If you thought the Ottomans were tolerant and fair-minded to their Jews, prepare to have your perceptions shattered by this harrowing story of unspeakable cruelty. In 1916, the increasingly desperate Ottoman authorities, on the verge of defeat in the First World War, plotted to take their revenge on the Jews of Baghdad. In this ugly episode, recorded in 1937 for posterity by Raphael Shlomo Zion Rahamim of Jerusalem, 17 upright Jewish citizens, including his own father, were tortured and their bodies dumped in the river. (With thanks Robert H)
Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long;we are counted as sheep for the slaughterPsalm 44
'The first days of the month of Av are a fitting time for me to publish one instance of the deeds and cruelty of the tyrannical (Ottoman) governors of Baghdad during World War I. Here I will mention only a little of the great evil that was done to us, so that our ordeal of slaughter and murder may be preserved in the pages of history as testimony for generations to come.
"In the winter of 1916 Fayek, governor of the village of Bakuba near Baghdad, was appointed to replace Huali in Baghdad. He was promoted to this lofty position because of his tyranny and hatred for the Jewish people. His appointment shocked the Jews who knew him as one who loved collecting taxes and was a vengeful enemy. They knew it was a dark day for them. In the few months that he ruled Baghdad, murder and exploitation became the hallmark of his rule. Many Jews were imprisoned and exiled, and there were many casualties. With indescribable cruelty, seventeen innocent Jews were abused, among the best and most respected of the city.
"This oppressor of Israel, upon taking power in Baghdad, set about getting his revenge on the Jews he so hated by finding a charge to pin on them. Innocent blood spilt from time to time did not satisfy his bloodlust, and he searched for a way to destroy, kill and eliminate tens of Jews at once. He looked, and found it. Turkish currency bills had lost much of their value: he laid the blame on the Jews, and so he put his schemes into effect. In secret, he and his militia Khalil Bey and Said El-Din, chief of the police, sent inspectors to sell the Turkish bills to the Jews in order to entrap them into committing a crime. But it was Godâ€™s will that it became known to them, only after the decree had already been issued, that after a set number of days all the residents had to exchange their silver and gold coins for Turkish bills, and the offenders punished with all the severity of the law. Of course, no Jew dared to do this and the efforts of the inspectors were not successful. However, the inspectors did not despair and were advised to wait until Sabbath eve when the Jewish masses stocked up for the Sabbath from the Jewish market. Perhaps there they would manage to trap someone in their net? This time, they were successful.
"After many attempts, one of the policemen met a cantor - I remember his name was Aharon. They say that this cantor was losing his mind as his income had dwindled to almost nothing. He was at once touched by the inspector's pleas, who appeared before him as poor and needy, and asked him to exchange one Turkish bill of one pound for a silver coin of half a Magidi, that he desperately needed. And he took pity on this seemingly poor person, even though he was not an ally, and fulfilled his request, and did not know that his life depended on it. It appears that this policeman, who knew that he had captured a misguided and naÃ¯ve man in his net, did not know that it would please those who sent him. Thus he let the poor soul go after following him to his house. But the chief of police, apparently, thought it correct to incriminate all the Jews with this nutcase's guilt, and after a few hours a policeman came with an inspector and took the poor man to the police station, and this is where the torture started.
"Fayek and the head of the police were present at the police station when they brought in Aharon. When the poor man refused, under interrogation, to incriminate Jews in the trade of the Turkish bills, the tyrannical oppressors started to torture him. Cruel policemen used all kinds of torture, to no avail. The torture victim's excuse was that he did not know even one Jew who traded in these bills. He cried, to no avail, begged, to no avail. The cruel individuals whose hearts knew no mercy closed their ears to his pleas and excuses. The more the poor soul cried and begged, the more the Cruel Ones tortured him. They cut his fingers, pierced his eyes and did not relent until he lost consciousness and fell in a pool of his own blood, fighting until bitter death.
"That Sabbath eve was a night of fear and horror for a number of Jewish families. After the Evil Ones abused poor Aharon until the late hours of the night, they were ordered to bring another sixteen Jews before them to take vengeance upon them. Following orders, a police unit went out again with a list of names of sixteen Jews. This time, it seems, the police numbered the greatest sadists among them. The police first knocked loudly on the doors of the Jews they encountered on their way, awoke the inhabitants and angrily forced them to identify each of the sixteen Jews on the list. They cruelly beat anyone who hesitated even for an instant. A man who hesitated between two Joseph ben Shimons was also beaten. And the Joseph ben Shimon whose house they found first, fell into the hands of the Evil Ones.
"During the night fifteen Jews were led off to the police station. Among them was the old man Baruch Dangoor, brother of Rabbi Ezra Dangoor who was later appointed chief rabbi of Baghdad. The victim was about eighty-five, an honest, innocent and modest man. His religion meant everything to him. In his old age and weakness, he used to sit at home and study Torah. In his last years he hardly left his house. This poor man was taken with his son Joseph, about 40, a well-loved man whose very face showed his innocence and honesty. From the same family they also took the wealthy and well-known Eliyahu Dangoor. Later they took the respected Yehuda Somekh and Sasson Sofer â€“ upstanding people from good families.
"These five, together with another ten respected others â€“ whose names I cannot unfortunately exactly remember â€“ all honest and innocent people whom the oppressors could surely not suspect of a fraudulent trade in Turkish bills, were guilty only of the crime of refusing to accuse other innocent Jews accused by the Evil Ones of crimes they did not commit. The victims, while still trembling under their oppressors, offered up all their property in order to hasten their deaths, but the Cruel Ones, whose one and only intent was for revenge, turned a deaf ear all night long to their helpless pleas and cries of distress.
"During the first service that Sabbath morning when the people gathered in the synagogues, word spread about the police searches that night. Fear possessed everyone who heard the news, although they did not know yet the suffering and torture endured by the victims. People assumed that either the police went in search of those people whose names were found in a notebook on Aharon the cantor - individuals called to the Torah the previous Shabbat, who had not yet made their donations. Else, Aharon the cantor, while being tortured, and from the depths of his suffering, divulged names. It did not matter to these Evil Ones, whose only purpose was to abuse the Jews, to search out and capture only those on their list. Anyone similar would do. As the Gemara Chagiga 4b tells us, the Angel of Death who summoned his messenger to bring Miriam (who dresses women's hair) and instead brought him Miriam (who raises children), told him that since he had brought her, she might as well be included in the count.