At the beginning of the Jewish holiday Shavuot, 82 years ago, the Jewish community of Iraq faced a terrible and devastating act of antisemitism: the Farhud pogrom. The event was influenced by Nazi propaganda and took place in the capital city of Iraq, Baghdad, in the spring of 1941. Pro-Nazi militants and the government blamed Jews for helping the British win the Anglo-Iraqi War, which resulted in violent public outrage.
Many scholars consider Farhud a part of the Holocaust outside of Europe; however, there are still debates around this notion. Modern educational programs often focus closely on the history of European countries without saying so explicitly. At the same time, textbooks and academic resources avoid discussing events that took place on other continents.
If we only talk about Jewish communities in Iraq, the approximate number of Jews living there in the 1940s varies from 135 000 to 150 000, which constituted around one third of the Jewish population of Mandatory Palestine. Nevertheless, there is a lack of clarity regarding the history of Iraqi Jewry among the general public.
The Anglo-Iraqi War was led by British forces against the government of Rashid Gaylani, who came to power with the help of the Nazis. After many battles, British forces succeeded in overthrowing the militant regime, but pro-Nazi nationalists did not give up so easily. Although they had lost power in the country, the antisemitic provocations and propaganda continued later on.
The pogrom was not an accidental public outrage but rather a carefully prepared antisemitic act caused by Nazi propaganda. Anti-Jewish slogans were broadcasted daily by radio stations, including Radio Berlin, in Arabic. The masses were exposed to Hitler’s statements and quotes, but the saddest thing here is that people were influenced by them, especially among younger generations.
The violent actions towards the Jewish population as Jewish Iraqis came to the Palace of Flowers in order to meet with the new pro-British governor. Many people were killed or injured, and their property was damaged. A lot of women faced sexual violence on the basis of their nationality. The exact number of people killed in the Farhud pogrom has never been estimated and has varied from a few hundred to over a thousand.
The Farhud caused the immigration of Iraqi Jews to other countries, mainly Palestine, which a few years later became the state of Israel. The Iraqi Israelis are often characterized as traditionalists and highly observant when it comes to Judaism. A lot of modern politicians, celebrities, and people of culture have Iraqi roots.
Today, there are a few Jews living in Iraq, but nevertheless, the descendants of the people who fled the country are very proud of their centuries-long cultural heritage. The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center opens its doors to everyone who wants to find out more about the fascinating history of the Persian Jewish community. The center is located in Or Yehuda, the city that was founded by Iraqi immigrants to Israel in 1949.