On this day: the Farhud pogrom

June 1 1941: Tragedy in Baghdad

By Jennifer Lipman, May 27, 2011

At the same time as European Jews were being marched off to the concentration camps, the historic community of Baghdad was suffering at the hands of a pro-Hitler regime.

It was Shavuot, around 3 o clock in the afternoon, when a mob attacked the Jewish community – at the time 150,000 strong. What began was one of the most horrific episodes in Jewish history, and certainly a sign of the beginning of the end for Jews in Arab lands.

Thousands were injured and hundreds killed during the brutal riots, while hundreds of houses were destroyed. The attack came nine years after Iraq won a quasi-independence from the British and a few weeks after the country's ruler was deposed in favour of Rashid Ali al-Gaylani and his Golden Square cohorts.

Al-Gaylani was a friend of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and a man with strong Nazi sympathies. But very soon, his plan to weaken the British presence in the city backfired, and he was forced to flee on May 30.

Relieved, the Jews marked the return of the deposed regent; yet aggrieved Baghdadi's believed they were celebrating the British triumph, and reacted with a murderous campaign. The pogrom – the name of which translates as "violent dispossession" - lasted two days, before the British forces pushed into the city and quashed it.

What the JC said: Taken by surprise and with no protection, Jews either defended themselves with whatever they could find or else bribed Iraqi policemen to protect them…The violence worsened during the night and the mob was soon in its tens of thousands, targeting every Jewish home in the city. The task was easy as a red hamsa - a traditional hand symbol - had been painted on the exteriors.

See more from the JC archives here.

Last updated: 8:56am, June 1 2011