Non-European Sephardic Holocaust Experience
Lecture by Shelomo Alfassa
Speaker at the Yom HaShoá, Holocaust Day Memorial
For the Staten Island, N.Y. Jewish Community
April 29, 2007
newspaper article here)
Jews, we are a people that are-and must always be-on watch for
revisionists, both great and small, that seek to challenge world
history. We must be overseers that will ensure that the true
events our ancestors experienced (both good and bad), either
in the last few decades, or in the last few millennium, remain
topic I was asked to speak about tonight is one you may have
never heard of. It is about a pogrom that took place during
the era of the Holocaust, an event simply known by the Arabic
word for "violent dispossession," -Farhud.
The word Farhud, denotes the breakdown of law and order, where
life and property are in peril.
before we talk about what the Farhud was, I would like to tell
you a bit about the Jewish community of Baghdad, of the period.
Baghdad--we see it on the nightly news, a city of death and
destruction, civil and tribal war that has no foreseeable end.
But Baghdad wasn't always like this.
has had a Jewish community for over 2,500 years, long before
Islam was even invented. Modern Baghdad, during the post-Ottoman
period possessed a strong Jewish community, vibrant is the word
that is frequently attributed to it. The Jews of Baghdad were
truly leaders in the commerce of the city as well as the country.
The Jews owned and operated railroads, they operated the banks,
trucking companies, electronics firms, hospitals, retail and
wholesale establishments. When one thinks of Baghdad's Jewish
community, they should think no less than how "Jewish"
New York was during the same period.
the entire Jewish world has heard of Kristallnacht, few have
heard of the Farhud, where Arabs that were Nazi sympathizers
in Baghdad, killed, maimed and committed numerous atrocities
against the Jewish community on Sunday and Monday, June 1st
and 2nd, 1941, during the holiday of Shavuot.
story is told, clearly, in Edwin Black's book, Banking
Jews had gone to the Baghdad airport to greet the Regent, Abdul
al-Ilah, the British empowered ruler of Iraq. Their returning
from the airport was all the excuse an Arab mob needed to unleash
its vengeance. The attack began at 3 pm, as the Jewish delegation
crossed a bridge back into Baghdad. The frenzied mob murdered
Jews openly on the streets. Women were raped and infants were
killed as their horrified families looked on. Torture and mutilation
followed. Jewish shops were looted and torched. A synagogue
was invaded, burned, and its Torahs destroyed in classic Nazi
a result of the Farhud, about 180 Jews were killed and about
240 were wounded, 586 Jewish-owned businesses were looted and
99 Jewish homes were destroyed.
scholars, including Dr. Zvi Yehuda of Israel's Babylonian
Jewry Heritage Center, conclude that the Farhud was formally
organized by Muslim national-religious groups, influenced by
Nazi and Palestinian anti-Jewish activity. In addition, he indicates
that it was also planned and directed in order to crush the
large Jewish community in Baghdad, which constituted about two
thirds of all the Jews of Iraq in that period. This one Holocaust
era pogrom, marked the beginning of the end for Iraqi Jewry,
who, following this event, were targeted for violence, persecution,
boycotts, confiscations, and near complete expulsion, poverty
and helplessness a decade later.
that I provided you an overview on the Farhud, I would like
to touch on some additional thoughts-as I want people to see
the big picture here. The following is directly related to the
plight of Sephardic Jewry during the Holocaust, much of it was
newly researched by Mr. Black.
Anglo-Persian oil company was founded in 1909 following the
discovery of a large oil field in Iran. You know this same company
by its new name-British Petroleum. The British created the Arab
nations for oil, and in doing so, promised the Arabs the holy
city of Damascus, which they desired. Yet, on July 24, 1920,
it was announced Arabs would not get Damascus-in response, some
8,000 Arabs, on camels, attempted to invade Damascus, only to
be totally annihilated within eight hours by French machine
guns. That same day, July 24, 1920, the secret San Remo Oil
Agreement became public. This placed Palestine and Iraq under
British mandate and the newly partitioned Syria and Lebanon
under French mandate. That same day, July 24, 1920, the Zionist
Conference concluded in London; during the conference the Zionists
created Karen Hayesod to support the Jewish National Fund. The
fund would legally purchase lands for kibbutzim and finance
the formation of new Jewish villages in Palestine.
same day, July 24, 1920, is when jihad against the West started-and
as you know-it continues today. On that day, July 24, 1920,
the Arabs felt they lost everything. The Jews had gained Palestine;
the West had gained their oil; they had lost Syria. Three evils
"the infidel European Allies, the infidel Zionists, and
the black substance the West craved" became conflated in
the Arab mind to create a great Satan-the intertwined Christian
West and the Zionistic Jews.
