by Max Sawdayee


Thursday August 28 1969

Responsible personalities in the United States declared yesterday: ‘This country is deeply concerned about what is going on in Iraq.’  Many American, Canadian, Australian and European statesmen and humanitarians condemn last Monday’s fresh wave of massacres perpetrated in Iraq, and would like by any means to see an end to these wild methods of killing innocent people. The Israeli Parliament holds a special session today to discuss the plight of Iraqi Jews. 

I personally wonder, however, whether it is any more a question of the Jews in Iraq. The problem has a much wider scope. It concerns the entire people of Iraq, everybody here in general, and the Jews in particular.

The whole country, the whole nation, regardless of religion or loyalty, succumbs under the yoke of a despotic regime.  To exclude the Jew from the entire harvest would look odd, and is too late now.  He is essentially needed, exactly as all other ingredients of the people are, Muslims, Christians and others, to complete the figures required for the gallows in a series of the greatest blood festivals of all times.

Tonight I linger at my desk, doing nothing.  Just smoking and getting lost in my thoughts.  Wife is seated on a chair, reading a French magazine.  Suddenly I burst shouting: ‘things cannot and must not remain stuck this way!  Somebody, someone right here in Iraq must find a solution to our case!  Whatever the cost!  We ought not to bleed white without putting up a fight or at least some resistance or reaction to this cold-blooded, calculated, Nazi-inspired methods of extermination!  We must not, do you hear me?!  We can’t!  We can’t…!’

Wife stares at me for a while, then returns to her reading.

Monday September 8, 1969

Nothing special happens today.

Oh, by the way, three “spies” are hanged this morning in the Baghdad central prison.  So the Baghdad radio speaker announces this afternoon.

Monday September 15, 1969

After a summer vacation that may be the last in its history, a vacation that was most disheartening, the Jewish Frank Iny School in Baghdad opens today in a very despondent mood.  Students attend not only with indifferent but also unhappy sentiments.  While the resumption of studies was always looked to as a jubilant occasion or event, this time it is fraught with forebodings.  No student feels any more in the mood to pursue his education, either in this school or in any other in this country.  They will come in the mornings, to return home only to hear sad news regarding their fathers and brothers, and eventually all members of their families.  They remember how depressed they feel at home seeing their fathers nervous, broken hearted, and brooding all the time.  More saddening it is when they will return home, probably to find that their family supporters are taken away, or kidnapped, or have simply disappeared, and their mothers lonely and crying in helpless, subdued silence.  These painful problems haunt them, make their hearts sink, and will certainly distract and chase away their entire attention from all studies and all educational activities. 

Parents accompanying their small children to the school seem no less indifferent, careless as to this year’s opening.  They are preoccupied, concerned about many, more important, more immediate, major problems regarding their own situation and their family safety.

Students who graduated last year find themselves refused entry to any Iraqi college or university this year.  Many of them do not care much about that, but they do feel miserable, being cheated by the government that promised emigration but has since ‘forgotten’ all about it.  So, they are forced to stay in Iraq and miss the chance of continuing their studies abroad without the worries they are undergoing now.  They feel frustrated.  Some of them aimlessly roam the streets, broken hearted and desperate, looking for some odd petty ways of killing time.  Others take the risk of going to cafes in the morning hours to play backgammon, while a few find it amusing to attend horse races, which have re-opened in Iraq after an eleven-year recess, trying their chances with the little pocket money they can grab from their parents.

Monday September 22, 1969

Never before did Yom Kippur take such a high solemnity and great significance as it does today.

The 26-hour fast is embraced even by the ten-year olds who, realizing quite well and evaluating all that is going on, decide to share the painful but holy duty with their parents and the rest of their grown-up family members.

The Jews, though very apprehensive of congregating in synagogues this morning lest they should get arrested in the street, or lest anyone may throw hand grenades into the synagogues, or anything unexpectedly bad may happen to them – all these things being very probable these days – take care to dress well, accept the risk of being out, and go their traditional way in carrying out the sacred obligations of the day.  Many of them do their best to display the confidence and self-assurance usually needed in such circumstances.

Although they are generally broken-hearted and deeply anxious about their grim fate, some of them showing signs of despair, they nevertheless display an appreciable amount of determination, defiance, or otherwise a fatalistic attitude.

A special long prayer is said every now and then in all synagogues, for relief from sufferings yet to come, with even small children praying loudly in their own, rather funny way, for an auspicious change.  Tears are shed abundantly when prayers are said for the souls of the dead, the fallen, all of them innocent victims of a ruthless regime; and invocations rise to heaven, appealing to God to help those who are writhing under the tortures of merciless prisons.

And while the Jews are today occupied in holy prayers and invocations, Iraqi troops are occupied for some days now in big clashes with Iranian forces on the frontiers, where about eighty solders are said to have been killed from both sides and many others wounded.

The Iraqi government, instead of taking constructive measures to solve the country’s problems with the Kurds, or with neighbouring Iran, or with its own people, is proceeding rashly, heading for unknown and quite perilous adventures.

I am busy all the afternoon in a precautionary piece of work, for the fifth time since the Six-Day War.  I destroy all the photos taken with friends who have been recently arrested, or have disappeared, or have been killed.  I do not want to offer anyone the chance for any pretext, in case my house is unexpectedly raided and searched.  This clearing business reduces my photo treasury from seven hundred before the war to mere eighty now.

Wednesday October 15, 1969

The situation of the Jewish community is deteriorating sharply from one day to the other.

A new factor – logical, crucial, merciless and determinant – emerges out of a long period of idleness to dominate and to worsen our conditions.  It is the shortage of money.  The Jew, without any income since almost two years and half, dispossessed, paralyzed by the government that compels him to sit idle and forbids him from disposing of his property, if any, could not but live on his cash reserve and consume it.  He hasn’t ignored the problem throughout, but expected, or at least hoped for, a change to come.  There was also the dreamed-of possibility of leaving the country sooner or later.  But when all his hopes, dreams, and later on even the mirage of departure did not materialise, the Jew finds himself on the brink of having no money left, deprived of all kinds of resources, and facing complete ruin.  Starvation begins to stare him in the face.

In any non-Arab country all over the world, or even in a communist country, the Jew would overcome this crisis.  Hard worker, astute and money saver when necessity requires, he could manage everywhere to live for a while without taking the crisis to heart.  Simply get a job and work.  But in Iraq today it is quite different.  Here the Jew just cannot work any more, unless a miracle may happen.  Everyone avoids working with him or employing him lest he himself should incur the displeasure of the government henchmen, with all the consequences that follow.  Nor does anyone wish to lend him money and invite unexpected risks.  At the same time the Jew takes into consideration the probability that he may be arrested any moment, or jailed, or murdered, and that his family must have some adequate cash reserve to carry on with.  That badly needed reserve is exhausted or nearing exhaustion.  Even if a few happen to save money abroad, they dare not draw on it in the circumstances, when people are sent to the gallows for far minor reasons or for no reason whatsoever.

This additional problem, acute and menacing, crops up at a time when the Jew is overcharged with plenty of grief and anxiety.