At the same
time, the mufti sealed an alliance with Adolf Hitler personally,
seeking Germany's help in destroying the Jews of Palestine and Eastern
Europe, from where the stream of emigrants were escaping. In return,
the mufti promised Iraq's abundant oil reserves, the fuel Hitler
needed to conquer Russia and the entire East. On
April 1, 1941, just months before the long-anticipated Nazi invasion
of Russia, the mufti and a fascist cabal of pro-Nazi Iraqi officers
known as the Golden Square staged a coup. The British-appointed
ruler, the Hashemite regent, fled for his life.
To keep the
oil out of Hitler's hands, the British invaded Iraq, and flew air
missions day and night to defeat German bombers sent by Hitler to
assist the Baghdad coup. Within two months, the British had ousted
the Golden Square, whose leaders escaped to Iran. But on June 1
of that year, in the last hours of the revolt, indeed even as the
regent was returning to his Baghdad palace from the airport, a frenzied
Arab mob unleashed a two-day Kristallnacht-style pogrom against
the Jews of Baghdad. Women were raped and infants crushed in front
of their terrified families. Jewish shops were looted and torched.
A synagogue was burned and its Torahs ceremoniously destroyed. British
forces eventually broke through, shot dozens of rioters and restored
order. A government commission reported that at least 180 Jews had
been killed and 240 wounded, 586 Jewish businesses pillaged, and
99 Jewish homes burned. The
carnage of those 48 hours would be forever seared upon the collective
Iraqi Jewish consciousness as "the Farhud," best translated
as "violent dispossession." From
that moment Iraq's Jews, once a settled and peaceful group within
Iraqi society, would be systematically targeted for violence, persecution,
commercial boycott and confiscation.
Cry To Battle
After the mufti
had fled Iraq in 1941, Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler sponsored him
in Germany, offering him lavish facilities. In regular radio programs,
the mufti broadcast the Iraqi rallying cry to Muslim Nazi troops
and to Arabs everywhere to fight the Allies: "O Muslims! Proud
Iraq has placed herself in the vanguard of this Holy Struggle ...
It is the duty of all Muslims to aid Iraq in her struggle and seek
every means to fight the enemy."
As for the
Jews, he exhorted, "Arabs! Rise as one and fight for your sacred
rights. Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases Allah,
history and religion. This saves your honor." So
while Arab Jewish communities, such as those in Iraq, savored every
day of seeming peace since the Farhud, the desire to see their destruction
only ramified throughout the Arab world, particularly in Iraq. Moreover,
the Jews were a convenient scapegoat for Iraqi politicians in the
absence of any great industrial or national achievements. Maj.
John Glubb, the British officer who organized the Arab Legion, complained
bitterly in a letter to Whitehall.
imagined that we had bestowed on the Iraqis all these blessings
of democracy, which the British people enjoy with such relish,"
he wrote. "Nothing
could be more undemocratic than the result. A handful of politicians
obtained possession of the machinery of government, and all the
elections were rigged," Glubb lamented, going on to say, "In
this process they all became very rich."
After the defeat
of Germany in 1945, Iraq retained its Nazified ideology. The situation
escalated fiercely in February 1947, when the United Nations agreed
to vote on the question of partitioning Palestine. Uniformly the
Arab regimes, including the Baghdad government, officially threatened
that if the UN dared vote "yes" to partition, the Arabs
would exact reprisals against the 700,000 Jews who had dwelled in
countries throughout the Middle East. The
day Israel declared its independence, the Arab League, including
major units of the Iraqi army, invaded from all sides. The Arabs
vowed an "extermination and a momentous massacre of the Jews."
Only Iraq refused
to sign the armistice following Israel's victory in 1948. Instead,
it became convenient to again blame Iraqi Jews and "Zionist
gangs" for this latest Iraqi military disaster. On
July 19, 1948, Iraq amended penal code Law 51, making Zionism itself
a crime punishable by up to seven years in prison. Although Zionism
was never defined, every Jew was thought to be a Zionist, thereby
criminalizing every Jew. Hundreds of Jews were arrested, tortured
until they confessed, and sentenced to long jail terms. By
October 1948, all Jews holding government positions -- an estimated
1,500 -- were summarily dismissed. There followed an organized boycott
and systematic expulsion of Jews from Iraq's commercial and cultural
mainstream. Many purged Jewish government employees, highly skilled
and well paid. Now destitute, they were reduced to selling matches
on the streets to avoid being arrested for vagrancy.
