Tuesday, April 1, 2014



As Canadian citizens living in Quebec face the unknown future under separatist pressures, I am reminded that, in the Nazi era, "friends" and neighbours helped the Nazis kill and rob Jewish families. And in 1941, thousands of Jewish people were slaughtered by their neighbours in Baghdad. The Jews had lived in Baghdad for 2600 years. Why do you think it can't happen here?

It almost happened in Montreal, Quebec in 1970. We called it "The October Crisis."

Quebec Minister of Labour, Pierre Laporte, was murdered and British trade commissioner, James Cross was kidnapped. Mailboxes were blown up in the City of Montreal and at least one man was maimed.

I was on Place d'Armes facing Notre Dame Basilica for Pierre Laporte's funeral. Our family had paid our respects at his coffin the previous day. I was in the Church. I saw Pierre Laporte's body. Racism and greed and hate and murder are very real when you see the dead body of a man you knew.

Phyllis Carter



The October Crisis began 5 October 1970 with the kidnapping of James CROSS, the British trade commissioner in Montréal, by members of the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ).

The October Crisis began 5 October 1970 with the kidnapping of James CROSS, the British trade commissioner in Montréal, by members of the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ). It rapidly devolved into the most serious terrorist act carried out on Canadian soil after another official, Minister of Immigration and Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte, was kidnapped and killed. The crisis shook the career of recently elected Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa, who solicited federal help along with Montréal Mayor Jean Drapeau. This help would lead to the only invocation of the War Measures Act during peacetime in Canadian history.

Fed by nationalist discontent and rising unemployment, and by the example of colonial states rising against foreign imperialism, the FLQ emerged in 1963 to further the creation of an independent Québécois state. It vowed to use any means necessary, including violence, and carried out almost 200 crimes, including robberies and bombings, from its inception to its last days.

Armed members of FLQ cell Libération kidnapped James Cross at his home, while members of the Chénier cell took Laporte as he played with his nephew on his front lawn. The kidnappers' demands, communicated in a series of public messages, included the freeing of a number of convicted or detained FLQ members, a half-million dollar ransom and the broadcast of the FLQ manifesto. The manifesto, a diatribe against established authority, was read on Radio-Canada, and on 10 October the Québec minister of justice offered safe passage abroad to the kidnappers in return for the release of Cross. On the same day a second FLQ cell, Chénier, acting independently, kidnapped Pierre Laporte.

The kidnapping raised a swift response from the federal government under Liberal leader Pierre Trudeau. As CBC reporter Tim Ralfe questioned the Prime Minister concerning the armed soldiers on Parliament Hill, Trudeau responded with a now-famous diatribe: "Well, there are a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don't like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is, go on and bleed. But it's more important to keep law and order in this society than to be worried about weak-kneed people who don't like the looks of..." Ralfe interrupted: "At any cost? How far would you go with that? How far would you extend that?" Trudeau replied with a sentence that became a catchphrase of North American politics: "Well, just watch me."

On 15 October the Québec government formally requested assistance from the Canadian Armed Forces to supplement the local police, and on 16 October the federal government proclaimed the existence of a state of "apprehended insurrection" under the War Measures Act. Under the emergency regulations, the FLQ was outlawed as membership became a criminal act, normal liberties were suspended, and arrests and detentions were authorized without charge. Over 450 persons were detained in Québec, most of whom were eventually released without the laying or hearing of charges.

On 17 October, the body of Pierre Laporte was found in the trunk of a car left near Saint-Hubert airport. In early December 1970, police discovered the cell holding James Cross. The force negotiated his release in return for safe conduct to Cuba for the kidnappers , the best known of whom were Marc Carbonneau and Jacques Lanctôt, and some of their family members. Almost four weeks later, the Chénier cell was located and its members arrested, subsequently to be tried and convicted for kidnapping and murder. Of these, Paul Rose and Francis Simard received the heaviest sentences: life in prison for the death of Laporte. Emergency regulations under the War Measures Act were replaced in November 1970 by similar regulations under the Public Order Temporary Measures Act, which lapsed on 30 April 1971.

