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The Baghdad Hangings, Baghdad 1969

Baghdad Butchery

Katrin Levy speaks to Eric Benson, whose father disappeared in 1973, believed to have been executed by the Iraqi Authorities.

While the world's politicians discuss the best way of toppling Saddam Hussein from his perch in Iraq, a group of London-based Iraqi Jews paid homage to Jews murdered 30 years ago by the same regime.

Eric Benson's father, Jacob Abdul Aziz, was one of hundreds of Jews persecuted and killed by the Iraqis from 1968 onwards. Here, he tells the story of how his family was ripped apart by the Butcher of Baghdad.

'My family lived in Baghdad, where my father was the only prominent Jewish lawyer left in the city.

'All of the others had already fled the country after the revolution in 1968 which brought Saddam to power, but my father decided to stay on.

'He was very well connected at the time. He had been a childhood friend of Bazaz, who until the revolution was the only civilian prime minister Iraq had ever had. Most of the Jews had fled the country, but in 1968 there were still about 2,000 left.

'My dad wanted to stay in Baghdad because he was comfortable there and very well regarded in both Jewish and Arab circles. No-one thought he was really at risk.

'However, myself and my two sisters were not happy in the country. In 1969, nine Jews were rounded up and hung in the main square in Baghdad, accused of spying for America and Israel.

It was the beginning of a reign of terror that over the next few years would see tens of Jews summarily executed. Hundreds of other Jews disappeared without trace.

'As well as the danger we felt we were facing, we also had to deal with the lack of young people left in Baghdad. So in 1971, myself and one of my sisters made plans to escape to Israel.

'It was impossible to get a passport at that time, so we had to pay some professional smugglers to get us into Iran; from there we went to Israel.

'I was 18 at the time. A few months later, my mother followed us with my other sister. My father was also intending to leave Iraq, but he wasn't given the chance.

'We had been keeping in touch with him via an aunt in America who would forward his letters to us and send on our correspondence to him.

'There was no postal service between Iraq and Israel and we were unable to telephone, but we managed to communicate sporadically with him. I knew that he had been issued a passport and that he was making arrangements to finally leave Baghdad for good.

'The first we knew he had been picked up and executed was when we heard a report of it on Israeli radio. Some Iraqi Jews had fled to Israel, and a few months earlier they told us my father had disappeared and no-one had seen him again.

'We found out later that they came for him on Yom Kippur. My father was walking home from the synagogue when a large car pulled up next to him and ordered him to get in. My father was a very religious man. He went to synagogue every day to pray and he was well-known in the Shul.

'No-one knows why he was picked up, but some of the other congregants said he had looked very pale and unwell for a few days before he disappeared, but wouldn't say why.

'He had obviously made some enemies. Before I left Iraq, my father managed to have 200 Jews, who had been arrested for trying to escape, liberated from jail by using Arab lawyers to argue their case.

'He was also friendly with the local head of security, but when my sister and I disappeared, the head of security arrested him for not informing on us.

'My mother told us later that he knew beforehand he was going to be arrested, but he told the head of security that there was no law about stopping your children from leaving the country.

'He continued that G-d was stronger than the sultan.' He spent two months in jail before he was eventually freed.

'Many months later, when they were interviewed for the Parisian Le Monde newspaper, the Iraqi regime denied killing any Jews. They said the head of security didn't like my father and blamed him for his murder. I don't believe that.

'The Jews were killed because of anti-Semitism. They were also killed as a gesture to the United states and Israel. However, I believe the main reason they were murdered was political. By killing them, Saddam could then go after the opposition.

'The murders were blamed on influential Muslims or anyone who could potentially lead an opposition to the government. It was then used as a pretext for rounding these people up and executing them in turn.

'Saddam is knee deep in the blood of thousands of people, Arab, Christian and Jew.

'My father was 62 when he disappeared. I have made a few attempts to trace his remains and have them returned to me for proper burial, but haven't got anywhere.

'I don't know of anyone else in the same situation who has successfully retrieved the body of their murdered relatives.

'Saddam hasn't touched the Jews for the last 20 years and I don't think he will harm the 40 or so left in Baghdad. Most of them are very elderly now and want to see the rest of their days out in their homeland. Personally, I hate Saddam Hussein for what he did to my family and my people.

'I hope the United States topple his region and his rule, but it doesn't look likely. He has ruled Iraq for 20 years now and is ruthless It will take a miracle to dislodge him and bring him to justice.

From: London Jewish News

 

Other articles relating to the Baghdad Hangings :

30th Anniversary of Iraqi Jews executed in Baghdad in 1969

Iraqi Jewish Martyrs 30th Anniversary - Speech by Percy Gourgey, MBE

Abu Zuhair Speaks oot of his experience of Imprinsonment and Torture

Address by Meer Basri

 

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