yehuda and Shmuel Moreh (Ed.): Al-Farhud: the 1941 Pogrom in Iraq. (Magnes Press and The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism), 1992 Hebrew, 2010 English: plus the Babylonian Jewish Heritage Center as editor: ISBN 978-965-493-490-9, e-book: ISBN 978-965-493-491-6

External links[edit]