The federal response to the kidnapping was intensely controversial. According to opinion polls, an overwhelming majority of Canadians supported the Cabinet's action, but it was criticized as excessive by Québec nationalists and by civil libertarians throughout the country. Supporters of the response claim that the disappearance of terrorism in Québec is evidence of its success, but this disappearance might equally be attributed to public distaste for political terror and to the steady growth of the democratic separatist movement in the 1970s, which led to the election of a Parti Québécois government (1976).

After the crisis, the federal Cabinet gave ambiguous instructions to the RCMP Security Service permitting dubious acts such as break-ins, thefts and electronic surveillance, all without warrants. All were later condemned as illegal by the federal Inquiry Into Certain Activities of the RCMP and the Keable Commission in Québec (Enquête sur des opérations policières en territoire Québécois). The federal minister of justice in 1970, John Turner, justified the use of War Measures as a means of reversing an "erosion of the public will" in Québec. According to some, Premier Robert Bourassa similarly conceded that the use of the War Measures Act was intended to rally popular support to the authorities rather than to confront an "apprehended insurrection."





Shavuot, is the holiday commemorating the day it's believed God gave Moses the laws on Mount Sinai. But for the former Jews of Baghdad, it is hardly a day for celebrations.

Montreal insurance salesman, Steve Acre, remembers this time well from seventy years ago. He was just nine years old when racial attacks broke out in the Iraqi capital in an event known as the Farhud. The massacre marked the beginning of the end of 2600 hundred years of Jewish history in Iraq. 



On 1 June 1941, a Nazi-inspired pogrom erupted in Baghdad, bringing to an end more than two millennia of peaceful existence for the city's Jewish minority. Some Jewish children witnessed the bloodshed, and retain vivid memories 70 years later.

Steve Acre, a few years before the Farhud
Steve Acre witnessed the bravery of his Muslim landlord from a palm tree

Heskel Haddad, an 11-year-old boy was finishing a festive meal and preparing to celebrate the Jewish festival of Shavuot, oblivious to the angry mob that was about to take over the city.

Thousands of armed Iraqi Muslims were on the rampage, with swords, knives and guns.

The two days of violence that followed have become known as the Farhud (Arabic for "violent dispossession"). It spelt the end for a Jewish community that dated from the time of Babylon. There are contemporary reports of up to 180 people killed, but some sources put the number much higher. The Israeli-based Babylonian Heritage Museum says about another 600 unidentified victims were buried in a mass grave.

"On the first night of Shavuot we usually go to synagogue and stay up all night studying Torah," says Haddad, now a veteran ophthalmologist in New York.

"Suddenly we heard screams, 'Allah!' and shots were fired. We went out to the roof to see what's happening, we saw fires, we saw people on the roofs in the ghetto screaming, begging God to help them."

The violence continued through the night. A red hand sign, or hamsa, had been painted on Jewish homes, to mark them out. Families had to defend themselves by whatever means they could.

"Start Quote

To Britain's shame, the army was stood down - the ambassador in Baghdad, for reasons of his own, held our forces at bay"

End Quote Tony Rocca British historian

Haddad remembers the marauders coming down his street at dawn, and watching them from the roof as they looted his neighbour's house.

"My father had a dagger in his hand and a pipe to prevent people from attacking us on the roof. An idea came to me and I took some bricks from breaking the walls and started throwing them. Other kids came with me and began throwing rocks on these people.

"And when we hit somebody and they began to bleed, they began screaming 'Allah!' and they left. And they left the loot behind them."

Some families bribed policemen to stand guard, paying half a dinar for each bullet fired. Others owe their lives to Muslims who took great risks to protect them.

Woman's breast

In a nearby street in a mixed Jewish and Muslim quarter, Steve Acre lived with his widowed mother and eight siblings in a house owned by a Muslim.

Acre, now 79 and living in Montreal, climbed a palm tree in the courtyard when the violence began. He still remembers the cry "Cutal al yehud" which translates as "slaughter the Jews".

Anti-British demonstration in Baghdad
Nazi influence in Baghdad fanned anti-British and anti-Semitic sentiments

From the tree he could see the landlord sitting in front of the house.

