"After four years of relative quiet and considerable material prosperity of the Jews of Iraq, trouble seemed to have been over and life returned to its usual daily rhythm. Little did they know, however, what lay in store for them, for it took no more than another four years for their ancient community to be virtually liquidated, themselves dispossessed and reduced to the status of destitute refugees.
The authorities started to take practical measures aimed at reducing the position of prominence which the Jews seemed to occupy. The League of Arab Nations had just recently been established, egged on by the British Foreign Office. The
Jewish civil servants, some in high positions, were dismissed or forced to resign their jobs. Jewish merchants, especially those in the export-import business, were not issued with the necessary papers, and many were impelled to go into partnership with Muslim businessmen in order to continue to trade. Hebrew instruction in Jewish schools was reduced to a bare minimum and no more Jews were being admitted to institutions of higher learning.
Anti-Zionist demonstrations took place and threats were being made with renewed anti-Jewish riots. Travel restrictions were imposed. The Government decided that Jews were allowed to leave the country only if they gave a guarantee of their return in the form of a cash deposit of three thousand pounds (quite a large sum in those days).
For me the travel restrictions were a big blow. I could not then contemplate a return to
The owners of the large and prestigious building project on which I was engaged decided not to proceed. The valuable site was left in limbo with the reinforced concrete columns sticking up above the ground for many years, a symbol of the demise of the Jewish community. I had to forego most of the interim fees to which I was entitled.
I could no longer follow my profession as a civil and structural engineer. There was a suggestion that I may be offered a post as a temporary teacher of English and Mathematics at the Frank Iny Jewish School but the offer did not materialise. In any case, not having had any previous experience in teaching, it would have been difficult for me to undertake such a job.
I was co-opted to become an honorary secretary of a committee in charge of administering some Jewish medical services in
I was in charge of the financial administration and all cheques had to be brought to me for authorisation and signature.
On 29th November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for the partitioning of
Fighting soon erupted between Jews and Arabs in
The community was in a state of shock and fear. However, one bright spot to relieve my own gloom and depression was the growing mutual attraction between my future wife and myself. We never had a proper courtship. We were able to meet from time to time, but we seldom had the opportunity to be alone together. The parents on both sides would have been happy to see us get engaged as soon as possible; however, because of the dire threats, persecution and our uncertain future, I was for several months rather reluctant to commit myself fully to the prospect of marriage.
The Arab League decided that before the British Mandate in
It was in this atmosphere of doom and gloom that we became formally engaged on 28th May 1948. The engagement party took place in my fiancee’s parents' house and garden and was attended solely by members of our two families. We were both happy and fully committed to face our uncertain future together.
At first, false reports were circulated by the Government and media about the victories achieved by the Arab armies in
First, the victim’s house was searched for any evidence of contacts with the Zionist enemy; then, whether or not such “evidence” had been found, the accused was arrested and brought to court and summarily sentenced to a year or two in jail, with the option of a fine of over £2,000. The searches provided the police with an excellent opportunity in acts of extortion and bribery. Millions of pounds were collected from Jews to cover the high cost of the country’s abortive military adventure in
All prominent and wealthy Jews had become very worried about their personal safety and the harrassment they were likely to face. My father thought it necessary to leave
My brother and I were both summoned by the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) on trumped up charges. For several days we were kept on tenterhooks and greatly worried about what horrible fate might befall us. Fortunately, an intermediary who knew the chief of the CID was able to intercede and arrange for the charges against us to be dropped at a cost of a substantial bribe.
On the 28th December 1948, my fiancee and I were married quietly in our house, only members of the family being present. Her parents, my father, my sister and her family were all abroad. The person who officiated at our wedding was Shamoon Muallem, the same gentleman who officiated at my parents’ wedding thirty three years earlier. My mother was the only parent present at our wedding.
By the beginning of 1949, the anti-Jewish campaign appeared to have passed its peak. Armistice agreements had been signed between
My mother managed to obtain a passport to travel to
A second cousin of mine, Naim B, used to be a senior employee of the Iraqi Railways. During the latter part of the Second World War, he was in charge of a project to develop tourist resorts in the mountains of
After the lifting of martial law, illegal emigration by young Jews from
Confronted with such determination, the government decided to legalise emigration. On 2nd March 1950, a law was passed permitting the Jews to leave the country provided they surrender their Iraqi nationality. It was first suggested that the law might be a trap to enable to authorities to round up suspected Zionists and during the first few weeks there was little response to the new law. When finally word was given by the Zionist underground that Jews could start registering for emigration, there was a flood of people who decided to register, a kind of vicious circle was set in motion and many of those who had no wish to leave the country forever decided to follow suit, finding it difficult to remain when their children, relatives and friends or business associates were about to leave. In March 1951, the day of expiry of the law allowing Jews to leave, it was found that all
It was then that the final blow was dealt. The government, led by Nuri-al-Said, went into secret session and decided to convoke parliament, again in secret session. Two laws were proposed and passed. The first decreed that the possessions of all Jews who had registered for emigration were to be “frozen”, the second stipulated that
The massive airlift which became known as Operation Ezra and Nehemiah was carried out fairly smoothly although the number of emigrants by far exceeded all original estimates. While immigration authorities in
As I am writing these lines early in 2004, there are less than two dozen Jewish men and women spending their last remaining years in a country in which they and their ancestors had lived for close on three millennia.
We were desperate to leave
My brother-in-law had returned from
He was anxious to move with his family from a rented house to my parents’ house as soon as we were able to leave
On 30th June 1950, our son Danny was born in a private room at the
The ceremony of the Pedion for the first-born male took place in our house one month later. My paternal grandmother Salha was then 104 years old and although rather frail, she had retained all her faculties. She was very happy and excited about the baby. I myself was named Moshe after my grandfather who was the husband of Salha. My grandmother realised that we were soon going to leave
On 23rd August 1950, with Danny only seven weeks old, we flew from
*With acknowledgements to Nissim Rejwan and Prof Elie Kedourie.