T O P I C
BABYLONIAN JEWRY HERITAGE CENTER
The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center
The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center was established in 1973 to preserve the history of the Jewish community in Iraq and to ensure that it remains part of the future narrative of the Jewish nation. To this end, the Center fosters research, preservation and publication of the culture and folklore of Iraqi Jewry.
Adjacent to the Center is the Museum of Babylonian Jewry, opened to the public in 1988 and exhibiting chapters from the history of Babylonian Jewry throughout the generations over the course of more than 2,600 years.
Most of Babylonian Jewry immigrated to the land of Israel during the heroic Operation Ezra and Nehemia in 1950-1951. The story of the absorption of the members of this community is astounding. They reached the highest positions in academia, science, arts, culture and sport, economics and society, politics, the IDF and defense system, public activism and philanthropy. Those who escaped Iraq and moved to Europe, the United States, Canada and other countries also reached impressive achievements and contributed to the countries where they settled.
The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda was founded to immortalize the heritage of a diaspora community which no longer exists. It is the largest center in the world for documenting, researching, collecting and preserving the spiritual treasures and art created by Babylonian Jewry. The Center was not designated to represent Iraqi Jewry alone and advance its interests. Rather, the opposite is true: the Center documents and perpetuates the extensive story of the heritage of the oldest of Jewish communities, an opulent heritage which became a part of the entire Jewish nation. This is what makes the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center so distinctive.
The Center attracts thousands of visitors each year who discover the history and culture of Babylonian Jewry and are exposed to its unique treasures. Every year, we expand the museum and open new exhibits with the assistance of the museum’s friends and supporters in Israel and worldwide. There is still much work ahead of us. The large room of safes at the Center includes valuable heritage and historic items waiting for the museum to expand so that we can incorporate them in new exhibits.
Among the immigrants in Operation Ezra and Nehemia were my parents, who immigrated with my older brother and me, a child not yet five years old. The family made its first steps in Israel at the Kfar Hassidim absorption camp near Haifa, where I also began first grade. I feel honored and privileged to have been chosen to serve as the chairman of the executive committee of the Center. I can promise that my colleagues on the executive committee and myself, who work on a voluntary basis, will do our best to preserve and develop the Center for the benefit of our generation and for future generations of the Jewish nation, in Israel and all over the world.
Prof. Efraim Tzadka, Chairman
1941 June 1st -2nd. Mufti-inspired, pro-Nazi coup leads to the Farhood. Violent riots and a pogrom in Baghdad, during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, leaving nearly 300 Jews killed and over 2,000 wounded.
1948 Iraqi Army participates in war against Israel. Headlines in Iraq read that “The fate of the Jews will be either the grave or the sea.” Jewish community of Iraq is composed of about 130,000 individuals.
1948 Zionism is added to article 51 of the Criminal Code in Iraq with death as the punishment. 1,500 Jews are imprisoned, some of whom are tortured and killed. Homes are confiscated, Jews are forbidden to engage in foreign trade, and businesses are boycotted.
1949-1951 Jewish citizens are allowed to leave Iraq on the condition that they renounce their citizenship. The Jewish agency evacuates 104,000 Jews in Operation’s Ezra and Nechemia. Separately, some 20,000 Jews are smuggled out through Iran.
1969 3,000 remaining Jews are severely persecuted with arbitrary arrests and economic isolation. Saddam Hussean orders 9 Jewish men publicly hanged in Baghdad and Basra upon the discovery of an alleged local “spy ring,” others died of torture.
The modern state of Iraq, which was born in the twentieth century, roughly corresponds to the Mesopotamia region of western Asia between the Tigris and the Euphrates. The history of the Jews in Iraq is documented from the time of the Babylonian captivity circa 800 BC. Iraqi Jews constitute one of the world's oldest and most historically significant Jewish communities.
The Jewish presence on this territory dates back to Abraham. The Bible says that he left Ur for Canaan, around 1800 BC. The influx of Jews into the territory of Iraq was not the result of a decision, but of two disasters.
The first contingent arrived in the region after 722 BC, following the defeat of the Kingdom of Israel (North) by the Assyrians. In 597 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar, who had conquered the Kingdom of Judah (South), laid siege to Jerusalem in response to the revolt by the Jewish king Jehoiachin. He partially despoiled the Temple and deported to Babylon the king, his court, as well as thousands of men.
Eleven years later, during the reign of Zedekiah, who had been enthroned by Nebuchadnezzar, Judaeans revolted again. A second siege of Jerusalem began, and lasted eighteen months. The city was razed to the ground, and a further deportation ensued. Finally, five years later, Jeremiah records a third captivity.
After the overthrow of Babylonia by the Persians, Cyrus gave the Jews permission to return to their native land (537 BCE) and rebuild the Temple. Only 40,000 of them left Babylon, while 80,000 decided to continue to live there.
