It is 40 years since 27 January 1969 (Hebrew date 8th Shevat 5729), when Saddam Hussein ordered the hangings of nine innocent Iraqi Jews in Baghdad's Liberation Square. Memorial services have been held in synagogues around the world: the event yesterday at Ohel David Eastern synagogue in London attracted 250 people.
Here is the speech delivered on Shabbat 31 January 2009 at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, Montreal by Morris Abdulezer, Past President of the Synagogue: (With thanks: Irene)
"On this Shabbat we assemble here to remember and recall the memory of the nine individuals whose lives ended on the 8th of Shevat 40 years ago. They were murdered just because they were Jews living in Iraq.
Even though this day marks the 40th anniversary of this event we must not forget that at least another 42 Jews, four of whom were women, were hanged and or murdered thereafter. In addition to those killed there were many more that were imprisoned, interrogated and tortured but subsequently released - and scarred for life.
To start, I would like to mention the names of those nine individuals indicating their age, profession and from which city they came from.
I would also like to mention that those of them whose ages were said by the court to be 20 or 21, were in fact younger (as young as 17 - ed). The court forced this lie in order that they could be prosecuted and hanged.
-David Heskel Barukh Dallal 20 yrs old a student from Basra
-Sabah Haim Dayan 25 yrs old a university student from Basra
-Fouad Gabbay 35 yrs old a forwarding agent from Basra
-Naim Khedouri Hilali 21 yrs old a student from Basra
-Charles Raphael Horesh 45 yrs old a commission agent/ rep from Baghdad
-Jacob Gourdgi Namerdi 32 yrs old an employee of BOAC from Basra
-Heskel Saleh Heskel Saheyek 20 yrs old a student from Basra
-David Ghali Yedgar 21 yrs old a student from Basra
-Ezra Naji Zilkha 60 yrs old a merchant from Basra
As we know, the history of the Jews of Iraq is rich with tradition, spanning thousands of years of cohabitation with the Arabs in the region that we call the Middle East. Though there were many times in our history that the Jews were persecuted for their religious beliefs in many parts of the world, one period culminated in the persecution of Jews living in Iraq: starting with the Six-Day war, it ended in 1973 after the majority of the Jews had escaped.
Many of us here today including myself, along with many close friends and family members, can remember the terror-filled days, months, and years, following the Six-Day War in 1967.
As Jews, we were denied basic access to communication when our 'phone lines were cut, denied access to universities, we were unable to work, and denied travel to outside of Iraq.
At first, all of this we reluctantly accepted, and managed our lives without.
However in 1968 the government under President Hassan Al Bakr, with Saddam Hussein as his right hand henchman and deputy, decided to begin a campaign of terror and killing against the Jews of Iraq.
At that time, we numbered close to 2500, living mainly in Baghdad and Basra. This campaign of scare tactics included random abductions, posting secret agents in front of our residences and businesses, interrogations, seizing of assets, businesses and homes.
Then, in the fall of 1968, the government rounded up a dozen Iraqi Jewish males from Baghdad and Basra, and jailed them under false pretenses, accusing them of being Israeli spies. These innocent men were tortured then put through a televised mockery of a military trial, which culminated in nine of them being publicly hanged, one acquitted and two others were sent to Basra to face another trial and then were hanged on August 25, 1969 in Basra.
I can recall precisely how terrified and confused we were throughout the entire trial and, more precisely, the night of January 26 when the guilty verdict was announced by the military judge. We did not believe that the sentence of death by hanging would be carried out because the whole court process did not make sense, from the defendants who were not allowed to appoint their own lawyers, to the stories and accusations that were outrageous and full of lies, where the defendants were being asked to bear witness against each other.
We waited in fear, praying and trusting in our Jewish faith and hoping for pressure to come at the last minute from the international community to end this mockery.
Even when, on the eve of January 27, the authorities called on our chief Rabbi, Hakham Sassoon Khedoori, to send a person to prison to help with the prayers, this too was done in a way that indicated their evil ways and their lack of a sense for justice. While reading Shema Yisrael to the prisoners, this individual was pushed, and with a rifle pointed at him, was ordered to read in Arabic and not in Hebrew, all the while with the victims standing under the gallows crying and pleading that “we are innocent”.
However, on the morning of January 27 1969 the reality set in and nine innocent Jews were killed. Many of us were on our way to our daily activities when we heard the news, and we immediately went back to the so called safety of our homes.
There were a total of 13 men hanged in the public square called Saht el Tahrir (this ironically means Liberation Square). 9 of them were Jews, executed without even the dignity of having their faces covered. With a sign on their chest saying Yehudi or Jasus (Jew or Spy), all this was done with celebration and jubilation on the part of the people of Iraq.
There was live TV coverage and announcements that the day of execution be declared a holiday for all Iraqis to rejoice. Hundreds of thousands were out in the street dancing in front of the hanging corpses without any show of remorse, respect, or value for these human lives.
This picture will remain implanted in my memory, and the only way I can describe it to you is to compare it to a scene of savages celebrating in a barbaric and horrible way. Just like what we would see in a Hollywood produced movie.
The campaign of terror continued thereafter, with many Jews taken from their homes to be jailed, tortured, murdered or prosecuted in similar forms of mock trials, with some never to return to their families. They simply just disappeared.
With such a small community totaling less than 2,500 at that time, and with the death of these nine Jews that were hanged, along with the many others incidents that followed, the impact on our small community was enormous.
With 51 killed, and another 100 plus imprisoned and tortured, every individual and family was touched not once but several times by this reign of terror.
The Jews of Iraq, and all Jews from all countries around the world, must never forget this terrible time of horror and fear.
Today, and every day we must give our thanks to Hashem for what we have, our trust in our faith, our families, our community, our safety and our freedom, and we must never forget those who were executed on that horrible day in 1969 along with all the many others who faced similar tragic end thereafter.
On 8th of Shevat 5769, we commemorate the memory of those nine individuals who were slain, whose lives were stolen.
We must always remember because the reality is that it could have been any one of us living there during that terrible time who could have suffered a similar and tragic fate. "
Baghdad hangings: a widow's account