The Farhud by Edwin Black Banner

Foreword by Martin Gilbert

Approaching the Farhud

Edwin Black has given us, once again, copious documentation, impressive detective work, and a hard-hitting narrative. In these pages, the life and fate of the age-old Jewish community of Iraq comes under his eagle eye. Its climax, the Farhud of 1941, is a moment of tragedy following many years of achievement; a moment of savage violence that foreshadowed the end of a vibrant 2,600-year-old Jewish community.

Britain had its part to play in this story. British rule after 1918 was often far from benign. A senior British Royal Air Force ofcer resigned in disgust after seeing the mangled bodies of Iraqi civilians killed by British bombs. In 1920 the London Sunday Times published a letter from T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) calling the British administration “more bloody and inefcient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inamed for any ordinary cure. We are today not far from a disaster.” Churchill agreed, warning his colleagues in the British cabinet: “There is something very sinister to my mind in this Mesopotamian entanglement … It seems to me so gratuitous that after all the struggles of the war, just when we want to get together our slender military resources and reestablish our finances and have a little on hand in case of danger here or there, we should be compelled to go on pouring armies and treasure into these thankless deserts.”

Iraq became independent in 1932. Nazi intrigue followed within a year. The Christian-owned daily newspaper al-Alam al-Arabi (The Arab World) published daily extracts from the Arabic edition of Mein Kampf, with its virulent anti-Jewish propaganda. Deleted from this edition was Hitler’s “racial ladder,” in which the Arabs came almost as low down as the Jews.

In 1935, as German influence grew, a pro-Nazi society, al-Muthanna, was established in Baghdad, with branches in Basra and Mosul, headed by a well-known enemy of the Jews, Dr. Saib Shawkat, director of the Royal Hospital in Baghdad, whose brother Sami Shawkat, a fellow-physician, founded the al-Futuwwa (“Chivalry”) youth brigades, which disseminated anti-British and anti-Jewish leaflets.

The Iraqi government, encouraged by Hitler’s emissary Fritz Grobba, closed its borders to Jewish refugees. Between 1933 and 1935, only six German Jewish doctors were granted admission. Hitler’s malign influence had penetrated to the heart of a proud Muslim land in which Jews had made substantial contributions to its administration and well-being, remarkably so between 1920 and 1939 in health, education and good governance.

A central and malign figure in Edwin Black’s masterful narrative is the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who, having escaped in 1936 from Palestine where he was wanted by the British for murder—as the fomenter of Arab riots that had resulted in many British and Jewish deaths—arrived in Iraq and took up residence in Baghdad. There he spread anti-British as well as anti-Jewish animus. In February 1941, the Mufti wrote to Hitler (the two men are pictured together on the cover of this book), seeking “recognition of the right of the Arabs to solve the Jewish question in accordance with Arab nationalist aspirations and in the same manner as in the Axis countries.”

Then came the Farhud, and after it, the steady elimination of Jewish inuence in Iraq, and mass emigration. No one is better qualified than Edwin Black, or more determined than he, to tell this story with precision.

Sir Martin Gilbert
October 3, 2010

SIR MARTIN GILBERT is the author of 82 books, including his latest In Ishmael’s House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands. He is Winston Churchill’s official biographer and a leading historian of the modern world. In 2009, he served as a member of the British Government’s Iraq War Inquiry. Find him at