by Max Sawdayee


Sunday September 1, 1968

A 38-year-old Jew, a bachelor, still working in a big company, has been kidnapped from office by three army officers.  He is not traceable anywhere in the police or security headquarters.   Army spokesman pretends that he has never heard of him.  His father and two sisters are deeply shocked.

The entire community is worried by this incident.

Rumours circulate in town that the three well-known industrialists taken away over a fortnight ago are dead.  They were actually tortured to death.  It seems that their families already know about that. A Muslim friend of mine told me last night that the Coca-Cola president died of torture, and his general manager turned mad as a result of the unspeakable tortures he was subjected to.  It is almost incredible.  It isn’t long since they were arrested.  What crime did they commit, for heaven’s sake?!  It’s ghastly.  Lurid.  Hideous.  Even more than all these together!

Tuesday September 10, 1968

Three more Jews have disappeared during the last four days.  They have been taken away by armed Party men, and there is a rumour that they are held in special prison cells just next to the Presidential Palace where they are under cruel torture.

Rumours circulate among us Jews that the man taken away by army officers about twelve days ago has died from torture in the army intelligence headquarters.  His father won’t believe it. 

All these incidents smell badly.  When the Ba’athists came to power in February 1963 they did not hurt the Jews.  What makes them change their policy this time?

Within the next three to four days we shall move to another house.  It’s a small and uncomfortable apartment not far from my present residence.  I cannot pay a high rent any more. Money becomes still important now, and I may need it for other, more useful purposes, than a nice house. Wife understands this quite well, which is comforting.

Monday September 23, 1968

Today is Rosh Hashana.  The Jewish New Year. The year 5729 in our Hebrew calendar.  It doesn’t start auspiciously for us.  Although many people attend the synagogues, specially dressed for the feast, and are in good spirit or at least act as such, our hearts are sinking with big worries and the apprehension as to what our fate will be.

The Jewish community in Iraq, though it betrays a solemnity unusual in the celebration of the holy feast of the New Year, would still like to display a happy mood.  None, however, can ignore the fact that many of its sons are in jail counting the hours and waiting, while their wives or other family members are endeavouring to liberate them by every possible means but to no avail.  Others have disappeared, with glaring rumours of torture and death enveloping each name.

In the synagogues today whispers and coded talks overwhelm the congregations’ prayers.  Attendants take the opportunity of being in these holy places to ask questions, verify news and their sources, exchange ideas, and draw conclusions as to what to expect further.

The Jew still resists with a strong spirit.  He makes an effort to be composed, to quietly accept the challenge of being a Jew, a good Jew.  Yet, he silently asks without hoping for an answer, how long…?!

When I see my wife and two daughters dressing for the occasion at dawn, I cannot help thinking what’s going to happen if I miss them some day.

Wednesday October 9, 1968

I read a terrorizing item in the newspaper: an Iraqi military transport plane loaded with seventeen Jews left Basra last night and landed in a military base in Baghdad.  The newspaper alleges ‘they are all Zionist spies’.

This piece of news is very disturbing indeed, as a serious accusation must have been framed against those seventeen helpless victims.  I quickly show the paper to a friend living just across the street.  He is astounded, and remarks that that means big trouble ahead for us Jews.

In the afternoon the news spreads like fire among the Jewish community members, every one of whom is deeply concerned.

What does the Iraqi government mean to do?  Nobody knows. 

My parents come to see me at night.  They are highly disturbed.  Tonight I’m tense and worried.  My wife keeps telling me to take it easy and urges me to practise some yoga before sleep.  I try, but just can’t.  Things do not seem to be running in any way easy with us.  I’m very anxious to know who was consigned to that miserable military plane.

While writing these lines I listen to my transistor.  I’ve just heard that the celebrated French lawyer and humanitarian Rene Cassin has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for this year.  Al this sounds too far removed and contradictory where we live.  Still, I’m happy to hear it.  It’s consoling.  I have always admired this man.  Hearing this news at such a miserable dark hour infuses in me a little hope.

Beyond the darkness in which our country is submerged there is a flicker of flight.  However rampant evil is, the forces of good are still alive.

Friday November 1, 1968

Egypt and Israel don’t seem willing to cool it.  Shooting and firing in the Canal Zone have mounted to high proportions since last Saturday, so that the clash is taking new dimensions.  Many Egyptian and Israeli soldiers are reported to have been killed, and many more wounded within the past week.  Moreover, today we hear that Israeli commandos have penetrated deep inside Egypt, blasting a power station and two bridges over the Nile.  That is indeed discouraging.  It appears as though there will be no end to the fighting.

I’ve heard that ten of the seventeen Jews despatched from Basra to Baghdad military base on October 8th, accused as Zionist spies, are university students.  Four others are commission age, two are ex-employees in the Basra Port, and one is a kitchen utensils merchant, a near relative of mine.  They are all held in a Party headquarters prison, and are subjected to hideous tortures.  If this news is true, then the days or weeks to come will prove extremely difficult for the entire Jewish community here.