While I was speaking to the packed room, a woman I did not know, sitting in the front row, slowly shook her tear-stained head in disbelief and muttered softly … barely audible … “I never thought I would hear these words in this building.”
The woman, it turns out, was of Iraqi Jewish ancestry. The building was the iconic United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, astride the East River. The event was in a hall routinely used by the UN Security Council. The day was June 1, 2015. The occasion was the proclamation of “International Farhud Day” at the UN as a live global event broadcast by UN TV.
Farhud in an Arabic dialect means violent dispossession. The words I spoke that gripped the woman listening described in detail how the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, leader of the Arab community in Mandate Palestine, organized a blood-curdling massacre by Nazi-allied Arabs against Baghdad’s peaceful Jewish community on June 1-2, 1941. The ensuing mass rape, beheading, murder, burning, and looting spree was the first step in a process that throughout the Arab world effectively ended 2,600 years of Jewish existence in those lands. Ultimately, some 850,000 to 900,000 Jews were systemically pauperized and made stateless in a coordinated forced exodus from the Arab world.
Many Sephardic Jews consider the 1941 Farhud, which murdered and maimed hundreds, to be their Kristallnacht.
However, for the past 74 years, neither the facts about the brutal, two-day pogrom, nor the culpability of the Nazified Iraqi and Palestinian Arab perpetrators, nor the expulsion of 850,000 Jewish refugees from the Arab world that followed were topics the UN wanted to hear of. Nor for the past 74 years was this blood-letting and its aftermath commemorated in the vast chronicles of organized Holocaust remembrances. Nor for the past 74 years was this constellation of tragedies commonly known and/or spoken of within the Jewish community. In fact, it took years of highly acrimonious, sometimes public, debate with and pressure on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum only recently successful to even induce the USHMM to recognize either the atrocity that occurred or the Mufti’s role in the killing as a Holocaust-era persecution.
Indeed, the Farhud is most often referred to as the “forgotten pogrom.” I first wrote about this massacre, in fleeting passage, in my 2004 book, Banking on Baghdad. My articles on the subject in the media, drawn from the book, such as those syndicated by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, were typically headlined “The Forgotten Pogrom.” That spawned the 2005 Farhud Recognition Project, which endeavored to bring this brutal Holocaust chapter into history’s sightlines.
Half a decade later, in 2010, I went further and published an entire book devoted to the topic, The Farhud: Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust. Yet, ten years after being “rediscovered” and right through the week before the UN event, Jewish media articles were still referring to the Farhud as the “forgotten pogrom.” Conference of Presidents vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein, in his introductory remarks at the June 1, 2015 UN event, poignantly asked this question: “I must wonder why it took 74 years for the world to recognize the tragedy of the Farhud.”
Certainly, that was the question of the day. Three main reasons explain how mass carnage as barbaric as the Farhud remained out of earshot and over the horizon of Holocaust awareness.