But Jewish leaders who learned of the impending disaster begged for mercy from the temporary local mayoral authorities, who successfully engineered the expulsion from Baghdad of the massacre planners. The radio broadcast of May 31 merely announced that the British-appointed regent would return to his palace from his temporary refuge in Trans-Jordan.
Baghdad’s Jews had every reason to celebrate. June 1 was the joyous holiday of Shavuot. Baghdad’s Jews thought stability had returned. They were so wrong.
At about 3 p.m. on June 1, Regent ‘Abd al-Ilah landed at the airport near Baghdad. He was making his way across al-Khurr Bridge to the palace when a contingent of Baghdadi Jews went out to greet him. As the group came to the bridge, they encountered a contingent of dejected soldiers just returning from their dismal surrender to British forces. The mere sight of these Jews, bedecked in festive holiday garb, was enough to enrage the soldiers.
Suddenly, the Jews were viciously attacked with knives and axes. Several were hacked to death on the bridge. The planned systematic extermination, now foiled, broke down into a spontaneous citywide slaughter.
Frenzied mobs raced throughout Baghdad and murdered Jews openly on the streets. Women were raped as their horrified families looked on. Infants were killed in front of their parents. Homes and stores were emptied and then burned. Gunshots and screams shattered the city for hours. Beheadings, torsos sliced open, babies dismembered – the horrid tortures and mutilations were widespread. Severed limbs were waved as hideous trophies.
A synagogue was invaded and its Torahs burned in classic Nazi fashion. British troops remained minutes away, but were under orders from London not to move in. The British government was determined not to stir up Arab sentiment stir against the oil infrastructure.
The streets were not safe for Jews. Their homes, already well-marked as Jewish residences, were even less safe. Gangs comprised of soldiers, police, and civilian looters invaded Jewish neighborhoods with impunity.
In home after home, furniture was moved up against the door to create a barricade. As the invaders pushed at the doors, heavier furniture was shoved into place. The ceaseless battering and kicks continued, and inevitably, in house after house, the killers broke in. As the attackers breached the entrances, many families would escape to the roof, one step ahead.
Fleeing Jews jumped from one roof to another. In some instances, parents and siblings threw children down from roofs to waiting blankets below. When there was no place beyond the roof, some Jews held off their attackers with boiling oil, stones, and whatever other makeshift defenses they could muster.
Women were defiled everywhere. Arabs broke into the girl’s school and the students were raped. Six Jewish girls were carted away to a village fifteen kilometers north and located only later. One young girl had not only raped but mutilated as well.
Finally, the mayor telephoned the regent, momentarily the supreme authority in the country, and beseeched him to issue orders to loyal troops. As the order circulated, loyal units began opening fire on the rioters, especially when they turned to Muslim neighborhoods to continue their pillage. Once the shooting began, the rioters fled.
Days later, after the regent eventually restored order, the British entered the city limits. The oil was secure. The Jews of Baghdad were not.
In truth, no one will ever know many were murdered or maimed during those two dark days. Official statistics, based on intimidated and reluctant witnesses, listed about 110 Jews dead. Hundreds were reported injured. But Jewish leaders said the real numbers were far greater. One Iraqi historian suggested that as many as 600 were murdered. The Jewish Burial Society was afraid to inter the bodies. The corpses were ignominiously collected and entombed in a large, long, rounded mass grave that resembled a massive loaf of bread.