in the years leading up to the Holocaust, the Grand Mufti, the
Islamic leader of Jerusalem and the Arab world, worked hand
in hand with Hitler to seek the Arab nationalism which the British
didn't give them. At the time, the Germans needed oil for their
invasion of Russia. And the mufti would agree to provide the
Germans with Iraqi oil, in exchange for active Arab and Islamic
participation in the murder of Jews in the Mideast and Eastern
stated, "Once war began, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company
followed Nazi Germany across Europe." He continued: "The
Iranians took advantage of the expansion of Germany to expand
their distributing network in Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia."
is an old slogan that says an army travels on its stomach, but
in reality, an army travels on oil. The gasoline the Nazis used
in their trucks to round up Jews, the oil in the trucks that
evacuated Jews to the rail lines that stretched to death camps,
and the fuel used to heat the cold winter offices of the Third
Reich, was in part, directly made available to them because
of a relationship that existed between the Germans and the Islamic
Persian nation, today's world enemy, Iran.
history books are not as frequently updated as they should be,
and because almost all books on the Holocaust focus almost exclusively
on the European experience, I would like to tell you ten short
but critical facts that you may not know took place during the
era of the Holocaust. As I always say-and I hope you will say
it too-we need to remember that the Holocaust was not solely
a European event:
1937, Damascus was the center for anti-Jewish activities in
the Arab world. That year, a Nazi delegation went to Syria
where a friendship developed that would lead to intensified
anti-Jewish sentiment, especially among both German and Arab
youth. It was from Damascus that the Arab Defense Council
wrote the Jewish Agency warning them: "Your attitude
will lead you and Jews of the East to the worst of calamities
that has been written in history up to present."
Mein Kampf was translated into four different Arabic translations
and circulated between 1933-1939 in Beirut, Baghdad, Cairo
Mufti and Rashid Ali, the leader of Iraq, were known to give
Arabic language broadcasts relayed from Berlin, these were
to incite the Iraqi Arabs. The Mufti's radio broadcasts were
some of the most violent pro-Axis broadcasts ever produced.
He had at least six stations, Berlin, Zeissen, Bari, Rome,
Tokyo and Athens. He used these radio broadcasts to tell Muslims
across the world to commit acts of sabotage and kill the Jews.
had made it clear that the project of killing Jews was by
no means confined to Europe. As he explained to the Grand
Mufti, "his hopes of military victory in Africa and the
Middle East would bring about the destruction of Jews in the
Arab World." In November of 1941 Hitler informed the
Mufti, while at Berlin, that he intended to kill every Jew
living in the Arab world, including those in Palestine as
well as "Syria, Iraq, Iran, the Arabian peninsula, Egypt,
and French Northwest Africa."
November 28, 1941, Hitler had a long conversation with the
Mufti indicating the countries of Europe were being emptied
of Jews, one by one; Hitler indicated that at the appropriate
time, this would be extended to "non-European countries."
5, 1943, the Mufti arrived in Frankfort, Germany visiting
the Research Institute on the Jewish Problem where he declared
that Arabs and Germans were, "Partners and allies in
the battle against world Jewry."
1943, the Mufti traveled to Bosnia, where he helped to raise
a Bosnian Muslim Waffen-SS Hanjar, who slaughtered 90 percent
of the Jews in Bosnia
Other Bosnian Muslim units raised
by the Mufti were sent to Croatia and Hungary, where they
participated in the killing of Jews.
March 1944, from Berlin, the Mufti called for the Arabs to
rise and fight. He said, "Kill the Jews wherever you
find them. This pleases God, history and religion."
was said the Mufti visited not only Auschwitz but also Maldanek.
In both death camps, he paid close attention to the efficiency
of the crematorium, spoke to the leading personnel and was
generous in his praise for those who were reported as particularly
conscientious in their work. He was on friendly terms with
such notorious practitioners of the "final solution"
as Rudolf Hess, the overlord of Auschwitz.
1945, liberated Yugoslavia under Marshal Tito sought to indict
the Mufti as a war criminal for his activities in Bosnia,
but with help from the Nazi SS, the Mufti had already escaped
Germany. The SS gave him a plane and helped him fly to France
three days before Hitler's suicide.
have one more you might find interesting: Number 11., Amin
Al-Huseini, the Grand Mufti--was the uncle of Yassar Arafat.
of you have heard of the "Sephardic experience" during
the Holocaust. Yet, this topic usually only involves the Sephardim
in Europe, and this is not a complete picture.
the eve of World War II, the European Sephardic community was
concentrated in the Balkan countries of Greece, Yugoslavia,
and Bulgaria. Its leading centers were in Salonika, Sarajevo,
Belgrade, and Sofia. Every one of these countries were home
to Ladino speaking Sephardim. These were the later descendants
of Jews that had fled from Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition.
