While many people know about the Holocaust that was perpetrated by Nazi Germany against six million Jews, including the terrible toll of the “Kristallnacht” pogrom in Germany in 1938, few know about the deadly pogroms against Jews in Iraq in the early 1940s, called the “Farhud.” The “Farhud” resulted in the mass exodus of Iraq’s ancient Jewish community. involving a series of mob violence against Jews in Iraq by pro-Nazi local Arab populations, in which hundreds of Jews were killed and raped, and many Jewish businesses looted. Mobs attacked Jews and yelled, “Cutal al yehud” (“Slaughter the Jews!”). Over 180 Jews were killed, with over 1,000 injuries and over 900 homes were destroyed.
Before the Farhud, nearly 135,000 Jews lived in Iraq, with 90,000 in the capital city of Baghdad, 10,000 in Basra and thousands of others in smaller cities throughout the country. The Farhud was the most important impetus behind the mass exodus of nearly 100,000 Jews from Iraq to Israel and the West in the early 1950s. Fueled both by Nazi presence and propaganda in Iraq (and the greater Middle East, including Egypt and then-Mandatory Palestine), the Farhud was partly a result of Nazi Berlin radio broadcasts in Arabic throughout the Arab and Muslim world (Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf) which had been translated into Arabic and printed in Baghdad newspapers in 1933-34. Iraq also followed in the footsteps of the Nazis by establishing a pre-military movement for youth called Futtuwa, which was similar to Germany’s Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth). Muslim Iraqis who led the Farhud pogroms against Jewish Iraqis accused them of collaborating with the hated British, who had colonized Iraq. Jews were also seen as Zionist sympathizers in the Arab-Jewish conflict in what was known then as Mandatory-Palestine.
The pogroms, which included the killing of Jewish women and children, were met with horror among the Iraqi Jewish community, which had a continuous presence in the region for three millennia, beginning with the Babylonian captivity (586 BC). Modern-day Iraq, then known as Babylon, served as one of the preeminent centers of Jewish learning around the world. The legendary Babylonian Talmud was compiled in modern Iraq and in the early 20th century, Iraq’s Jews played a pivotal role in the country’s efforts at independence. Sadly, after the Farhud, over 75% of Iraqi Jews left the country; mass populations participated in clandestine airlifts to then-nascent Israel in what was known as Operation Ezra and Nehemiah. One of the chief architects of the mass exodus of Jews from Iraq was Mordechai Ben-Porat, an Iraqi Jew who helped rescue over 90,000 Jews, and later served as an Israeli politician and founder of the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda (est. 1973) and the Museum of Babylonian Jewry. Ben Porat died in Israel in 2022.