The Hand of God: How My Father Survived the Nazi-Inspired Farhud, Part I

The poisonous barbs of Hitler’s Final Solution were not confined solely to Europe.

[](/sites/default/files/uploads/2013/08/Arabic-Language-Mein-Kampf1.jpg)Tiffany Gabbay’s article below was originally published by TheBlaze in December, 2012. FrontPage is reprinting this piece as a two-part series to serve as a primer for a future series of articles that will highlight the plight of the “forgotten refugees” (Jewish refugees) who fled persecution, oppression, dhimmitude, pogroms, and eventually, exile, throughout the Middle East and Maghreb.

Reprinted from

There are few chapters in history that have ever revealed the face of evil or were wrought in more human suffering and degradation than the Shoah. What many do not realize, however, is that the poisonous barbs of Hitler’s Final Solution were not confined solely to Europe, but stretched far beyond to the East, where my father, and _his_ father were born.


My father, Joseph Gabbay, was an Israeli hero who served proudly and_ bravely_ in the Jewish State’s War of Independence in 1948. From as early as I can remember, he would tell me stories of his journey from a life of wealth and privilege in Iraq, embraced by the warmth of family and educated at the prestigious Alliance School, to a humble, solitary existence of labor and study on a kibbutz in Haifa where he first learned to speak Hebrew and would later prepare for war.

As I grew older, and my “Abba” (father) felt I was mature enough to handle greater truths, his stories became more piquant, filled with details of his pains and struggles, joys and triumphs. Each retold memory was imbued with a sense of pride and humility; reverence and awe at how he and his lonsmen in battle, so severely outnumbered, were at the mercy of the “Hand of God.” For as much as he witnessed, although his own blood had been spilled, my father would never have traded it for the world. He was a _part_ of Israel. And so, too, became I.

Though it was clear Abba restrained himself a great deal, never wishing to frighten me with the disturbing details of the horrors he endured, he said enough. I knew he suffered. The greatest, kindest man I have ever known, who was filled with an infectious light and beloved by all he encountered, was forced to survive a barbarism few, save those who have faced evil in war, could fathom even in the darkest recesses of the mind.

Some of the most poignant of my father’s true stories revolved around two fateful operations during the War of Independence. They are as relevant today as they were then. But to get to that story, I must first tell you how my father came to _be_ an Israeli.


My father was born in Baghdad, as was his father before him. In fact, our family lineage can be traced back to Babylonian times. Throughout history, various forces came to rule over Iraq, from the Ottomans, to the Mongols, to the British, but in all its incarnations there was only one constant. Indeed, since the 6th century BCE, the Jewish people maintained a consistent and deeply influential presence in Babylon over 1,000 years before Islam arrived.

In my grandfather’s prime, Iraq fell under the auspices of the British Mandate and Jews, who until then were vehemently discriminated against, finally became recognized as full-fledged citizens. They were given the right to vote, hold political office and indeed, attain their rightful place in society.

Although the British Mandate of Iraq officially ended in 1930, the Baghdad of my father’s childhood was still highly influenced by the monarchy and was a flourishing metropolis if ever there was one. Members of the city’s established Jewish community, which comprised 40 percent of Baghdad’s population, along with its Christian counterpart, played an indispensable role in shaping the land into a thriving paradise that enjoyed economic, agricultural and societal prosperity.

Still, as they are wont to do, the primitivism and tribalism, the jealousy and loathing, the _anti-Semitism_ that has long-served as hallmarks of the Arab world, reared its ugly head eventually. It was not before long that a pro-Nazi prime minister took hold of the kingdom and, just like that, the nearly three millennia-old Iraqi Jewish community was faced with outright extinction (sound familiar?).

Many, including some students of history are unaware of the fact that the Holocaust was not confined solely to Europe, but that its reach stretched as far as the Middle East and North Africa. While Arabs certainly needed no help fomenting hatred of their Jewish neighbors, it was Adolf Hitler who solidified, in their minds, the belief that the genocide they had always dreamed of was actually attainable. As the Final Solution raged in the West, Muslims in the East saw Hitler’s Third Reich as the model to emulate. And so they tried.

See Part II in Monday’s edition.

Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.  devising a plan of ambush that, in the end, helped saved him and his family from extinction.

Somehow numb to the fear that should have, by right, overcome anyone such tender age, my father resolved to fulfill his duty and positioned himself on the roof of his house, poised with metal buckets brimming with scalding hot cooking grease, heavy stones and bricks, knives, metal pipes and any other makeshift weapons he could devise.

As several of the marauders rushed the grounds of my family’s home, my father launched his defensive, dumping the buckets of piping hot grease and hurling the projectiles he’d had on hand with all of the nerve and sinew in him. My grandfather (“Saba”), meanwhile, remained below, armed with a plan and weapons of his own.

How they managed to stave off that violent mob and certain death remains one of the great and many mysteries of my father’s life. To be sure, it would not be the last time the Hand of God would play a role in delivering him to safe harbor.

In the end, British forces came in to disperse the rampaging mob and restore some semblance of order, but it was too little too late. While estimates differ, those gleaned from the Babylonian Heritage Museum reveal that 800 innocent Iraqi Jews were killed — 180 identified and 600 unidentified that were later found buried in a mass grave. In addition, 1,000 Jews were injured, nearly 600 Jewish businesses were looted, and another 1,000 Jewish homes ransacked and destroyed.

The bloody, two-day massacre was called the “Farhud,” Arabic for “violent dispossession” and came to be known as the “forgotten pogrom of the Holocaust.”

It was also the beginning of the end of Iraq’s 2,700-year-old Jewish community.

“From that point on, I was a Zionist,” my father told me. “I saw evil. I saw how primitive and barbaric they were. All they wanted, all they wanted,” he repeated, “was to see us dead.”

“I couldn’t live like that. I just couldn’t.”

Obsessed with the thought of Israel, my father began courting his mother, my “Safta,” to send him to live with an uncle in Jerusalem. Despite the fact that he had already proven he could take care of himself, she refused. Still, Abba would not relent and being the ever-resourceful boy that he was, attempted all modes of appeal until he finally threatened to fling himself from the nearest cliff if she continued to rebuff his pleas.

Yes, my father had a flair for the dramatic, but it worked, and not before long he found himself on a train to the Holy Land.

Though he was just a young boy not much older than my youngest nephew is now, my father was indeed every bit the adult the times required him to be. Determined, he set out to build a new life for himself and his family in Eretz Israel, far from the murderous grip of Islamists bent on annihilating them.

Little did he know at the time, his battle had just begun.

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