They had settled in these countries, which then were part of
the Ottoman Turkish Empire. Although Turkey was not harmed during
WWII, many Turkish Jews thought they might be-and so they fled
to France-only to be deported to crematoriums with the French
Jews. The Ladino language, and the complete Hispano-Sephardic
culture was wiped out after the Germans destroyed these communities,
murdering over 140,000 souls. There was no recovery of these
old communities, and the language has essentially become extinct.
many of you have not heard, is that Hitler's dark hand reached
across from Europe, stretched into North Africa, and, as you
now know, reached as far as the Middle-East.
North Africa, about 5,000 Jews were uprooted from their homes,
thousands were drafted into forced labor internment camps. Some
Jews were deported to Italy and died in extermination camps
in Europe. The Jewish quarter of Benghazi, Libya was sacked
and 2,000 Jews were deported.
Axis and Vichy rule in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, & Libya,
Jews were denied rights granted to them during colonial rule,
including citizenship. Economic restrictions were imposed and
Jews were sent to forced labor camps where many perished. The
Jewish prisoners were dispersed over 30 camps, which for all
practical purposes were no different from concentration camps.
During this period, the Great Synagogue in Tunis, was taken
over by the Nazis and used as a horse stable, just like the
main synagogue in Krakow.
following is part of a letter sent in August of 1942, by Jewish
prisoners trapped under Spanish and German troops in Morocco.
This letter was sent to a Jewish agency in New York:
please excuse our daring attitude in addressing this pathetical
letter to you, in our distressful hour; but it is written in
the Talmud, 'when trouble comes upon Israel like a rushing stream,
look for someone to help you.' Gentlemen, we Hebrew refugees:
composed of several nationalities: and a good many of us without
nationality on account of anti-Semitism
have all lived
in peace, and never been disturbed in Tangier before, some of
us have settled down for the time being. Praying and patiently
waiting, that this bitter world conflict should be over, and
redemption, should once more come to mankind
.We are all
aware that the greatest catastrophe is [rapidly] approaching
.Please Gentleman, hear for us our causes! We send
this S.O.S. to you, for we feel you are our only consolation,
in our present confused situation
not known what happened to those prisoners. What is known, is
that on November 4, 1942, a German truck convoy deported Jews
from Morocco to the death camps of Europe. This happened again
on March 23, 1943, June 23, 1943, October 7, 1943, and another
convoy of Jewish souls departed Morocco on January 20, 1944.
November 7, 1942, there were 5 different camps in Algeria, all
together they held 4,470 persons, including 489 which were Jews.
On November 13, 1942, a Jewish Agency report on the situation
of Jews in North Africa indicated that the occupation by Spanish
military forces at Tangiers led to the introduction of anti-Jewish
laws being put into effect. This affected some 20,000 Jews.
The condition of the Jews there is said to be, "poverty-stricken
in the extreme." In February of 1943, an American reported
that "concentration camps" existed in Morocco. The
report indicated that the situation has "deteriorated seriously
in the past two months."
Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Memorial Museum shows a total
of 17 slave labor concentration camps in North Africa: 3 in
Morocco, 3 in Algeria, 7 in Tunisia, and 4 in Libya. There,
some of the prisoners were tortured and murdered. Other internees
worked as slaves in the desert building the Trans-Sahara railway.
Americans so enshrine the printed word, that anything said,
is accepted as fact. Yet, while facts don't change, sometimes
later research will reveal more knowledge on a particular topic
that need be introduced, and will thus cause history books to
be updated. This includes the topic of the Holocaust, and that
it was not solely a European phenomena. As you can now see,
Hitler had planned to kill all Jews-everywhere.
teaching of the Holocaust is absolutely incomplete, if it is
only taught as an event which affected European Jewry.
closing, I leave a message to both the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim.
These are quotes by two great Jewish scholars, Rabbi Dr. Mitchell
Serels, and Dr. Seth Ward.
the Sephardim, I speak the words of R' Serels, "We
as Sephardim, must realize that the Holocaust is part of our
history. We cannot pretend that the Holocaust was a European
problem experienced only by Ashkenazi Jews in Eastern Europe."
And to the Ashkenazim (especially the Askenazi Holocaust educators),
I speak the words of Dr. Ward, "In the Balkans,
in Salonica and Rhodes, and in former Habsburg lands, there
were Sephardic victims whose story is no different from those
of the other European victims. The North African story may
be somewhat distinct, but those whose lives were destroyed
in internment or work camps-and there were some too who were
sent to the European crematoria-are no less victims."
Please contact me if you want a citation for any facts.
Guide to the Nazis and Arabs During the Holocaust'
By Shelomo Alfassa