The Babylonian Refugee Camps in
the Teheran Cemetery
The formation of the camp
On the return of the defeated Iraqi army from Israel, a
military regime was declared in Iraq on the 14th of may
1948. In July that same year, ‘Zionism’ was
declared as a criminal felony, and who ever was accused
in Zionist activity faced a long imprisonment and even death.
The first victim of this enactment was the Jewish millionaire
from Basra, Shafik Adas, who was judged for death and was
publicly hanged on the 23rd of September 1948.
The terror policy that was enforced against the Jews of
Iraq encouraged them to flee at any cost or way possible.
At that time escaping routes to Israel through Syria, Lebanon
and Jordan were blocked. Escape attempts to Iran were made
and at first a few managed to infiltrate to south Iran through
Basra and to north Iran through Khanaqin and Kirkouk.
At first the refugees slowly drifted to Iran, some of them
had Iranian relatives who took them with out any problem.
The rest were lodged in hotels in Teheran, but as the numbers
of refugees increased, a more suitable solution needed to
be found. After consulting the people of the Jewish community
in Teheran, it was decided to lodge the refugees in the
old cemetery ‘Bahashatia’ in Teheran. Straight
away preparations were made to receive the refugees.
Shortly after the cleaning of the area, hundreds of refugees
started to fill the cemetery and more tents and buildings
were added. As numbers increased a suitable solution was
needed to be found to bring those hundreds and thousands
to Israel. An arrangement was achieved with the Iranian
authorities to fly the refugees straight to Israel. Within
six months, about ten thousand refugees from Iran were brought
into Israel that way.
The order of life in the camp
As more and more refugees arrived, more buildings, tents
and sheds were erected. Some of the buildings were used
as dining rooms, kitchens and warehouses to store products
and equipment. Next to them, showers and toilets were made
along with a surgery and an office. The flag of Israel was
in the camp and a synagogue was organised. Sanitation was
usually kept in order.
Medical treatment in the camp
As soon as people started to arrive to the cemetery in Iran,
a special area was devoted for medical treatment in the
purification house. A surgery opened up where with doctors
from the joint organisation and next to them doctors nurses
and staff from the camp itself. The camp’s doctors
were members of the "Underground Halutz Movement in
Iraq" and among them were dr. Yosef Zeluf, dr. Victor
Zaarour, Dr. Yehezkel Haddad and Dr. Nissim Fuad.
The first practical nurses were members of the "Tnua"
who were trained for medical help in Iraq by the Shura.
They were Arela Saat, Ahuva Meir, Carmela Cohen and Uria
Ben Meir. Uria Ben Meir in charge of the surgery for six
Daily life in the camp
As being a closed place, the camp’s management faced
a difficult and complex social challenge. The management
made great efforts to spare anxiety and distress from the
refugees as a result of their situation. It tried to keep
the community socially and culturally busy to avoid boredom
and all its negative consequences, as well as keeping the
public discipline and order.
The people in charge of the camp conducted Shabat parties,
sportive activities, games, lectures and talks. Activities
were made in an Israeli atmosphere, one of the more memorable
celebrations was Israel’s 50th independence day on
the 22nd of April 1950, to which everybody came.
Coming to Israel
Thanks to Shlomo Hillel the refugees were given pass documents.
As long as few numbers were involved, refugees were taken
through France and Italy. But considering the big numbers
it was decided to have regular flights from Teheran to Israel.
On the 22.3.1949, the first flight by the Iranian Flight
Company from Teheran to Israel was made, without stopping
in an Arab country. Later on, an arrangement was made with
an American charter company, which started to fly bigger
numbers of people.
The first ‘Trans Ocean’ airplane flew from Teheran
to Israel on the 22.6.1949 with 70 passengers on board.
Seat padding and handles were removed to allow as many people
as possible on the plane and luggage was put in the alleys.
About ten thousand people were flown that way to Israel.
They were greeted at the airport, received the Aliya cards
and were sent to different places in the country, mostly
to Shaar Aliya.
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