This Week in Jewish History | Farhud Pogrom kills nearly 200 Iraqi Jews, unseating centuries of peaceful coexistence

01 Jun 2020

On 1 June 1941, the Nazi-inspired Farhud pogrom erupted in Baghdad, accelerating the demise of more than two millennia of peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs. The pogrom finally ceased on 2 June with the deaths of over 180 Jews, thousands injured, and the lives of all Iraqi Jews permanently changed.

The Farhud (Arabic for ‘violent dispossession’) was shocking for the Jewish community, who represented some of the country’s most successful businessmen, cultural figures, and intellectual leaders. Within a decade, the overwhelming majority would emigrate to Israel, leaving a small community of vulnerable Jews behind. 

One survivor of the pogrom, who is referred to only as Qazzaz, explained that most Iraqi Jews felt they had no option but to emigrate after the violence had ended.

"Since then we have not heard anything about the fate of my father and his companion. Some 180 Jews were killed in this massacre. Scores of houses and shops were looted and plundered, women violated and murdered," Qazzaz says. "That was the Farhud. In my opinion it was one of the main reasons that drove Jews to leave Iraq."

In 1951, Israel organized an operation to airlift well over 100,000 denaturalized Iraqi Jews to Israel. The operation, which was conducted with the support of the Israeli national airline El Al, began in mid-May, when Iraqi Jews were airlifted to Cyprus, and eventually flown to Israel. 

A monument called “Prayer” was erected in Ramat Gan, Israel, in memory of those killed in Iraq during the Farhud. In 2015, the United Nations commemorated the first-ever International Farhud Day with a globally streamed event featuring author Edwin Black entitled "The Farhud and the Creation of 850,00 Post-War Refugees From Arab Lands."  

The plight of Jews expelled from Middle Eastern and North African countries in the mid-20th century is a core topic of concern for the World Jewish Congress. The WJC has been deeply active in efforts to bring the international community’s attention to this history in order to ensure that these Jewish communities will be remembered. 

In November, the World Jewish Congress, the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations, and other prominent Jewish organizations co-sponsored an event at the United Nations headquarters in New York, commemorating these communities. Following the event, Chair of World Jewish Congress North America Evelyn Sommer called on the international community to “right the record of history and to recognize the facts about the Jewish communities that once lived throughout the Middle East and North Africa and to educate others about their rich heritage and culture.”