by Max Sawdayee


Saturday April 4, 1970

Demonstrations rage all over the country, especially in the capital.  Palestinian commandos, evidently instigated by the government to challenge Nasser’s Arab leadership, call for a full-scale resumption of hostilities against Israel.

From a small terrace café at the big Unknown Soldier Square in Alwiyya, where these mornings I sit with father and some friends, I watch the scene with indifference, though not without some bewilderment.

Having won a temporary peace with the Kurds, granting Iraq a time to breathe, the Ba’ath is going ahead with its conspiracies towards other wide-scope objectives.  It is conducting giant campaigns of ‘information’, which are actually nothing but hubbub, on TV, in the radio and through the press, with the view to snatching leadership from the Egyptian President, undoubtedly attempting to force him to a showdown at this very critical time when his prestige is shaken both in and outside his country.  The Ba’athists feel that they will win them more attention from the Soviet Union, now tired of their Egyptian client, and from other powers as well.  In fact, this attitude on the part of the Ba’athists might have been initiated, encouraged and fed by the Soviet Union itself.  Furthermore, that helps to distract Iraqi public opinion from this country’s gaping problems and occupy it with something else.  Thirdly, it helps them to continue their brutal, systematic purges and repress all opposition and dissension.  To achieve any one of these goals, if not all, will no doubt strengthen their iron grasp of power.

Saturday April 11, 1970

Jewish pharmacists are told today that they can submit fresh applications to reopen pharmacies in the near future.  Applications must be addressed to the Ministry of the Interior and to the State Security headquarters, for consideration after a thorough examination of each applicant’s personal file in their possession.

Some of our pharmacists, jobless as all Jewish pharmacists since almost three years, bored and exhausted, are genuinely happy, excited at the news.  I don’t blame them.  I surely do not envy them though.  I well realise that their momentary cheer stems from the relief they feel after being subjected to a long period of oppression.  Yet opening a pharmacy in Baghdad at this very time is a temptation for the devil.  Latent in it are more trouble and peril than business activity and profit.  These people are cheated by a government which, scheming something behind the scenes, seeks nothing more than seeing them open their pharmacies and dealing them a suitable hard blow in due course. 

I continue to go to the café almost every morning to play backgammon.  Just to kill time.  To be out for a change. Idling at home is too insufferable.  Within myself, however, I feel profoundly ashamed to be beaten by the failure in my recent attempt to establish a way of escape.  I must persist, I tell myself, I must try another time, another gamble.  I have nothing to lose, nothing to be afraid of any more.

Monday April 20, 1970

At five o’clock this morning I am back on the road again.  Alone this time.  Hearing last night that a new batch of ‘traitors and counter-revolutionaries’ is under secret trial at present does not have any effect on me, nor does it cause even the slightest hesitation in my procedure.  I must force my way out of this hell whatever the consequences.  Escape is the only practical course, although it does not promise to be practicable.  There is no other alternative in the meantime.

At a maximum speed of hundred and fifty kilometres an hour I drive to the north, heading towards the town of Arbil.  I all but get killed in Kirkuk.  A huge army truck coming from the opposite direction suddenly loses control, the driver apparently falling asleep, and comes precipitately against my car.  I turn right with full speed and jump into a small dried-up irrigation ditch at the roadside.  The truck driver manages to control the steering again and halts to say something, or probably to apologise.  Too late for him.  I am already off the ditch and back on the road with full speed, seeing him far away in my mirror.

I pass all checkpoints, not without much trouble.  Anyway, at nine a.m. I am in the State Employees Club in Arbil looking for my acquaintance Daoud who supposedly shows up here every Monday morning.  No luck.  He is ill, I’m told.  I try to contact him by phone to his shop at Salah El-Din.  No answer.  An in the Club I am informed that I will not find anybody in his house as he has already moved to another yet unknown address.  I stay all the morning and the afternoon in Arbil, visit an old Kurdish friend of mine (a cinema owner in that town), who refuses to commit himself to anything in connection with my plan.  Extremely bored and perplexed, I dispiritedly decide to make back to Baghdad.

I arrive in the capital just in time for the Passover evening.  Wife, annoyed and worried by my very late arrival, bursts out:  ‘You’ve nothing more constructive and interesting to do but you look for serious trouble!  And even when that’s impossible you just go on pouring your agony down in a diary that will certainly lead us to our doom one day!’  ‘Darling, you are wrong!  We must get out of here by all means!  Those damned fiends will liquidate us one after the other!’  Then I rush to take a bath and dress, to go to uncle’s.

Oh life, would you grant me a little, just a little more patience and luck to proceed firmly with my plan?  I do know the dangers latent in it.  I do know that so far I have been defeated.  But that does not matter.  Just do not every let me down, for that would be irrevocably wrong.  My fate and that of many other Jews here may depend on what I am designing now. Oh, do not let me down at this difficult moment!

Thursday May 5, 1970   

The situation of the Jews in Iraq deteriorates still more.  Jewish homes are very closely watched, and the people inside are highly tense and deeply apprehensive.  The shortage of money has reached an appalling ebb.  Many families are at a severe loss to eke out a living.  Our nerves are on the verge of total collapse.

Even pharmacists who submitted fresh applications to reopen pharmacies, in accordance with official instructions issued some time ago, have received no answer yet.  The affair may boil down to nothing. 

It is not scarce to see Jews walking slowly in the streets, trudging with listless steps, or staring emptily, or moving with complete absent-mindedness.  Their eyes are lifeless.  Their faces are dead.  Their gait is automatic.  They are more like was statues than human beings.

In the agony of their daily existence, some Jews still retain a little energy to conform or accommodate themselves to the new hopeless conditions.  Despite the government’s watching and suspicion, a few are working in one way or another, out of sheer boredom and the fear of getting stupefied.  They endeavour just to do something, whatever it is, even to waste their time.  To kill it.

A newly graduated physician who could not obtain a licence to practise his profession has gone to work as a baker in one of the neighbourhood bakeries.

Two well-known ex-commission agent brothers are, together with their wives, selling shishlik and shish kebab (barbecue or grilled meat) and hamburger in a small kiosk in the district.

Three newly graduated mechanical, chemical and civil engineers with no licences to work as such, and with nobody wishing to employ them, are holding Bible meetings in synagogues every morning and afternoon for better understanding of the Holy book.

A Jew, still working in his line of perfumes and woollen clothes, and whose full name is similar to that of another Jew already hanged last August, was taken to the Security Police headquarters and alarmingly interrogated: ‘How is that you are still alive…and working?!’  The man all but got arrested, went home and locked himself in for a week.

For myself, I am totally nonchalant to all that is going around.  I am astonishingly quiet and aloof, still desperately persevering in my plan to escape.  Living in Iraq becomes to me like living ‘the last days of Pompeii’, with the only difference that, adhering to the sacred values of life, I am determined to live and not to succumb to the diabolical methods of destruction that the fiends in power are employing.  It is of paramount importance now that somebody, someone, flee the country illegally, so that others may follow.  Somebody has got to reach Iran alive.  If I am caught and killed, well, that will be no more than a stroke of bad luck.  So much the worse.  Yet nothing else counts to me than to reach Iran alive.  That is my only goal at this moment.

Living rather in a world of my own, sometimes I pity myself, sometimes I suddenly feel scared of what I am attempting to do.  But that does not matter any more.  I am resolved to go on with my plan till the end.