On June 1st 1941, a Nazi-inspired pogrom erupted in Baghdad. The International Farhud Day was commemorated in a special event at the UN.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to welcome you to the United Nations for this historical day.
For the first time at the UN, we recognize the atrocities carried out against the Jews of Iraq in 1941, remembered by them as the Farhud.
Before I begin I would like to welcome well-known author Edwin Black. Edwin’s book "The Farhud", sheds light on the often ignored plight of the more than 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries who were uprooted from their homes. I would also like to recognize Malcolm Hoenlin, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who is here with us today. Malcolm, I know how important this issue is to you, and I’m glad you could join us.
Finally, I would like to thank Ms. Aliza Levin and the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, and StandWithUS for helping to make this event possible.
Ladies and gentlemen,
74 years ago, on this very day the Jews of Iraq were massacred. Their only crime: being Jewish. We are here today to tell their story. It is a story too long neglected and ignored. It is a story many would wish would remain forgotten.
The Jewish community in Iraq is one of the oldest communities in Jewish history. It dates back 2500 years. It produced the Babylonian Talmud and was the spiritual center for Jews from around the world. From Baghdad to Basra, Jewish communities flourished, generations were raised, synagogues thrived and businesses prospered.
The Jewish community of Iraq was at the forefront of Iraqi progress to modernity, and their achievements were countless:
- Iraq’s first finance minister was a Jew: He created the foundations of its modern economy.
- Iraq’s first national orchestra was led by a Jewish conductor. The thriving music scene in Iraq in the 1920s and the 1930s led to the rise modern Iraqi music.
- The first modern novel written and published in Iraq was written by a Jew.
Jews have always been part and parcel of Iraq’s culture, language and history. In 1941, 135,000 Jews lived in Iraq. This year marked a tragic decline in the treatment of Jews living in the Middle East.
Iraqis Jews found that anti-Semitism was not confined to their European brothers and sisters, but was becoming a part of life in their region. The rise to power of a pro-Nazi government in Iraq instigated an unprecedented chain of events for the Jewish community in the country.
On June 1st 1941, Baghdad’s Shavuot celebrations were turned into a brutal two day pogrom. During the massacre, 180 Jews were killed, 2000 were injured and 1500 stores and homes were destroyed. Millenniums of coexistence would never be the same again.
We meet here 74 years after the events of the Farhud but the emotional and psychological scars remain with us. The Farhud was a prelude for things to come. In the years after it, most of the Jewish communities in Arab states were forced to flee their homes and lives. Where once large and vibrant Jewish communities existed, only a handful of Jews remain today. The thread of more than 2000 years of rich cultural heritage was abruptly broken.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The United Nations has passed more than a hundred resolutions on Palestinian refugees. However, not once have we seen any resolution, any recognition of these “forgotten refugees”. More than 850,000 Jewish refugees were viciously forced out of their homes and we are expected to forget it. It is time that these past wrongs are rectified. Not a single Arab country has taken responsibility for the events of the past. It is the duty of this Institution to ensure that the stories of the Jewish refugees will not be forgotten or ignored.
The Jewish people have endured pogroms, forced isolation in ghettos and genocide. We have stood strong in the face of adversity, just as the Iraqi Jewish community did.
In the aftermath of the Farhud and its following events, the Iraqi Jews made a hard yet a right decision. They chose not to despair; they chose not to stay focused only on the past but to direct their efforts towards the future. They chose not to mire in victimhood but to invest in building new lives and a new future in the State of Israel.
In short – they chose life.