130,000 Jews lived in the Iraq of 1949, half in Baghdad. The Baghdad
Chamber of Commerce listed 2,430 member companies; a third were
Jewish. In fact, a third of the chamber's board and almost all its
employees were Jewish.
transacted 45 percent of the exports and nearly 75 percent of the
imports. A quarter of Iraqi Jews worked in transportation, such
as the railways and port administration. The controller of the budget
was Jewish; a director of the Iraqi National Bank was Jewish; the
Currency Office board was all Jewish; the Foreign Currency Committee
was about 95 percent Jewish. Over the centuries, Jews had become
essential to the economy. Now Jews began fleeing, mainly to neighboring
Iran. They smuggled out whatever valuables they could to rebuild
their lives. On March 3, 1950, to halt the uncontrolled flight of
assets and people, Iraq passed a one-year amendment to Law 1, the
Denaturalization Act. This statute revoked the citizenship of any
Jew who willingly left the country. Upon exit, their assets were
frozen but were still available to the emigrants for use within
Jews seized the opportunity to leave, believing at least that their
assets, while frozen, would still be viable within Iraq until a
better day. But when the one-year law expired, a successor anti-Jewish
statute was enacted secretly on March 10, 1951. Law 5, known as
the Law for the Control and Administration of Property of Jews Who
Have Forfeited Nationality, permanently seized all the assets of
Jews who had been denaturalized by the previous law and any others
that would be pressured to leave the country.
The day the
law was passed, the phones went down all over Baghdad to prevent
panicked Jews from swiftly transferring their assets to safety.
What's more, the banks were closed for three days.
assets prone and vulnerable, Regulation 3 of Law 5 was unveiled.
Regulation 3 empowered Iraq's custodian general "to lay hands
on all property belonging to the person who has forfeited Iraqi
Nationality and to administer, dispose of and liquidate it."
the Nazis before them, the Iraqi regulations meticulously constructed
an elaborate juridical structure for the confiscations. The hope
was to shield the confiscations from the reach of international
law or compensation demands. From 1951 to 1952, approximately 120,000
desperate Jews were airlifted from Iraq to Israel in Operation Ezra
and Nehemiah. The speed and heartlessness of the exodus was part
of a calculated Iraqi government plan to flood the fledgling Israeli
state with destitute Jews. The idea was to crack Israel's already
strained infrastructure. Defrocked of all jewelry and valuables
at the Baghdad airport, the forlorn airlifted emigrants arrived
at Lod Airport bewildered, with little more than the clothes on
Jewish officials vociferously vowed to one day seek justice and
hold their compensation of Palestinian claimants in the balance.
That determination faded over the years even as the Israeli Ministry
of Justice quietly gathered thousands of files on what Israeli officials
derided as "robbery by force of law." After
Saddam Hussein was toppled last year, hopes of compensation revived,
not only among the Jews but also among many groups. Indeed, to address
the many compensation claims by any number of minorities, Iraq's
Governing Council has created the Iraqi Property Claims Commission,
with offices in 10 cities. The IPCC intends to review claims by
any Iraqi of any ethnicity or religion Kurd, Assyrian, Christian
or Shiite unfairly deprived of his property by the Baathist
Baath movement first came to power in 1968, 17 years after the 1951
law that rapidly liquidated 2,600 years of Jewish existence in Iraq.
Hence, the massive confiscations inflicted on Iraqi Jewry will be
unaddressed by the existing mechanism, a fact not lost upon those
seeking alternative avenues of restitution. Whether
or not giant sums are won in any court of law or claims tribunal,
no sum of dollars or dinars can make amends for the traumatic expulsion
of Iraqi Jewry from a cradle of civilization that they helped nurture.
is the award-winning author of "IBM and the Holocaust"
(Random House). This article is adapted from his just-released book,
"Banking on Baghdad" (Wiley), which chronicles 7,000 years
of Iraqi history.
about the book here.