Fairly soon after the Persian conquest, Jewish life flourished. It was in Babylonia that Ezra "the scribe" laid the foundations for what became the Pharisaic movement, and later rabbinic Judaism. This is where the sage Hillel first established the authority of the Michna (Mishna), the oral law and here were born the famous academies of Nehardea, Sura and Pumbedita. The key work of these academies was the compilation of the Babylonian Talmud.
During this period, the Jewish community in Babylon was led by an exilarch, whose title was hereditary. He collected his own taxes, half of which belonged to the empire. The Babylonian diaspora retained and developed its community structure and its relative independence until the thirteenth century.
The end of the Persian Empire threatened the situation. To counter the Mazdakites who put their religious freedom at risk, the Jews supported the conquest of Iraq by Muslims. Under the caliphs of Baghdad, they paid a poll-tax (jizyah), which ensured freedom of religion and community.
Iraq, which had fallen under the domination of the Ottoman Empire in 1517, had to wait until the reforms, the Tanzimat, to have a centralized administration. The reform movement had a strong influence on the Jewish community: it introduced it to the modern world. In addition to the adoption of Western clothing, Jews gained access to education including foreign language learning and acquisition of skills in the business world.
Under the Ottoman rule, Jews were legal advisers and councillors to governors and served in the Ottoman parliament.
Over time, the Turkish rule deteriorated and the situation of the Jews worsened, but the population continued to grow. In 1884 there were 30,000 Jews in Baghdad and by 1900, 50,000. The community also produced great rabbis, such as Joseph Hayyim ben Eliahu Mazal-Tov (1834 - 1909).
Under the government of Young Turks (1908), who led a policy of unification, Jews served in the army and fought in Turkish units during the First World War or were doctors or translators.
For many, however, this conflict had disastrous consequences. Soon after their defeat, the Ottomans threw the blame on the Jews and accused them of shirking from their duty in the war effort. Some were executed; many others saw their property confiscated.
Iraq was the creation of the League of Nations, which marked the end of the First World War and the defeat and dismantling of the Ottoman Empire. After twelve years under British mandate (1920 - 1932), Iraq became an independent state in 1932.
Its population consisted of a majority Shiite Muslim south and a Sunni Muslim minority in Baghdad, which until recently dominated political life in Iraq in modern times. Other small ethnic and religious groups, including Kurds, Yazidis, Christians and Jews, lived in the country.
Under the regime of King Faisal 1, a benevolent monarch supported by the British, Jews, like all other minorities, were invited to participate as citizens in the new Iraq. In this climate, Jews enjoyed a period of splendour. Iraq's first minister of finance, Sir Sassoon Eskell, was a Jew, and Jews were important in developing the judicial and postal systems. Records from the Baghdad Chamber of Commerce show that 10 out of its 19 members in 1947 were Jews and the first musical band formed for Baghdad's nascent radio in the 1930s consisted mainly of Jews. Jews were represented in the Iraqi parliament, and many Jews held significant positions in the bureaucracy which in many cases led to resentment by the Iraqi population.
Sociologist Philip Mendes asserts that before the anti-Jewish actions of the 1930s and 1940s, overall Iraqi Jews "viewed themselves as Arabs of the Jewish faith, rather than as a separate race or nationality".
In the 1930s, the situation of the Jews in Iraq deteriorated. Previously, the growing Iraqi Arab nationalist sentiment included Iraqi Jews as fellow Arabs, but these views changed with the introduction of Nazi propaganda and the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian Mandate. Despite protestations of their loyalty to Iraq, Iraqi Jews were increasingly subject to discrimination and harsh laws. On August 27, 1934 many Jews were dismissed from public service, and quotas were set up in colleges and universities. The teaching of Jewish history and Hebrew in Jewish schools was banned. Following Rashid Ali's pro-Axis coup, the Farhud ("violent dispossession") pogrom of June 1 and 2, 1941, broke out in Baghdad in which approximately 180 Jews were murdered, and up to 1,000 injured -- damages to property were estimated at $3 million. There was also looting in many other cities at around the same time.
At the creation of Israel in 1948, Zionism became a capital crime to Iraqi law. The worsening climate intensified. In 1950, Iraqi Jews were permitted to emigrate, if they renounced their citizenship. New economic restrictions were imposed on those who remained in the country. In 1952, the tone changed: emigration was forbidden. Two members of the Jewish community, accused of masterminding an attack against a U.S. institution, were hanged in public.
During the 1960s, the authorities led a policy of systematic discrimination. Property sales were banned, Jews had to have a distinctive yellow identity card. After the Six-Day war, Jews lost the right to property, their bank accounts were frozen, they were forced to close their shops and were excluded from all public functions.
When Saddam Hussein came to power in 1979, there were fewer than 400 Jews in Iraq. The Jewish community still lived under constant surveillance. Ironically, it seems that the attitude of Saddam Hussein to the Iraqi Jews was less excessive than that of his predecessors. According to testimony gathered by journalist Philippe Broussard for the newspaper Le Monde (8 May 2003), his regime removed most of the discriminatory anti-Jewish laws.
