by Max Sawdayee


Saturday May 10, 1969

Registration for departure becomes a race for the Jews.  They are going to the Passport bureau by the hundreds to subscribe to the ‘Bon Voyage’!  It’s the ultimate solution to their outstanding problems in Iraq.

There is a whole knapsack of problems.

The family that has a daughter unmarried for lack of young men or lack of dowry, dreams to get her married abroad, where plenty of young men may be available, and where a dowry may be unnecessary.

The family that has a son who graduated from high school and wasn’t accepted in the university here for being a Jew, dreams to register him with a university abroad.

The men who haven’t worked for two years and are fed up with idleness dream to find proper jobs and re-establish their lines of business abroad.

And a person who has been sick and could not find the means nor the medicine to help him recover, dreams to attain both somewhere else.

And so on.  And so forth.

Amusingly enough, the Jews start to forget that they are leaving the country to escape a certain danger first and foremost.  Death is haunting us all along.  But optimism acts like opium.  We forget that we are leaving the country because we are persecuted, hated by the government and by most of the people, and that there is no place for us here any more.  We forget because we want to.  We want to forget the enmity and hatred which have characterised relations with our co-citizens.  We want to cherish feelings of hope instead.  It isn’t human to nourish in ourselves evil tendencies, as those who hate us do.  

It’s amusing to meet the different types of people who call at the Passport bureau these days.

Old men and women, some of them over ninety, who I’m sure haven’t left their homes for many years even to stroll at the adjoining streets.  They are tired and shaking, yet excited and happy.  Their only wish is to arrive in Jerusalem alive.

One meets also wealthy Jewish landowners or business men, whose property is still frozen, as the government has not yet lifted restrictions, all delighted to quit and leave everything behind.

Also to be seen there are pharmacists, engineers, technicians, shopkeepers, former clerks, and others, all jobless since almost two years ago and would like to quit the soonest possible.

One meets even physicians, who officially are still working, yet eager to leave and settle elsewhere.

Although the bureau is filled to the brim with applicants, they are quietly keeping their queues and gently helping one another in case of need.

Even he who has lost hope in the wake of two years of terrorism, has not yet lost faith; and here he is recovering a shade of his former spirit, joking and smiling as in the good old days, while awaiting his turn to register.

Thursday May 15, 1969

While the Jews are busy registering for departure, the government, the ‘Revolution Court’ and its hangmen are busy too, doing a more urgent, ‘patriotic’ job – they hang!

Today ten Muslims are hanged in the central prison, charged with ‘spying for Iran and the C.I.A.’.

The wheel of terror rolls on!  The entire nation seems to be living just under the gallows!  A word from the Ba’ath and up with the rope…to one’s horrible death!

The victims hanged today have done nothing wrong except being of Iranian origin.  It is a warning to Iran that it must ease tension in Shatt Al-Arab, the southern piece of frontier with Iraq, or many Iraqis of Iranian origin will go to their doom sooner or later.

The Ba’athists are trying to kill two birds with one stone.  They want to get rid of ’undesirable’ persons of another origin and hurt the feelings of a neighbouring country from one side, and from the other side they terrorise their own people so as to intimidate them.  In the process, the Iraqis are being cowed and the Ba’athist Party is consolidating its power politically and militarily.

Yet the Ba’athists aren’t satisfied yet, as more voices of opposition are heard throughout the country, voices that must be quickly strangled and suppressed lest they should kindle the fire of an immense disorder.  So they are methodically applying the rules of extreme tyranny.  Tens of people opposing the regime are arrested every day, their property frozen or confiscated, and are left to a hazardous fate.

The future of this country may grow darker if no other party or certain elements in the army put an end to the present regime before long.

Thursday May 22, 1969

It becomes surer now that Jews registering for departure from Iraq will have to renounce their citizenship.  It is believed that the government will grant them an exit visa, in the form of a special small card to board a plane, stating name, age and probably also profession.  It is also believed that three or four countries, viz. Canada, Holland, Spain and Belgium, have already offered to accept all Iraqi Jews.

It is understood that an agreement will be reached one of these days with one of those countries to start and airlift immediately.

It all sounds fine.  However, Jews who have registered and finished all departure formalities are facing a number of problems, though not serious at this stage.  They may even be ironic and amusing.

It appears some Jews haven’t given enough thought so far as to where to go after leaving Iraq – to the U.S., to Canada, to Europe, to Israel?  Or anywhere else?  What possibilities exist in each of those countries to find a job or establish a business – in short, to work?

Some women find another side of the problem to juggle with.  What about the weather abroad?!  What kind of clothes to buy now?  Jews haven’t bought new clothes since almost two years.  And where to find sufficient cash to spend on clothes and other necessities?

Students have their own calculations too.  Where is the best place to continue their studies at a similar level?  What about foreign methods of education, and foreign books?  How to secure a future in each of the countries mentioned?

And a handful of other relevant to tackle and contend with at present and after.

These are engrossing questions and light problems.  But they require to be discussed and solved, anyway.  It is necessary to hold meetings in order to exchange opinions.  So, after a long period of nearly complete isolation at home, Jews meet again in their homes at night, or resort to open-air cafes on the river front street, where families gather around tables in the evenings and chat matters over.

Now the conversations deal with fresh topics and new horizons.

Muslims and Christians notice these Jewish meetings, but they don’t care too much about them any more, as they know that the Jews will be away soon.  Besides, Muslims and Christians are too preoccupied with their own worries to be engrossed in ours.