by Max Sawdayee


Thursday May 1, 1969

In the full news bulletin of two o’clock this afternoon, the Baghdad radio speaker announces:  ‘The Iraqi government finds that Jewish community members were persecuted and unjustly treated by the former hated regime.  So it has decided to take the following measures in order to make amends for all the damages caused and wrongs done: -

‘1) Restrictions to freeze shares and bonds pertaining to Jews will be lifted off as from the coming Saturday and the Jew can sell, buy and dispose of his shares and bonds, as every Iraqi can;

‘2) Restrictions to freeze Jews’ money in the banks will be lifted off as from the coming Saturday and the Jew can withdraw or deposit money as much as he wishes, as every Iraqi can;

‘3) Jews can sell their immovable property as from the coming Saturday as every Iraqi can.’

Later the speaker also announced that ‘Jews wishing to leave the country must register within the next few days in a special department assigned for this purpose in the passport and Identity Card official bureau.’

That’s more than a bombshell to the Jews of Iraq! This time there seems to be a grain or truth in the government’s announcement.

One point however, casts a dark shadow on the statement we’ve just heard. At the same time it offers the Jews an exit out of the country, it also seeks to ease off their situation. Is this a move to tempt them to stay in Iraq?  That, of course, remains to be seen.

A first-hand conclusion that strikes my mind is that this sudden announcement that Jews can leave the country is the outcome of a big deal worked out between our government and a foreign country.  It isn’t unlikely that such a deal has been arrived at by Iraq and Israel through the mediation of some astute foreign ambassadors as go-betweens, and it isn’t unlikely either that weighty concessions have been exchanged for its sake.

Anyhow, in an exuberant gush of optimism, my wife and I feel quite happy about it.   Wife goes to break the news to parents, relatives and friends in case they haven’t heard it.  I myself go to a friend living not far from us, and both of us cheerfully discuss the matter.

Commentary on the last three months,

And Conclusion

News of the government permitting Jews to leave the country has come in time.  The Jewish community has absolutely nothing left to do here; above all, no prospects appear in our horizon that we can re-establish ourselves in Iraq any more.  The community has been crippled – physically, financially, politically and most important of all, mentally.  It has been intentionally paralyzed.  It can never re-build.

As a tiny minority group, our community is hated by the government, by the Party, by the army, and by a large section of the people.  As individuals, we are terrorised twenty-four hours a day.  There is no confidence left between us and our co-citizens.  It has been destroyed.  We now have no confidence even in the moderate forces in this country, which are subdued to incapacitation.  We have no confidence in what some humanitarian Iraqi voices whisper in the dark, that a day will come when everybody will be all right once again.  No more than three thousand five hundred, we feel it is enough that nine of our best sons were hanged in a public square for no crime they had committed, three others are already confirmed as put to death by torture, and many others – at least thirty five – now lie in known or unknown prison cells, subjected to the most cruel tortures, or awaiting their turn for a show trial.  Not to mention that in the previous regime just a year ago, Jews were taken to jails by the dozen.

Since 1951, when the enormous majority of our community left for Israel by the then government’s permission, the rest, wishing to stay in Iraq, decided not to get mixed in politics any more.  Not a single Jew has enrolled in any of the parties, whether Democrats, Nationalists, Ba’athists or Communists, who are all the time engaged in a deadly struggle for power.  The Jews stood aside in order to be left in peace.  But it didn’t help.

Now that there is hope for an exit out of the country for his family and himself, the Jew does not care much about his money, his shares, his bonds, his property.  He will be happy to quit, leaving everything behind.  And the sooner, the better.

The fact remains that the present regime would have preferred to hold the Jew tight in its hands, so as to use him as combustion material for internal political consumption, to advance its own schemes and purposes.  There is no doubt that Iraq, with all the upheavals, the so-called revolutions, the coup d’états, the ‘tremors’, or any movement under any title, may need plenty of such combustion material to use in cases of emergency.

For that reason, the opening of the door for the Jews to leave the country comes now as a sheer miracle.  The sooner it becomes effective, the better.

Friday May 2, 1969

News of the permission to depart from Iraq is dominating.  When the Jews heard it over the radio yesterday, or were told about it by friends or relatives, it sounded too good to be at all credible.  But when they though about it, slept on it and dreamed of it, everybody began to believe it.

Today it becomes a sort of fascination!  Without any doubt it is the prevailing topic in every house, in every family, in every meeting.  The Jews are jubilant, excited, bewildered.  They keep asking questions that claim no answers for the moment.  ‘Is it possible that after such a long, terrible ordeal lasting almost two years, the government will now let us leave?’  ‘Is it a passport they are going to grant us or some kind of laissez-passer valid for a limited period of time and for a single journey only?’  ‘Are we to retain our Iraqi citizenship or shall we have to renounce it for ever?’  ‘Is there a country that has given its confirmation to receive us?’  And so on.

Today these questions may not be crying for answers, but tomorrow they will.  Everybody looks joyfully impatient for tomorrow to come. 

Saturday May 3, 1969

While each member of our community is excited about going to register this morning for an exit permit, my luck has it that I catch the flu.  I have got a high fever, cannot swallow, have a terrible pain in the chest, and, worst of all, cannot walk.

I feel miserable.

About nine in the morning mother, father and brother call on us.  Father assures me that I have no flu, no fever, nothing!  He says that I simply lack the courage to go to the Passport bureau to register.

That does it!  I put on my clothes and, with my 39 degrees C., join the family to the Passport and Identity Card bureau.

It is amusing, the manner in which we mount the stairs of the bureau, closed to us since January 1964, meeting there many friends and acquaintances, all well-dressed, cheerful, hopeful, accompanied by their children and heading upstairs to the special three-room office totally adjusted for our registration. 

The bureau is under the directorship of a high security officer called Muthanna, quickly becoming known to all Iraqi Jews, and assisted by three other security officers of lower ranks.

Strange is the polite manner these officers receive us.  They must have certainly been given orders to behave nicely towards us.

I am attracting attention when every while, feeling extremely exhausted, I feel obliged to sit on the floor to have some rest.   Even the security officer Muthanna asks what brings me here today when I am sick!

We all register, give photos and sign various kinds of forms scattered on the table.

I ask one of the officers whether it is a passport they will give us, or a laissez-passer, or whether we shall have to renounce our Iraqi citizenship and leave.  He replies that it is not yet decided.  He knows only that we shall leave the country soon.  Well, never mind, I tell myself.  I feel quite satisfied with his reply that we shall leave soon.

About eleven in the morning the rooms are so jammed with applicants that it’s hard to move.

We’re told to call three or four days later to sign other papers.

With that, one thing is left for me to do – to go home immediately.  I’m extremely exhausted.