Non-European Sephardic Holocaust Experience
Lecture by Shelomo Alfassa
Speaker at the Yom HaShoá, Holocaust
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 as fact.
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
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,
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
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.
Some scholars, including Dr. Zvi Yehuda of Israel's
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
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
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:
In 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."
Hitler's Mein Kampf was translated into four
different Arabic translations and circulated
between 1933-1939 in Beirut, Baghdad, Cairo
The 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.
Hitler 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."
On 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."
October 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."
In 1943, the Mufti traveled to Bosnia, where
he helped to raise a Bosnian Muslim Waffen-SS
Hanjar, who slaughtered 90 percent of the Jews
Other Bosnian Muslim units raised
by the Mufti were sent to Croatia and Hungary,
where they participated in the killing of Jews.
In 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."
It 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.
In 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
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
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
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
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
teaching of the Holocaust is absolutely incomplete,
if it is only taught as an event which affected
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
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
Please contact me if you want a citation for
Guide to the Nazis and Arabs During the
By Shelomo Alfassa