Continued from last week…
All they wanted was to be remembered — to change the headline on their suffering from “the forgotten pogrom” to “the not forgotten pogrom.” All they wanted was to draw back the curtain of their sorrow without an asterisk, without a parenthetical, without a “but also” or a “however” or a political catchphrase to qualify or filter their disconsolation. In short, they wanted to take their place in the annals of misery for the same reason all other Jews gather into that space: so they can help whisper endlessly the words “never again” as a beacon to humanity.
That happened on June 1, 2015, 74 years too late but not a minute too soon. The official proclamation was read aloud that day to the world: “On behalf of Iraqi Jews everywhere who yearn to commemorate the Farhud, the Holocaust-era massacre by Arab nationalists in coordination with the Nazis, which occurred June 1-2, 1941 in Baghdad, killing hundreds of innocent Jews and brutalizing thousands more, and pillaging their property …. and on behalf of those who recognize that Palestinian Arab leaders, including the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, were central instigators of the violence in Baghdad, along with Iraqi Prime Minister Rashid Ali al-Gailani and the Golden Square coup plotters … and on behalf of those who yearn to recognize that the Farhud was the first step in the process which resulted in the forced exodus of 850,000 to 900,000 Jewish refugees from centuries of peaceful existence in Arab countries … The organizations and individuals assembled and represented here, this June 1, 2015, in New York City at the United Nations, do hereby proclaim June 1st as International Farhud Day, to recognize and commemorate the Nazi-allied massacre by Arabs, the mass forced exodus that followed, and the 850,000 to 900,000 Jewish refugees from Arab Lands. We recognize this date as a lamented day of history that should not be forgotten.”
Seven parchment copies were signed by the five key organizers: Rabbi Elie Abadie of Jews for Justice in Arab Lands, Alyza D. Lewin for both the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists and the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, Maurice Shohet of the World Organization of Jews in Iraq, Avi Posnick for StandWithus, and myself as historian. Signing as witness for the proceedings was Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Numerous Jewish and non-Jewish organizations both here and abroad added their voices as co-sponsors, such as Philadelphia-based Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, HARIF – Association of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East in London, the Zionist Federation of Great Britain, and the Babylonian Heritage Society of Israel.
On behalf of Congressional Israel-Allies Caucus in the House of Representatives, co-chair Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), issued a public statement expressing “deepest solidarity with Iraqi and the Arab world’s Jews. Franks declared, “Today we will change the first of June from a day of a near-forgotten tragedy into International Farhud Day – a day of commemoration – when we call on the entire world to remember the disaster that befell the Arab world’s Jews, and to do justice by them and their descendants.”
Those who know the complex inter-relations and brimming calendar of the Jewish communal scene would understandably guess that such an international and multi-organizational undertaking at the UN as a live global event no less would necessitate many months of tedious planning, and probably a grant or two from the donor community. In fact, the entire enterprise took just six weeks from the first light bulb email on April 9 to the culminating applause of Farhud Day on June 1, 2015. As a testament to the long overdue recognition and the deep-seated and visceral understanding of the tragedy, uncharacteristically, the prime movers came together immediately, cohesively, and with humanitarian synchrony. There was no real funding, except for the shoestring contributions of the participants. A team of volunteers were found to man the event.
Key among the responsible parties was Alyza Lewin who had successfully coordinated a UN event on UNRWA some months earlier. The two organizations she represented, the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists and the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, combined the heft of their juridical grasp of international law and human rights abuses to inject the needed gravitas and perspective. Rabbi Elie Abadie, born in Beirut, heads up Justice for Jews from Arab Countries and has long been a warrior for recognition of both the Farhud and the unrecognized and forgotten nightmare of 850,000 to 900,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries. When he agreed to be program moderator, Rabbi Abadie imbued the effort with the long overlooked activist fire needed to fuel the effort. Maurice Shohet, as head of the World Organization of Jews from Iraq added the indispensable historical sinew to the survivor and descendant community. His dignity and intrinsic epicentral voice was listened to at all times as the program was developed. StandWithUs, as America’s pre-eminent Jewish and Israel defense organization, was not new to the topic. For years, its president Roz Rothstein had elevated the Farhud and the related forced expulsion of Jews from Arab Lands to a prominent place in the constellation of StandWithUs causes.
My end was simply the history. History, when connected to the present, can be a spark plug for the future.
Unlisted in the list of proclamation signers, was Israel’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations. Its mighty efforts bored through tunnels of UN bureaucracy and secured the space, time, and broadcast slot at the UN. Israel’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador David Roet came forward to provide introductory remarks for the UN program and, in so doing, revealed his family’s personal connection to the historical injustice of the Holocaust — a credential all too often known among Israeli diplomats. Two Long Island Jewish high schools, Mesivta and Shalhevet, organized a bus of students who came to witness the making of history.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry devoted a page International Farhud Day. The Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles opened a page as well. So did the Israeli Consulate in Boston. Google added the day to their online calendar cites. Within 48 hours of the event, a simple Google search yielded more than 5,000 entries for “International Farhud Day.” Hashtags such as for #FarhudDay appeared.
From that very rainy moment June 1, 2015 at the UN and going forward, memories of the day Baghdad burned in 1941, will no longer be invisible, muffled, or parenthesized. The long, painful threnody of the Holocaust that never lacks for cadenzas now includes a refrain for the Jews of Baghdad and 850,000 of their co-religionists across the Arab world for whom the persecution never stopped when the Third Reich was toppled in May 1945. For them, forever more, we have imbued an added dimension, in a macabre cubist process that never lacks for additional dimensions, when we look out, look back, and look within, to intone the haunting always-wafting injunction: Never Again.
Edwin Black is the author of IBM and the Holocaust, and The Farhud — Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust. He began the initiative to proclaim International Farhud Day at the United Nations.
Copyright 2015 Edwin Black
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