"When the mob came he talked to them. He told them that we are orphans who took refuge in his house and they cannot touch us. If they want us they have to kill him. So lucky for us, the mob moved away, moved to other houses," he remembers.

The men then crossed the street and screams began to emanate from the house of his mother's best friend.

"Later lots of men came outside and set the house on fire. And the men were shouting like from joy, in jubilation holding up something that looked like a slab of meat in their hands.

"Then I found out, it was a woman's breast they were carrying - they cut her breast off and tortured her before they killed her, my mother's best friend, Sabicha."

Until the Farhud, Baghdad had been a model of peaceful coexistence for Jews and Arabs. Jews made up about one in three of the city's population in 1941, and most saw themselves as Iraqi first and Jewish second.

Nazi tide

So what caused this terrible turn of events?

Grand Mufti Haj Amin el Husseini talking to Adolf Hitler in 1930
The Grand Mufti and Hitler, pictured, were closely linked with Rashid Ali

A month earlier, a pro-Nazi lawyer Rashid Ali al-Gilani, had overthrown Iraq's royal family, and started broadcasting Nazi propaganda on the radio.

But when an attack on a British Air Force base outside Baghdad ended in humiliating failure, he was forced to flee. The Farhud took place in the power vacuum that followed.

In a tragic twist to the tale, it turns out the British Army could have intervened to halt the violence. On 1 June, British cavalry were just eight miles from the city, having raced 600 miles from Palestine and Egypt under orders to prevent Iraqi oil falling into Nazi hands.

"To Britain's shame, the army was stood down," says historian Tony Rocca, co-author with Farhud survivor Violette Samash of the book, Memories of Eden.

"Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, Britain's ambassador in Baghdad, for reasons of his own, held our forces at bay in direct insubordination to express orders from Winston Churchill that they should take the city and secure its safety. Instead, Sir Kinahan went back to his residence had a candlelight dinner and played a game of bridge."

Heskel Haddad

"Start Quote

It stimulated me to go into medicine - I knew that I want to save lives"

End Quote Heskel Haddad

A move to halt the pogrom was finally taken by the Mayor of Baghdad and police loyal to the Iraqi monarchy, who imposed a curfew at 5pm on 2 June.

After the Farhud, life changed drastically for the city's Jews. Up to that point Haddad had many Muslim friends.

"Suddenly I changed my attitude. I didn't feel any more Iraqi. I felt I'm a Jew and I vowed that I wanted to kill an Arab," he says.

One day, swimming in the River Tigris, he encountered a drowning man, and instinctively helped him to the shore.

"When I came home I was shook up. Not because I saved the guy but because I didn't follow my vow to kill an Arab. And when I went to see the rabbi, he said, 'You can't make a vow to kill. You can only make a vow to help.'

"That's what stimulated me to go into medicine, actually. I knew that I want to save lives, not to kill people."

Lingering distrust

The anti-Semitism that Hitler had successfully exported to Iraq made life unbearable for the Jewish community. There were frequent arrests on false charges of spying and public hangings of prominent Jews.

    Morris Zebaida, a survivor who now lives in London, says: "We learnt to live like mice. If we didn't, we would be spat upon or arrested."

In 1950, Jews were finally allowed to leave, on condition they give up all their property and assets, including their bank accounts. By 1952, only 2,000 of 150,000 were left.

Acre and Haddad still feel a lingering distrust of the British, because of their failure to stop the violence.

For Haddad, another legacy of the Farhud is a contradictory attitude to Iraqi Muslims. He has operated on injured Iraqis free of charge, has visited Iraq as an adviser to the government, and is described by Iraq's ambassador in Washington as "the best Iraqi I know". But while he numbers some Iraqi Muslims among his friends, he remains on his guard in the presence of others.

"I have this feeling, a sort of distrust, that the Farhud created," he says. "It's an emotional thing that you cannot eradicate that easily."



1 comment:

Phyllis Carter said...

Reviewing my report, I researched the matter of the number of Jews who were murdered in Baghdad in 1941. Reports of the number of those actually killed vary. Not thousands but hundreds. Other atrocities are without number.