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

Posted By Tiffany Gabbay On August 16, 2013 @ 12:37 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 23 Comments

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 TheBlaze.com.

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.

Abba

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.

Baghdad

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.

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