It is believed that no more than seven or eight Iraqi Jews still live in Baghdad, all that is left of the community.
Today, only the memory and history of the Jewish diaspora in the land of Iraq remain. Iraqi Jews, now citizens of other countries, have established institutes for historical research and preservation of their culture. Their actions reflect the richness of Jewish history in this land and also their nostalgia.
The outbreak of mob violence against Baghdad Jewry
known as the Farhud (Farhud is an Arabic term best translated as “pogrom” or “violent dispossession”) erupted on June 1, 1941.
It was a turning point in the history of the Jews in Iraq.
Holocaust Encyclopedia, Esther Meir-Glitzenstein
In the 1940s about 135,000 Jews lived in Iraq (nearly 3 percent of the total population), with about 90,000 in Baghdad, 10,000 in Basra, and the remainder scattered throughout many small towns and villages. Jewish communities had existed in this region since the 6th century BCE, hundreds of years before Muslim communities established a presence in Iraq during the 7th century. The Jews shared the Arab culture with their Muslim and Christian neighbors, but they lived in separate communities. Jewish assimilation into Muslim society was rare.
With the establishment of the Iraqi state under the British Mandate in 1921, Jews became full-fledged citizens and enjoyed the right to vote and hold elected office. The Jewish community had between four and six representatives in the Parliament and one member in the Senate. The community was headed by a president, Rabbi Sasson Khedhuri (1933-1949; 1954-1971), an elected council of 60 members, and two executive committees—the spiritual committee for religious issues and the secular committee for managing the secular affairs of the community organizations. Its elite included also high-ranking officials, prominent attorneys and dignitaries, and wealthy merchants. This status of the Jews did not change in 1932, when Iraq gained independence under British informal rule.
In the spring of 1941, Britain was enduring one of its worst periods in World War II. Most of Europe had fallen to the Axis forces, German planes were bombing British cities in the Blitz, and German submarines were exacting a tremendous toll on British shipping. Having driven the British out of Libya, the Afrika Korps under General Erwin Rommel was camped along the Egyptian border and poised to thrust eastward to the Suez Canal. The German Wehrmacht (armed forces) had driven the British out of Greece and Crete, eliminating their last beachhead on continental Europe. British chances of winning the war appeared slim.
Such catastrophic setbacks severely impacted Britain's presence in the Middle East. Since June 1940, the Vichy government had controlled Syria and Lebanon, and pro-Axis sentiment was prevalent among Egypt's indigenous government bureaucracy.
In this context, Rashid 'Ali al-Kailani, an anti-British nationalist politician from one of the leading families in Baghdad, carried out a military coup against the pro-British government in Iraq on April 2, 1941. He was supported by four high-ranking army officers nicknamed the “Golden Square,” and by the former Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husayni. Since his arrival in Baghdad in October 1939 as a refugee from the failed Palestinian revolt (1936-1939), al-Husayni had been at the forefront of anti-British activity. Following the coup, the supporters of the deposed pro-British rule, headed by the Regent, Abd al-Ilah, and foreign minister, Nuri al-Said, fled to Transjordan. In Iraq, Rashid 'Ali al-Kailani formed a pro-German government, winning the support of the Iraqi Army and administration. He hoped an Axis victory in the war would facilitate full independence for Iraq.
The rise of this pro-German government threatened the Jews in Iraq. Nazi influence and antisemitism already were widespread in Iraq, due in large part to the German legation's presence in Baghdad as well as influential Nazi propaganda, which took the form of Arabic-language radio broadcasts from Berlin. Mein Kampf had been translated into Arabic by Yunis al-Sab'awi, and was published in a local newspaper, Al Alam al Arabi (The Arab World), in Baghdad during 1933-1934. Yunis al-Sab'awi also headed the Futtuwa, a pre-military youth movement influenced by the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) in Germany. After the coup d'etat, al-Sab'awi became a minister in the new Iraqi government.
Concerned that Iraq, as a pro-Axis bridgehead in the Middle East, would inspire other Arab nations, and increasingly worried that their access to oil supplies as well as their communications and transportation routes to India were now seriously threatened, the British decided to occupy the country. On April 19, British Army units from India landed in Basra while the British-led Arab Legion troops (Habforce) moved east into Iraq from Transjordan. By the end of May, the Iraqi regime collapsed and its leaders fled first to Iran and from there to German-occupied Europe.
Because the British did not wish to appear to be intervening in Iraq's internal affairs, they preferred Iraqi troops, who were loyal to Regent Abd al-Ilah, to be the first to enter Iraq's cities. British authorities also hoped to transfer control of Iraq directly to the Regent and his government. After occupying Basra in the middle of May, the British refused to enter the city and, as a consequence, there occurred widespread looting of goods in the shops in the bazaars, many of which were owned by Jews. Arab notables sent night watchmen to protect Jewish possessions and many gave asylum in their homes to Jews.
