Hear from Iraqi Jews – Personal Stories

A collection of personal stories and blog entries written by Iraqi Jews reflecting on their experiences in Iraq and what the archive means to them.

Surviving Saddam 

By Saeed Herdoon, JIMENA Iraqi Experience. Published April, 2014

“Passover, 1969; it was a usual day in the office, centrally located in the business district in Baghdad. I was working as an importer/exporter of fabrics as I do now with my brother-in-law and several other men. Suddenly, without warning, three of Saddam Hussein’s men (who would later become his personal republic guards in the Ba’ath party) entered the office, and shut the main doors. The elder of the three, apparently the leader, told the two younger men to collect the identification cards of everyone in the office.”

My Iraqi Jewish heritage: What’s left? 

By Robert Fattal, Jerusalem Post. December 4th, 2013 

“Last month the National Archives in Washington unveiled an exhibit showcasing Iraqi Jewish artifacts recovered from Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters.

The controversy surrounding the find and whether the US should live up to its commitment and return the historic materials to Iraq has made me reflect on my own identity. Or rather, I should say, on my lack of any true Iraqi Jewish identity..”

Raiders of the lost archive

By Sara Ahroni, Jerusalem Post. October 23, 2013 

“In 2003, a team of 16 American soldiers in Baghdad stumbled upon a lost treasure trove of thousands of documents belonging to Iraq’s Jewish community.

These rare materials, thought to have been stored originally in synagogues and private Jewish homes, were sitting in a moldy, flooded basement of the muhkabarat, Saddam Hussein’s feared secret police.”

Baghdad casts a giant shadow

By Lyn Julius, Times of Israel. October 18th, 2013

“Now that the US government shutdown is over, normal service is being resumed. Iraq is coming to the National Archives building in Washington DC – or more precisely, an exhibition of 24 Iraqi-Jewish artifacts, Discovery and Recovery.  

I will not dwell on the controversy surrounding the ‘Jewish archive’, which the US military salvaged from a sewage-filled basement in Baghdad in 2003.”

Conjuring the Memory of Iraq

By Linda Menuhin, Jerusalem Post. September 17, 2013

“More than 40 years have passed since I fled Iraq, yet Iraq has never left me. Time and again I earnestly tried to bury my past, without much success. This year on Yom Kippur I honored my father’s memory with a sense of fulfillment.

On the eve of Yom Kippur in 1972 my father, a distinguished lawyer in Iraq, disappeared. He was the first Jewish person to disappear during the Ba’athist regime’s years in power.”

Does Iraq deserve the return of its Jewish archive?

By Ben Cohen, JNS.org. September 15, 2013

“A few years ago, in response to a Palestinian critic who made a disparaging remark about the fact that I don’t speak Arabic, I felt compelled to write an article explaining why that is the case. I said that under different circumstances, I could have been born in an Arab country and grown up speaking Arabic. My father’s family had been settled in Iraq for generations, but they fled to England in 1941—the same year that Baghdad’s Jews were convulsed by a June pogrom known as the farhud—presaging a much larger exodus of Iraqi Jews over the next decade.”

Don’t Return the Iraqi Jewish Archive

By Joe Samuels, Times of Israel. September 10, 2013

“My Arabic name is Yusuf Sasson Shumail. I was born in Taht Al Takia, in the old city of Baghdad, Iraq on December 31,1930. In 1941, I survived the anti-Jewish pogrom, known as the Farhud.  During the Farhud, which happened during the holy Jewish holiday of Shavuot, Baghdad’s Jewish population came under the attack of vicious mobs.”

Iraqi Jewish Artifacts – Ownership?

By Rachel Wahba, Times of Israel. September 3, 2013

“After a presence of over 2,500 years, the ancient Jewish community of Iraq was destroyed in the early 1950’s.  A community of less than 6,000 Jews remained until 1967 when it became intolerable and terrifying to stay put.”

Reflections on the Archive by an Iraqi Jew

By Sasson Azoory, Jerusalem Post. September 3, 2013

“My name is Sasson Azoory and I left Baghdad, Iraq in 1959 to study in the United Kingdom. When I left, Iraqi General Abd al-Karim Qasim was in the midst of his three-year rein. During this small window of time Iraqi Jews were granted freedom of movement and I am one of the few Jews who was able to leave the country using my Iraqi passport.”

The Jewish archive must not go back

By Lyn Julius, Times of Israel. August 28, 2013

“One day in 1984, the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein sent his henchmen to Bataween synagogue, one of the last working houses of Jewish prayer in Baghdad. The men carted off a trove of books and documents retrieved from Jewish homes, schools and synagogues. The material had been deposited for safe keeping in the ladies’ gallery.”

Iraqi past trails former frat boy to Israel, LA and Saddam’s former palace

By Tracy Frydberg, Times of Israel. January 6, 2013

“Half a century after his family fled, Elan Carr flew into Iraq as a major in the US army. Although he calls his subsequent tenure in Baghdad “a twist of fate that could not have been envisioned,” his path to that moment would make Carr’s arrival, in October 2003, seem more like destiny than coincidence.”

From Baghdad with Love

By Avram Piha, Times of Israel. July 13, 2012

“I spent Sunday morning with my landlord ensuring we were leaving his apartment in good shape. When he confirmed all was ok, I handed over the keys and asked him if he had time to tell me a little bit about his life. Eli had on numerous occasions mentioned his childhood memories of Iraq, and the difficulty of being a refugee in Israel in the 1950s, but we had never had the chance to sit down and really talk about it. We both decided there was no better time than the present, so we sat down on a bench and got to it”

Claiming Babylon’s stolen treasures

By Ronen Tal, YNET News. May 29, 2006

“David Nawi still remembers his grandma’s home in Baghdad. “It was a huge house with many rooms. Sometimes all the family members lived there,” he recalls. Fifty-five years ago his family left Iraq and immigrated to Israel, leaving all of their assets behind. He was only eight years old”

Joe Shamash, JIMENA Iraqi Experience

“I remember camels coming up to our front door with huge sacks of salt,” says Joseph Shamash. Vendors would come in through the high walls of his family’s home just two blocks away from the King’s Palace in Baghdad.”

Semha Alwaya, JIMENA Iraqi Experience

“In discussions about refugees in the Middle East, a major piece of the narrative is routinely omitted, and my life is part of the tapestry of what’s missing. I am a Jew, and I, too, am a refugee. Some of my childhood was spent in a refugee camp in Israel (yes, Israel). And I am far from being alone.”

Rachel Somkeh, Recipes by Rachel

“Rachelle was born to Kedourie and Rosa Ani on Feb 23rd, 1922 in an upper class neighborhood in the southern port city of Basra. Her father, Kedourie Ani, was a notable tea merchant involved in the lucrative trade circuit between India and Great Britain.”

Iraqi Community Organizations

Share →