There are many events that took place in different parts of the world that are mimicked by the civil unrest and violent riots that have been going on in many United States’ cities. Freedom and Liberty are both casualties when the rule of law is subverted as it is now by mayors and governors.
I am a Jew. I grew up in the shadow of a genocide that killed one of every three Jews in the world. The Holocaust. Only three years after that colossal disaster, the state of Israel was reborn and became a free-wheeling democracy in spite of its complex neighborhood, facing relentless hatred from surrounding countries and being perpetually targeted by terrorists.
Destabilization of civil society is worrisome to most Jews wherever they live. And Jews have experienced such destabilizations in many countries where they lived.
Reading and watching on the TV screen the news of late leaves a person forlorn. Hatred, chaos, looting, burning, much confusion, and total breakdown of law and order in the United States. It feels as if a person is treading in a swamp, slowly sucking him or her down to drown.
Joseph ‘Joe’ Samuels
The history of the Jews in Iraq is documented from the time of the Babylonian captivity of 586 BC. Iraqi Jews constituted one of the world’s oldest and most historically significant Jewish communities. That history ended in the 1940s’.
Joe is an 89-year-old Jew of Jewish Iraqi roots, born in Iraq where the Jewish community thrived for centuries. When he was ten-years-old, 79 years ago, he lived through the 1941 Farhoud that occurred on the Jewish festival, Shavuot.
From May 31 till June 2, 1941, a violent pogrom took place in Baghdad, Iraq. The pogrom, known by the name Farhud or “violent dispossession” was carried out against the Jewish population of Baghdad, immediately after the British victory in the Anglo-Iraqi War.
The traumatic experience shadowed Joe. He carried the frightening experience deep in his heart and mind and never spoke about it or mentioned it to his family. But it had to be told.
In 2007 Joe joined a writing class, in order to pen the memories his heavy heart has carried most of his life.
The outcome was his book, recently published he named ‘Beyond the Rivers of Babylon: My journey of optimism and resilience in a turbulent century.‘ The book, full of authentic pictures is the remarkable legacy Joe will be leaving for his family and the Jewish nation.
Writing the book, a bitter and sweet tears saga, freed Joe of the repressed feelings he harbored for so many years.
I watched Joe’s interview in which he said that in one dark night his homeland, his love for the country, his roots, his culture, his freedom, his belonging were all wiped out. The terrified child was left fearful for his life, for his family’s lives, all who were exposed to peril and totally confused. It was as if the rug was pulled from under his feet and the once stable ground under his feet was trembling.
At the time when I watched this video interview violet riots, burning, looting and mayhem were the social dose of the day all over the United States. What Joe said gripped my mind and heart as if a forceps caught it. I was nearing to feel the same fear Joe, the kid, felt. That was a Nazi-German Kristallnacht or Iraqi Farhud, USA style. Violent riots that leave a rational citizen wondering, what next?
The year 1941 was a difficult year for the Jews in Iraq. Anti-Semitic propaganda often appeared in the daily newspapers and on Radio Baghdad. For two months, Joe’s family stayed mostly at home, just as Joe is doing nowadays for fear of the COVID-19 virus. His family feared another kind of an invisible enemy, Antisemitism.
In April 1st, 1941, in Baghdad, a pro-Nazi coup, headed by Rashid Ali Al Gaylani, supported by the anti-Semite Haj Amin Al Husaini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, deposed the pro-British government.
Two months after the coup took place, instead of festive celebration of the Jewish holiday Shavuot, the nightmare began. Al-Gailani’s pro-Nazi regime collapsed, and its leaders fled via Iran to Germany. On May 31st, 1941, the Jewish holiday of Shavuot eve, British forces arrived at the outskirts of Baghdad, but did not enter the city.
Muslim men mobs, aided by the police and soldiers, took to the streets. For two days, brandishing knives, swords, and machetes, they went on a rampage in the Jewish quarter of Baghdad. They broke the doors of Jewish homes, looted everything, murdered men and children and raped women, and then murdered them. They broke into stores, shops, and warehouses and stole the merchandise and then set some buildings on fire.
In a few rare cases, good Muslim men stood up in front of Jewish homes with daggers, swords and guns to protect their Jewish friends, or to pull them to safety in their own homes.
Historians believe that the rioters murdered 179 Jews, injured six hundred others, and raped an undetermined number of women. The community leaders estimated that about 2,500 families had suffered directly from the pogrom, but it could be more. This tragic event became known as The Farhud, marking the beginning of the end of the two-millennium-old Iraqi Jewish community, and what has changed Joe’s life forever.
The killing and looting, ended at midday on Monday, June 2, 1941, when Iraqi and Kurdish troops entered Baghdad and were ordered to fire upon the rioters. Dozens were killed and the tensed quiet prevailed.
Life did not restore to normalcy for the Jews of Iraq.
In 1949, Joe was smuggled across the Shatt Al Arab River in a cargo boat, escaping Iraq. In 1951, 110,000 Jews, over 90% of the Jewish community, including the rest of Joe’s family, left Iraq, mostly for Israel, allowed to take with them one suitcase per person, leaving behind their homes, their belongings, their ancient culture and rich history of the longest Jewish Diaspora.
Ever since, each year on Shavuot, Joe thinks about the dagger in the eyes of the looter, who stared at him from his home’s rooftop. Till this year Joe has been thankful that he lives in a safe home, in a safe country – USA – and happily shares love with his family and friends. However, not this year, when the chaotic riots in the United States, some not too far from his Santa Monica home, reminisced 1941 in Baghdad.
The US Farhud
Since the end of March 2020, Joe is voluntarily quarantined at his home. He feels safer at home keeping away from the Coronavirus. The unscrupulous individuals who took to the streets to loot and burn shops and stores added to his stress in isolation.
Coincidentally, in Los Angeles, the demonstrations turned extremely violent riots, started on Sunday, May 30th, 2020, which just happened to fall on the Jewish festival of Shavuot, just as in the 1941 Farhoud, in Iraq.
The shocking images on the television screen awakened Joe’s traumatic experience when he was only ten years old.
Joe loved his hometown Baghdad; Iraq was his country. That love and belonging was snatched from him almost overnight.
The riots that rampaged in the Jewish neighborhoods of Los Angeles were an alarming reminder.
Though he offloaded the trauma is his newly published book, now the story is for all to read, the open-ended question hangs over Joe’s head: is America going the way of Iraq?