The Farhud by Edwin Black Banner

Chapter 1: Baghdad Burning

As thick swirls of black smoke wafted across the Baghdad sky, as orange tongues of flames leapt through stone-framed doors and windows, as the stinging smell of torched Jewish households and shops filled the air, the irrepressible screams continued. Cheers and jeers from the rioting Arab crowds competed with cries of horror and anguish as family after family were pulled from their vehicles or chased down the street. The Jews of Baghdad were captured by the nightmare that raced through the city that June 1 and 2, 1941. It was bloody. It was beastly.

Infants were viciously bashed to death against the pavement and then thrown lifeless into the Tigris. Jewish women—hundreds of them—were mercilessly and openly raped in front of their husbands, in front of their parents, in front of their children, and in front of the wild Muslim mobs. If the woman was pregnant, sometimes she was first raped, and then sliced open to destroy the unborn baby; only then was she killed. Men who defended their women and children were killed and their homes plundered. Commonly, after murdering the defenseless Jewish men and women with hatchets, axes, and swords, the chanting throngs hacked their inanimate bodies to pieces, thus further defiling the infidels and—temporarily—sating the mob’s blood lust.

Rooftops became escape routes. Not a few children escaped when their parents threw them off rooftops into waiting arms and outstretched blankets in the backyards. Older children were told to jump from rooftop to rooftop. Often their escape was just moments before howling invaders squeezed past barricaded entrances and raced up the stairs to commit mayhem. Some Jews escaped with their battered and shattered lives only because the murderous mobs were distracted by the frantic race to loot the invaded homes and shops before the next man could.

Baghdad was a burning madhouse. It burned not just with ethnic hatred but with cries to murder and destroy the Jewish community who had lived peaceably in the country for 2,600 years, since a millennium before the advent of Islam. The rampage would be forever seared upon the collective Iraqi Jewish consciousness as the Farhud. In Arabized Kurdish, farhud means something beyond mere chaos, something more than just a riot. Perhaps farhud is best translated as “violent dispossession.” Some translate it as “mass rape and killing.”

But the events of June 1 and 2, 1941 were not just the sudden frenzied carnage of local Arab hooligans against their neighbors. This was a well-planned Holocaust-era pogrom, organized by Arab Nazis in sympathy with, and under the direction of the Third Reich’s surrogates in Iraq, the Arab and Islamic world, as the ignition switch for an international Arab-Nazi alliance. This alliance, embraced by many ordinary Arabs, was led by Haj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem. The Mufti was acknowledged by Hitler himself as Berlin’s most important leader in the Arab nation. The Mufti, in coordination with his handlers in Germany, worked passionately to inflame Arabs across the Middle East into a broad wartime axis with the Reich. This axis fervently hoped to help the Nazis and fascism conquer Europe, defeat Britain, and mass-murder every living Jew. The Arab national movement, in fact, became the hand of the Holocaust in the Islamic world as well as an integral member of Germany’s hour-to-hour military machine both in Europe and the Middle East.

What was behind this unlikely coalition of racial enemies—Arab Semites and Aryan Nazis? What caused Arabs to actively join Hitler’s war against humanity and his war against the Jews? What caused the Arabs to fight shoulder to shoulder with the Nazis on the battlefield and agitate for more death camps to mass murder Jews with greater efficiency? Was it mere ethnic, class, and religious hatred? That would be the easy answer—too easy.

In truth, the Arab-Nazi alliance was a complicated mixture of political ingredients that had been stewing for decades. Swirling in this soup were the changing Jewish demographic nature of Palestine during the Hitler regime, the yoke of British imperialism, and Berlin’s changing strategy for world domination. But binding it all despite the incessant stirring was one precious substance. At the bottom of the pot was oil.