In Baghdad the results of this policy were much more severe. On the afternoon of June 1, 1941, when the Regent and his entourage returned to Baghdad and British troops surrounded the city, the Jews believed that the danger from the pro-Nazi regime had passed. They ventured out to celebrate the traditional Jewish harvest festival holiday of Shavuot. Riots broke out, targeting the Jews of Baghdad. These riots, known as the Farhud, lasted for two days, ending on June 2, 1941.
Iraqi soldiers and policemen who had supported Rashid Ali al-Gailani's coup d'etat in April and Futtuwa youths who were sympathetic to the Axis incited and led the riots. Unlike in previous incidents, rioters focused on killing. Many civilians in Baghdad and Bedouins from the city's outskirts joined the rioters, taking part in the violence and helping themselves to a share in the booty. During the two days of violence, rioters murdered between 150 and 180 Jews, injured 600 others, and raped an undetermined number of women. They also looted some 1,500 stores and homes. The community leaders estimated that about 2,500 families—15 percent of the Jewish community in Baghdad—suffered directly from the pogrom. View This Term in the Glossary According to the official report of the commission investigating the incident, 128 Jews were killed, 210 were injured, and over 1,500 businesses and homes were damaged. Rioting ended at midday on Monday, June 2, 1941, when Iraqi troops entered Baghdad, killed some hundreds of the mob in the streets and reestablished order in Baghdad.
The causes of the Farhud were political and ideological. On the one hand, the leaders of this pogrom View This Term in the Glossary identified the Jews as collaborators with the British authorities and justified violence against Jewish civilians by linking it to the struggle of the Iraqi national movement against British colonialism. Other Arab nationalists also perceived the Baghdad Jews as Zionists or Zionist sympathizers and justified the attacks as a response to Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine. Nevertheless, killing helpless Jews, including women and children, was an unprecedented phenomenon that contradicted Muslim law. In this situation, antisemitic ideology, derived in part from Nazi propaganda, helped to legitimize murdering Jews in Iraq.
The consequences of this pogrom View This Term in the Glossary stunned the Jewish community in Baghdad. Generally unarmed and lacking military training and self-defense skills, Baghdad Jews felt vulnerable and helpless. Many decided to leave Iraq. Hundreds fled to Iran, others went to Beirut, Lebanon, and some even obtained temporary visas for India. A few hundred Jews tried to reach Palestine, but most of them were forced to stop at some point on the way, either by the Iraqi police, which did not allow Jews to immigrate to Palestine, or by Palestinian police, enforcing strict immigration quotas (the White Paper of 1939). Most of the refugees, however, returned to Baghdad after the political situation had stabilized and the Iraqi economy had begun to prosper again.
The Jewish community in Baghdad experienced a rapid return to economic prosperity under British occupation during the remainder of the war years. Wealthy Baghdad Jews and the remittances of Iraqi Jewish émigrés contributed significantly to the reestablishment of commerce and restoration of property. As a further incentive to returning refugees, the Iraqi government paid compensation to the victims of the community in the sum of 20,000 dinars. The emotional and psychological wounds following the Farhud, however, were not so easily healed. Many members of the community remained in a state of profound shock that undermined their sense of security and stability, eventually prompting them to question their place within Baghdad's society.
Following the Farhud, Jewish leaders also faced a difficult political dilemma. The Farhud had demonstrated that Jews were perceived by many in the Arab nationalist movement and the religious and conservative right as collaborators with and beneficiaries of British colonialism and its alleged Iraqi puppets. On the other hand, Jewish leaders were in fact well-integrated in urban society in Baghdad. Some held public office, others were prominent in economic life, and many had friendly relations with politicians and leaders. Moreover, the hostility of the Arab nationalists toward the Jews only increased their dependence on the pro-British regime. Jewish leaders therefore chose to downplay the potential for danger and tended to dissuade community activists from steps that might have incited an Arab nationalist response. Jewish leaders preferred quiet, personal, indirect diplomacy to overt political activism. The Jews in Parliament adopted the same policy: they never voted against the Iraqi government and never publicly defended the rights of the Jewish minority.
The middle-class intelligentsia in the Jewish community also faced a profound political and cultural crisis. Educated, generally well-to-do, and active as journalists, authors, and poets, Jewish intellectuals in Baghdad had perceived themselves as partners in creating Iraqi culture; they now felt rejected and betrayed. Their faith in the prospect of Jewish integration in Iraqi society had suffered a severe shock. More profound still was the sense of disillusionment among the youth. The bloodshed prompted many of them to reject the cautious policies of the traditional leadership and to respond in a radical fashion. The nationalists among them were attracted to the Zionist movement; young Jewish socialists sought meaning in the Communist party. While the former envisioned the future in Palestine, the latter imagined a just and socialist order for all people with the triumph of socialism in Iraq. Young people who did not identify with either camp sought to emigrate to the United States, England, France, Canada, and elsewhere in the West. In Iraq itself, a few groups of young people formed self-defense organizations and sought to arm themselves. These organizations had been the basis of the 'Haganah' (defense) Organization in Iraq, which functioned until 1951.
