Canadian refugee hearings: Gladys’s story

 Gladys Daoud

The transcripts of the Canadian Parliamentary committee investigation into the plight of Jewish refugees on 2 and 7 May 2013 have now been published. The committee heard testimony from Libyan-born Gina Waldman and Iraqi-born Gladys Daoud and Lisette Shashoua. Here is Gladys’s story (with thanks to all those who emailed me):

  After World War I, Iraq became independent from the Ottoman
Empire. Jews played an important role in the financial, cultural, and
political life of the new country. Iraqi Jews occupied prominent
positions in the ministries of finance and justice and in Parliament.
Furthermore, Jewish lawyers were instrumental in drafting the
constitution of the new state.

    My grandfather sent my father and his two brothers to
France for their education. My father became a doctor, and was lucky to
return to Baghdad before World War II. His two brothers, one a real
estate developer and the other a medical student, ended their short
lives in a concentration camp in Germany, but that is another story.

    My father returned to Iraq and established his medical
practice after serving in the Iraqi army as a colonel. My parents’ life
in Iraq until the creation of the State of Israel was relatively happy,
even though it was marred by tragic events that occurred at various
intervals. For example, my paternal grandfather was murdered. His murder
was not investigated by the police, and his murderer was never brought
to justice.

     In 1941 the people of Baghdad, encouraged by the
pro-Nazi government at the time, went on a murderous rampage in the
Jewish quarter, killing close to 200 Jews and pillaging homes and
businesses. My maternal grandfather miraculously survived despite being
hunted by rebels trying to get hold of the key to the country’s
treasury. In spite of that, my parents endured and prospered.

    After the creation of the State of Israel, the Iraqi
government embarked on a policy of ethnic cleansing and persecution of
its Jewish population. Prominent Jews were publicly hanged. Jewish
businesses were confiscated. Import licences were cancelled. Jewish
public servants were fired.

    Jews were forbidden from leaving the country under the
pretense that they would join the Zionist enemy and attack Iraq. Under
international pressure, the government finally relented, and allowed
Jews to leave Iraq provided they abandoned all of their assets in favour
of the state. Out of 150,000 Jews, 140,000 left the country, abandoning
all of their possessions with the exception of one suitcase of clothes.

    Those who stayed behind were deluded optimists who
believed that the violence directed at the Jews would pass, and that
coexistence in harmony with their Muslim and Christian neighbours was
still possible.

    Things took a turn for the worse in 1963, after the Baath
regime took power. Their first priority was to embark on an ethnic
cleansing policy towards the Iraqi Jews. They banned all exit visas for
Jews, and actively promoted a culture of hatred and incitement towards

    I was a teenager going to school in 1967 when the Six Day
War took place. I saw my entire world collapse around me. All Jews in
Baghdad were declared spies and enemies of the people. The radio was
blaring all day, calling the people to action to kill the Jews. Needless
to say, we were terrified, and we had nowhere to go.

    The government proceeded with a plan of total isolation
and economic strangulation. Employers were instructed to fire their
Jewish employees. Christian and Muslim co-workers and business partners
were terrified of being associated with enemies of the state, and thus
all Jewish-owned businesses closed their doors, and our school lost all
its teachers. Our Muslim and Christian friends whom we grew up with no
longer dared to speak to us.

    My father’s medical clinic was adjacent to the local
government intelligence office. His patients were afraid of being seen
there, so the only patients he treated were policemen and the
intelligence officers who were treated free of charge while keeping a
close watch on his movements.

    As Jewish students, we were refused admittance to any
higher education. The few students who were already enrolled in
university were regularly beaten by their classmates while the teachers
and administration turned a blind eye.

    I finished my government high school exam in June 1967. I
ranked second in all of Iraq and was immediately accepted into Baghdad
University. In fact, I had also applied to McGill and MIT and was
accepted at both of these universities. However, on learning that I was
of the Jewish faith, my acceptance at Baghdad University was retracted
and I was refused a passport to study abroad. For the four years that
followed, I endured the life of a non-person and watched all my hopes
and aspirations go to ashes as I sat confined to my room, between four
walls, thinking of what other young people all over the world were

    I applied for a secretarial job at the Belgian consulate
and was accepted. Three weeks later, I was called into the consul’s
office and informed very politely that although I was not being asked to
leave, they had received word that my father would be imprisoned should
I not leave immediately. Needless to say, I did just that.

    My family’s bank accounts were frozen, our property was
confiscated, and we were only able to survive thanks to the money that
my mother had the foresight to bury in our garden. We were forbidden to
leave Baghdad. Our telephone line was cancelled, and we could not meet
with other Jewish families since this could lead to an accusation that
we were conspiring against the state. Our condition was desperate.

    To make things worse, the government decided to publicly
execute 14 Iraqis in 1969, most of whom were innocent Jews. I personally
knew a couple of them who were students like me, unable to work or
study and trying to keep busy by learning a foreign language. They were
hanged in the public square and the population was given the day off and
invited to gather and dance in celebration underneath the dangling
corpses. I still have nightmares about being back in Baghdad and
reliving the anguish of those days.

    Those were not the only Jews who lost their lives. Every
so often, a Jew would randomly be arrested, never to be heard from
again. Their families to this day have no closure.

    The situation was so desperate that we had no choice but
to seek to escape by any means possible. Many left on foot or on the
back of a mule, across the mountains in northern Iraq and into Iran with
the help of Kurdish guides. Some were arrested and brought back. Those
who were carrying any diplomas or valuables with them would try to flush
them down a toilet so as not to provide proof about their intended
flight. These secret departures added to the despair of those left
behind. They saw their close friends and relatives disappear while they
were left behind not knowing what the next day might bring.

    On April 17, 1971, with one suitcase of clothes and some
pocket change, my parents and I locked the front door of our home in
Baghdad for the last time and started a long journey to come to Montreal
to seek a new beginning.

Read transcript in full

Transcripts of hearings:2 May; 7 May here and here 

Expulsion of Jews had no ‘political consequences’

Canadian Parliament to investigate Jewish refugees 

One Comment

  • It's sad but so true for all of us Jews in Arab countries!
    The insults and humiliations were terrible but we survived,n didn't we?
    I would like to repeat something I already pointed out


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