“Violent dispossession.” In an Arabic dialect, the word is farhud. For decades after it occurred, many thought the nightmare was a sudden and unexpected convulsion that afflicted the Iraqi Jewish community, a community that had lived in that land for some 2,600 years.
But in truth, the wild rape and killing spree of June 1–2, 1941 was not unexpected. For years, the Jew hatred, anti-British rage, and Nazi agitation seethed just below the surface, like a smoking volcano waiting to erupt.
Soon after Hitler took power in 1933, Germany’s chargé d’affaires in Baghdad, German Arab specialist Fritz Grobba, acquired the Christian Iraqi newspaper Al-Alem Al Arabi, converting it into a Nazi organ that published an Arabic translation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in installments. Then, Radio Berlin began beaming Arabic programs across the Middle East. The Nazi ideology of Jewish conspiracy and international manipulation was widely adopted in Iraqi society, especially within the framework of the Palestine problem that dominated Iraqi politics.
As Arab nationalism and Hitlerism fused, numerous Nazi-style youth clubs began springing up in Iraq. One pivotal group, known as Futuwwa, was nothing less than a clone of the Hitler Youth. In 1938, Futuwwa members were required to attend a candlelight Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg. When the delegation came back from Germany, a common chant in Arabic was, “Long live Hitler, the killer of insects and Jews.”
By the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, and a coterie of transnational Palestinian agitators had thoroughly permeated Baghdad’s ruling circles. For example, Taha al-Hashimi, Iraqi chief of staff, doubled as the head of the Committee for the Defense of Palestine.
To lure more Arabs to the Nazi cause, Grobba employed such tactics as dispensing cash among politicians and deploying seductive German women among ranking members of the army. German radio broadcasting in Baghdad regularly reported fallacious reports about non-existent Jewish outrages in Palestine. Grobba, in conjunction with the mufti, cultivated many Iraqis to act as surrogate Nazis.
By April 1, 1941, with World War II in full swing, a group of pro-Nazi Iraqi military men known as the Golden Square staged a coup, ousting the British-dominated government. Quickly, the Golden Square welded Iraqi actions to Berlin’s iron will.
The Golden Square wanted Germany to destroy the British and Jewish presence in their country. The Third Reich craved what was beneath the ground – oil. Without that oil, still controlled by a British oil company, Germany could not invade Russia.
An abortive effort to seize British oil and military facilities in Iraq roiled throughout May 1941. But on May 28, 1941, a British military column determined to protect the oil installations finally punched toward the outskirts of Baghdad to defeat the insurgency. The Nazi-allied Golden Square and the Reich’s wirepuller, Grobba, fled the capital. On May 31, at 4 a.m., with the morning still more dark than dawn, the acting mayor emerged with a white flag on behalf of the residuum of official authority in Iraq.
The next day, on June 1, with British authority nominally restored but still withdrawn beyond the outskirts of Baghdad and the Golden Square coup plotters out of the country, the British puppet regent, Prince ‘Abd al-Ilah, returned to Iraq. During the few hours surrounding the regent’s return, a power vacuum existed in the country. It resulted in the bloodbath of June 1–2 that became known as the Farhud.
The original plans for a sweeping anti-Jewish action on June 1 were intended to mimic Nazi mass murder campaigns in Europe. Lists of Jews had already been compiled. Jewish homes had been marked in advanced with a blood-red hamsa, or palm prints, to guide the killing. The text announcing the mass murder and expulsion was already prepared and scheduled for radio broadcast.