The Farhud ultimately intensified anxiety among Baghdad's Jews, who now worried about Axis victories in the war, escalating violence in Palestine, growing Iraqi nationalist opposition, and the departure of the British from Iraq. The Farhud also marked a new era of Muslim-Jewish relations in Iraq, when discrimination and humiliation became further compounded by concerns about a direct physical threat to Jews' survival.
Among Arabs the whole event was repressed and nearly forgotten. Arab writers of the time mentioned the Farhud only vaguely, and explained it as a consequence of Zionist activity in the Middle East. In contrast, Iraq's Jews now perceived that threats to Jewish lives existed not only in Europe but also in the Middle East. In 1943, because of both the ongoing murder of European Jewry as well as antisemitism in Arab countries, Iraq's Jewish communities were included in Zionist plans for immigration and establishing the Jewish state.
By 1951, ten years after the Farhud, most of the Iraqi Jewish community (about 124,000 Jews out of 135,000) had immigrated to the State of Israel.
David Dangoor still keeps what he calls a “mental suitcase”, packed full of memory and longing for a homeland he left more than half a century ago.
The 68-year-old father of four who lives in London’s St John’s Wood is one of Iraq’s exiled Jewish population. He fled the country with his family aged 10 in 1959 and has never been able to return.
Occasionally, such as when his father Sir Naim Dangoor died two years ago and the Iraqi ambassador visited to pay his respects, Dangoor will ask among his fellow countrymen whether or not it is yet safe to go back? The answer remains always the same: “not yet”.
The story of the Jews in Iraq is one that dates back 2,500 years, but such was the speed that they were forced to abandon their homeland following the end of the Second World War and creation of Israel that it remains little known today.
A century ago when the British invaded the country then known as Mesopotamia, one third of Baghdad’s 200,000 strong population was Jewish. Today in the city just five Jewish people remain.
The story of what happened to the last Jews of Iraq is the subject of a new documentary, Remember Baghdad, released this month. The film follows the stories of several prominent Jewish families, including the Dangoors, who were forced to flee Iraq and ended up in Britain where they attempted to re-establish their tight-knit community as best they could.
Next door to David Dangoor in north London lives David Shamash, whose family were among the very last to leave in 1970, fleeing over the mountains to Iran. We meet in the nearby flat of another émigré, 91-year-old David Khalastchi, overlooking Regent’s Park.
“I miss those great old times,” Khalastchi says. “It was once a paradise. It is too late for me now but I hope my daughters can one day go back there.”
The film comes at a prescient time. Not only does 2017 mark the centenary of the British occupation of Iraq, but 100 years ago this month the Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour announced the British government’s support for the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.
The so-called Balfour Declaration paved the way for the modern-day state of Israel and laid the foundations for decades of conflict which persists today.
Prior to the British arrival in Iraq, it had been ruled by the Ottoman Empire since 1517 and Jews and Arabs had peacefully co-existed for centuries. Within the country’s borders lies the city of Babylon, where the Jews came after their first exile from Jerusalem in 587BC. Iraq is also the birthplace of Abraham. Islam arrived only when the Arabs invaded in 641AD - more than 1,000 years after the Jews had first settled.
The life once lived by Baghdad's prominent Jewish families is a world away from the violence and carnage associated with the modern day city.
In the middle of the 20th century Baghdad was booming and its residents pleasure-seeking. Dangoor recalls picnics on the banks of the River Tigris and falling asleep to the sound of summer cocktail parties on neighbouring rooftops. His parents, meanwhile, were regulars on the city social scene rubbing shoulders with royalty and government ministers. In 1947 his mother, Renée, was crowned the first Miss Baghdad.
David Dangoor traces his family roots in Iraq back to the 1700s at least, and in all likelihood much earlier. His great grandfather was the Chief Rabbi of Baghdad from 1923-1926.
He says when the British arrived they quickly recognised an ally in Iraq’s Jewish population and divested a lot of wealth and power through them to gain a foothold over the country.
As a result, discord began to spread among the largely Shia Muslim masses. “They started to see all these Jewish people who because they were educated with connections had houses and big cars and so on,” Dangoor says. “That led to envy and eventually jealousy.”
In June 1941, came the Nazi-inspired Farhud - or pogrom - during which an angry mob burned property and looted houses and hundred lost their lives.
Following the creation of Israel in 1948 and the Arab-Israeli War the public mood further darkened. In 1951 around 95 per cent of the Iraqi Jewish population (120,000 to 130,000) was airlifted to Israel in an operation financed largely by American Zionists.
Both David Dangoor and David Khalastchi remained behind. The former’s father ran a string of successful businesses, including the Iraqi franchise for Coca Cola, while the latter’s family had interests in farming and the booming automobile industry.
Despite still being a child, Dangoor recalls several moments from his youth where he noticed enmity building towards the Jews. On one occasion he sent off for an offer of a stamp starter collection he had seen on the back of a cereal packet. When the packet arrived it contained a stamp for Israel his father quickly took it off him and destroyed it. “An Israeli stamp could get you in prison,” he says.
