For two days in June of 1941, as a ten-year-old Iraqi Jewish boy, Joseph Samuels, witnessed first-hand one of the most violent pogroms of the Holocaust in Baghdad by angry Muslim mobs who destroyed and looted Jewish homes and businesses as well as killed, beat and raped thousands of Jews without the authorities intervening. Today that pogrom is known among historians as the “Farhud” or Arabic for “violent dispossession”.
While the Farhud has rarely been taught or widely discussed by the larger American Jewish community, it is still a very vivid memory of the Shoah for Samuels who is 88-years-old and living in Santa Monica, California. “It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life,” said Samuels who became very emotional when sharing his experience with me recently. “The Farhud made me realize that Iraqi Muslims look at us Jews as strangers and traitors — and I said this is not my country anymore and I will never go back to Iraq”. But the Farhud was just the beginning of great calamities awaiting Samuels and the remainder of Iraq’s Jewish community in the 1940s. By 1948, the Iraqi regime began to randomly arrest and torture the country’s Jews, confiscate their assets, execute other Jews and expel the vast majority of Iraq’s ancient Jewish community. In December 1949, Samuels who was only 19-years-old at the time, risked his life to illegally flee his home in Baghdad with the help of smugglers who ferried him to freedom in neighboring Iran.
I had the rare pleasure to meet and befriend Samuels nearly four years ago as I interviewed him for an article I was preparing on Iraqi Jews. His story of experiencing anti-Semitism first hand in Iraq as well as his harrowing tale of escaping his former homeland is something that resonated with me as my Jewish family experienced a similar crisis in 1979-1980 at the hands of the Khomeini regime in Iran.
Read More: Times of Israel