Shaoul Haham Sassoon Khedourie, who died on 1 October aged 97, was commemorated at Lauderdale Road Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in London on 30 October. A sizeable contingent of Muslim Iraqi friends, including the imam Sayyeed Jawad Al-Khoei, grandson of a famous Ayatollah, attended the service, and tributes were received from Mordechai ben Porat in Israel; Ahmed Chalabi, Kenan Makiya, and other Iraqi politicians and journalists.
The sprightly son of the last Chief Rabbi of Baghdad, Shaoul Sassoon came to London in 1971. One of the two books he published privately was In the hell of Saddam Hussein, an account of the year he spent in prison in the notorious Terminal Palace in Baghdad.
At 3am on 11 November 1968, two months after the Baathists led by Saddam Hussein and Ahmed Hassan Al-Bakr seized power, six men entered his house and took a blindfolded Shaoul Sassoon away.
At that stage the 5,000 Jews still left in Iraq lived in a state of harassment and persecution. Jews were forbidden to dispose of their assets and prevented from earning a proper living. Every Jew was assumed to be a dangerous spy.
In Saddam’s Palace Sassoon was tortured along with other Jews and many opponents of the regime, including former Prime Minister Abdul Rahman al-Bazzaz. Sassoon stood trial with al-Bazzaz and they and a third man were acquitted. A fourth – a Jewish prisoner, Albert Nounou, was executed on false charges of spying for Israel.
In his elegy to Shaoul Hakham Sassoon, Edwin Shuker said that Sassoon’s life mirrored that of the Iraqi Jewish community. In the 1930s and 40s, Sassoon worked in government service. Jews were then dismissed from their public posts and in the 50s Sassoon worked in private business, managing a car parts dealership. In the 60s he was prosecuted and persecuted and in the 1970s forced into exile.