On another occasion he remembers being asked he if was a Zionist by school friends despite not even knowing what the word meant. One 16-year-old Jewish pupil at a different school was even sent to prison after being tricked into drawing the Star of David on a blackboard.
120,000 Iraqi Jews abandoned their homes to fly to Israel
In 1958 the British installed monarchy was overthrown and the life of the ruling classes upended forever. David Dangoor's family left the following year, spending a year in Lebanon before settling in Britain.
In order to leave all Jewish families were forced to sign a document saying that if they did not return in three months all their assets were surrendered to the Iraqi state. Dangoor remembers his father saying his freedom was worth more than anything he left behind.
David Khalastchi carried on in Iraq despite worsening persecution against the Jewish community making it almost impossible to live in the country. Eventually in 1967 after having his passport confiscated for three years he managed to secure one through an intelligence contact and flee over the border with his wife and daughter.
Of the many tragedies he was forced to witness in exile, one occasion from 1969 stands out for David Khalastchi when the young Ba’athist Saddam Hussein hanged 13 people, nine of them Jewish, as supposed traitors to the regime in front of a jubilant crowd.
“They were people who had nothing to do with anything,” he says with sorrow.
Khalastchi and Dangoor are proud of their adopted homeland and have raised families here. The latter was a pupil at (now closed) Carmel College, once known as the Jewish Eton, and helped his father establish a multi-million pound property business in London.
“Britain has acted as a refuge and rescue for the Jewish people for a very long time,” he says.
Still the prospect of returning to Iraq, or at the very least their children and grandchildren doing so, endures. Following the invasion of Iraq in 2003 both men applied for their Iraqi passports and even voted in the subsequent elections.
But the country has since been plunged back into chaos; with other minority groups such as the Yazidis now suffering a similar fate to the Jews.
After all these decades they refuse to relinquish hope and continue to pray the violence will one day end.
For David Dangoor until his dying days that mental suitcase will always be packed. “It’s like a distant bell ringing in the back of our heads,” he says. “Always reminding us where we came from.”
For information on Remember Baghdad screenings and DVD visit rememberbaghdad.com
PERSECUTION BY IRAQI AUTHORITIES
Following the collapse of Rashid Ali's pro-Axis coup, the Farhud ("violent dispossession") pogrom of June 1 and 2, 1941, broke out in Baghdad in which approximately 200 Jews were murdered (some sources put the number higher, and up to 2,000 injured—damages to property were estimated at $3 million (US$ 52 million in 2020). There was also looting in many other cities at around the same time. Afterwards, Zionist emissaries from Palestine were sent to teach Iraqi Jews self-defense, which they were eager to learn. The monarchist government acted quickly to suppress supporters of Rashid Ali. Many Iraqis were exiled as a result, and hundreds were jailed, several were sentenced to death as a consequence of the violence by the newly established pro-British Iraqi government.
Before the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine vote, Iraq's prime minister Nuri al-Said told British diplomats that if the United Nations solution was not "satisfactory", "severe measures should [would?] be taken against all Jews in Arab countries". In a speech at the General Assembly Hall at Flushing Meadow, New York, on Friday, 28 November 1947, Iraq's Foreign Minister, Fadel Jamall, included the following statement:
Partition imposed against the will of the majority of the people will jeopardize peace and harmony in the Middle East. Not only the uprising of the Arabs of Palestine is to be expected, but the masses in the Arab world cannot be restrained. The Arab-Jewish relationship in the Arab world will greatly deteriorate. There are more Jews in the Arab world outside of Palestine than there are in Palestine. In Iraq alone, we have about one hundred and fifty thousand Jews who share with Moslems and Christians all the advantages of political and economic rights. Harmony prevails among Moslems, Christians and Jews. But any injustice imposed upon the Arabs of Palestine will disturb the harmony among Jews and non-Jews in Iraq; it will breed inter-religious prejudice and hatred.
In 1948, Iraqi Kingdom was placed under martial law, and the penalties for Zionism were increased. Courts martial were used to intimidate wealthy Jews, Jews were again dismissed from civil service, quotas were placed on university positions, Jewish businesses were boycotted (E. Black, p. 347) and Shafiq Ades (one of the most important anti-Zionist Jewish businessmen in the country) was arrested and publicly hanged for allegedly selling goods to Israel, shocking the community (Tripp, 123). The Jewish community general sentiment was that if a man as well connected and powerful as Shafiq Ades could be eliminated by the state, other Jews would not be protected any longer. Additionally, like most Arab League states, Iraq forbade any legal emigration of its Jews on the grounds that they might go to Israel and could strengthen that state. At the same time, increasing government oppression of the Jews fueled by anti-Israeli sentiment together with public expressions of antisemitism created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty.
