Yesterday marked the 80th anniversary of the farhud, the brutal Baghdad pogrom that accompanied the fall of a short-lived pro-Nazi Iraqi regime. In the weeks beforehand, Arab nationalist leaders, German agents, and the mufti of Jerusalem had inundated Iraqis with anti-Semitic propaganda. Joseph Samuels, who was ten years old and living in Baghdad at the time, recollects:
Soldiers in civilian clothes, policemen, and large crowds of Iraqi men, including Bedouin brandishing swords and daggers, joined in the pillage, helping themselves to loot as they plundered more than 1,500 Jewish homes and stores. For two days, the rioters murdered between 150 and 780 Jews—exact counts aren’t known—injured 600 to 2,000 others, and raped an indeterminable number of women. Some say 600 unidentified victims were buried in a mass grave. All through the night we heard their screams. We heard gunshots too, then sudden quiet. Unarmed and unprepared to defend themselves, Jews were vulnerable and helpless. I was shaken, desperate, and angry.
My family reinforced our front door by stacking heavy furniture against it. I carried buckets of water to the roof to boil and stay ready to toss on marauders should they attempt to break in. We stayed up through the night, barricaded in our home. My father was praying and reading the book of Psalms, but I was too preoccupied to join. Not wanting to appear weak to my older brothers, I cried myself to sleep in silence.
Later, I heard of Muslim men protecting Jewish homes by standing guard with guns and daggers. Some even sheltered Jews in their own homes and saved them. . . . They were the true heroes.
After Iraq’s failure in its May 1948 war to extinguish Israel, the new Jewish state, the Iraqi government reignited its assault on its own Jewish citizens. New waves of accusations, arrests, tortures, and hangings shook the Jewish community’s faith in the future. Fear of a second farhud took over.