1948, the year of Israel's independence was a rough year for the Jews of Iraq:
"With very few exceptions, only Jews wore watches. On spotting one that looked expensive, a policeman had approached the owner as if to ask the hour. Once assured the man was Jewish, he relieved him of the timepiece and took him into custody. The watch, he told the judge, contained a tiny wireless; he'd caught the Jew, he claimed, sending military secrets to the Zionists in Palestine. Without examining the "evidence" or asking any questions, the judge pronounced his sentence. The "traitor" went to prison, the watch to the policeman as reward." (Haddad, p. 176).
.On 19 February 1949, Nuri al-Said acknowledged the bad treatment that the Jews had been victims of in Iraq during the recent months. He warned that unless Israel behaved itself, events might take place concerning the Iraqi Jews.
Operation Ezra and Nehemiah
By 1949, the Iraqi Zionist underground had become well-established (despite many arrests), and they were smuggling Iraqi Jews out of the country illegally at a rate of 1,000 a month. Hoping to stem the flow of assets from the country, in March 1950 Iraq passed a law of one year duration allowing Jews to emigrate on condition of relinquishing their Iraqi citizenship. They were motivated, according to Ian Black, by "economic considerations, chief of which was that almost all the property of departing Jews reverted to the state treasury" and also that "Jews were seen as a restive and potentially troublesome minority that the country was best rid of." (p. 91) Iraqi politicians candidly admitted that they wanted to expel their Jewish population for reasons of their own. Israel was initially reluctant to absorb so many immigrants, (Hillel, 1987) but eventually mounted an airlift in March 1951 called "Operation Ezra and Nehemiah" to bring as many of the Iraqi Jews as possible to Israel, and sent agents to Iraq to urge the Jews to register for immigration as soon as possible. Between 1948 and 1951 121,633 Jews left the country, leaving 15,000 behind.
Rabbi Moshe Gabai; in 1951 petitioning President Zvi to help his Zacho, Iraq, community
From the start of the emigration law in March 1950 until the end of the year, 60,000 Jews registered to leave Iraq. In addition to continuing arrests and the dismissal of Jews from their jobs, this exodus was encouraged by a series of bombings starting in April 1950 that resulted in a number of injuries and a few deaths. Two months before the expiration of the law, by which time about 85,000 Jews had registered, another bomb at the Masuda Shemtov synagogue killed 3 or 5 Jews and injured many others. Nuri al-Said, the Iraqi prime minister, was determined to drive the Jews out of his country as quickly as possible, and on August 21, 1950 he threatened to revoke the license of the company transporting the Jewish exodus if it did not fulfill its daily quota of 500 Jews. On September 18, 1950, Nuri al-Said summoned a representative of the Jewish community and claimed Israel was behind the emigration delay, threatening to "take them to the borders" and forcibly expel the Jews The law expired in March 1951 but was later extended after the Iraqi government froze the assets of departing Jews, including those who had already left. During the next few months, all but a few thousand of the remaining Jews registered for emigration, spurred on by a sequence of further bombings that caused few casualties but had great psychological impact. In Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, some 120,000 Jews were airlifted to Israel via Iran and Cyprus.
In 1952, emigration to Israel was again banned, and the Iraqi government publicly hanged two Jews who had been falsely charged with throwing a bomb at the Baghdad office of the U.S. Information Agency.
According to Palestinian politician Aref al-Aref, the pro-British Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Sa'id had attempted to justify allowing the exodus by explaining to him that: ”The Jews have always been a source of evil and harm to Iraq. They are spies. They have sold their property in Iraq, they have no land among us that they can cultivate. How therefore can they live? What will they do if they stay in Iraq? No, no my friend, it is better for us to be rid of them as long as we are able to do so."
Iraqi Jews left behind them extensive property, often located in the heart of Iraq's major cities. A relatively high number found themselves in refugee camps in Israel known as Ma'abarot before being given permanent housing.
The Jewish Community of Baghdad, Iraq Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot,
The US Archivist who Saved the History of Iraq's Jews, By Jane O'Brien, BBC News, Washington, 9 November 2013
Iraq, Babylon, and Baghdad in Jewish History and Thought, Steven Bayme, National Director, Contemporary Jewish Life Department - AJC Global Jewish Advocacy
History of the Jews in Iraq Wikipedia
Iraq Virtual Jewish History Tour | Jewish Virtual Library
Modern Iraq, was born in the twentieth century, roughly corresponding to the Mesopotamia region of western Asia between the Tigris and the Euphrates. Jewish history is documented from the Babylonian captivity. Iraqi Jews constitute one of the world's oldest and historically most significant Jewish communities.
Immigration occurred after 722 BCE, with the defeat of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians. After the overthrow of Babylonia by the Persians, Cyrus gave the Jews permission to return in 537 BCE and rebuild the Temple. 40,000 left Babylon, while 80,000 remained. Ezra "the scribe" laid the foundations of the Pharisaic movement and rabbinic Judaism. Hillel established the authority of the Michna (Mishna), the oral law. Famous academies were established who compiled the Babylonian Talmud.
Iraq became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1517. Reforms, the Tanzimat, led to a centralized administration which introduced Jews to the modern world including the adoption of Western clothing and provided access to wider education.
As Turkish rule deteriorated so the Jewish situation worsened. In 1900 there were 50,000 Jews in the Baghdad many of whom later served in the World War 1. After the war they were accused of shirking their duty in the war effort and blamed for the Turkish defeat. Some were executed, some had their property confiscated.
Many Jews were dismissed from public service, and quotas were set up in colleges and universities. Teaching Jewish history and Hebrew in Jewish schools was forbidden. The 1941 pogrom in Baghdad saw approximately 180 Jews murdered, and up to 1,000 injured with property damage of $3 million. Looting occurred in many cities.
In 1948 Zionism became a capital crime when Israel was created. In 1950, Jews were allowed to emigrate by renouncing their citizenship. New economic restrictions were imposed on those remaining. In 1952, emigration was forbidden
The 1960’s saw property sales banned and Jews given a distinctive yellow identity card. After the Six-Day war, Jews lost the right to property, their bank accounts were frozen, forced to close their shops and excluded from public functions.
When Saddam Hussein came to power in 1979, there were fewer than 400 Jews in Iraq. The Jewish community still lived under constant surveillance though most anti-Jewish laws were removed.
It is believed that only seven or eight Iraqi Jews still live in Baghdad, all that is left of the community. Now only their memory and history remain.
In May 2003 2,700 Jewish books and 10,000 documents were discovered in Iraq were The US National Archives is preserving these books and documents and making them accessible worldwide.
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TURKI AL-DAKHIL WITH RASHID AL-KHAYOUN
ON THE JEWS OF IRAQ
THE LAST JEWS OF BAGHDAD -
NewsNight with Aaron Brown CNN
Jews have lived in Iraq for thousands of years, but when coalition forces entered Baghdad in May 2003 only very few remained. A U.S. Army team searching for weapons of mass destruction in the flooded basement of the Mukhabarat, the headquarters of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence services, discovered over 2,700 Jewish books and tens of thousands of documents. The remarkable survival of this written record of Iraqi Jewish life provides an unexpected opportunity to better understand
The National Archives is preserving these books and documents and making them accessible worldwide. -
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STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
FROM EXILE TO EXODUS:
THE STORY OF THE JEWS OF IRAQ
Jordan Salama 2015 (29.25)
WHEN BAGHDAD WAS BEAUTIFUL
TONY ROCCA 2012 (9.54)
A JOURNEY THROUGH JEWISH BAGHDAD, 1912-1941
Imagine a world with no running water or electricity, scorching heat and the constant fear of cholera.Imagine a warren of alleys no wider than a cart. Cows are being milked on doorsteps, street barbers are giving shaves, pulling teeth and lancing boils. Barefoot water-sellers are bent double under their heavy goatskins.It is 1912 and we are in old Baghdad. To us it sounds like hell. Yet Violette Shamash, born into an affluent family, adored its positive side: sleeping under the stars, hearing the call of the nightingale, smelling scents of gardenias and spices, riding to school on donkey-back.For her it was a kind of Eden.Violette was a privileged witness to a time when nearly 40% of Baghdad was Jewish and Jews, Moslems and Christians embraced each other's differences. Her insights into domestic life, and a society coming to terms with the 20th century, are candid, entertaining, and often very amusing. However, in 1941, disaster struck the oldest community in the Diaspora. A brutal massacre took place over two days of rioting and sounded the death-knell for the Jews of Babylon.This slideshow contains images from Violette's book, MEMORIES OF EDEN, which not only provides a unique insight into the culture and customs of the Jews of Iraq but also shows everyday life as experienced by everyone at a time when Baghdadis lived together side by side, in mutual respect, irrespective of religion. William Shawcross has called it "an astonishing record, telling the story of a cultivated and well integrated Jewish community in the heart of Muslim Arabia during the end of the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate. A superb account of a long forgotten time which is barely imaginable now." Further reviews and comments from academics and literary critics can be seen on our website. We would very much welcome your views and opinions via our blog: http://memoriesofeden.wordpress.com
The book is available from Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/2sadll
ESCAPE FROM BAGHDAD -
MOSHE KAHTAN'S STORY
IraqiJews 2012 (34.46)
THE JEWS OF IRAQ
AMB. DAVID ROET
SPEAKS AT SPECIAL EVENT COMMEMORATING THE FARHUD
The Farhud - On June 1st 1941, a Nazi-inspired pogrom erupted in Baghdad.
The International #Farhud Day was commemorated in a special event
at the UN.
Click here to see
Jewish Exiles Overview,
Population change between 1948 and 2012, Maps
BRITISH ISLAM CONFERENCE 2018
New Horizons 2018 ( 17.02)
Edwin asks how can we build on the harmonious relationship
between Muslims and Jews
that dates back to Isaac and Ismaeel?
FACES OF THE DIASPORA:
EDWIN SHUKER OF IRAQ
AJC Global 2019 (9.34)
Edwin Shuker shares his story of Jewish life in Iraq and the unifying aspects of what it means to be Jewish in 2019.
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