Linda Menuhin with film-maker Duki Dror: quest for her vanished father ‘brings closure’
With the end of the US government shut down, an exhibition of the best of the ‘Jewish archive’ – ‘Discovery and Recovery‘ – has at last opened at the National Archives in Washington DC. In the shadow of the exhibition, a new film, Shadow in Baghdad, highlights the devastating loss of lives and property experienced by the Jews of Iraq. Lyn Julius blogs in the Times of Israel:
I will not dwell on the controversy
surrounding the ‘Jewish archive’, which the US military salvaged from a
sewage-filled basement in Baghdad in 2003. The 2,700 books and documents,
seized from Jewish homes, schools and libraries, are due to return to
Iraq after restoration, with all its moral implications – rather than
being restituted to their rightful Jewish owners now living outside the country.
Instead, I will tell you about a remarkable documentary to be screened in DC in the shadow of the exhibition: Shadow in Baghdad.
Made by the Israeli filmmaker of Iraqi origin
Duki Dror, the film tells the story of the destruction of the Jewish
community of Iraq through the unusual internet relationship between
Baghdad-born Linda Abdul Aziz Menuhin, a columnist and blogger now
living in Israel, and an inquisitive Muslim journalist based in Iraq.
The journalist, whose face is blanked out on
his Skype calls to Linda, had been moved to contact her after reading
her Arabic blog. She had described her emotional journey to Jordan to
cast her vote in the 2010 Iraqi elections. The journalist agrees to risk
his career and personal safety to help Linda find out what happened to
her father Yaakub Abdul Aziz, a prominent lawyer who was abducted in
Baghdad in 1972.
From eye-witness interviews we learn that
Yaakub Abdul Aziz – his wife, Linda and two other children had escaped
the country two years earlier and were waiting impatiently for him to
join them – was on his way to synagogue in Baghdad on the eve of Yom
Kippur. He never arrived.
In the early 1970s the strongman of Iraq,
Saddam Hussein, was conducting a reign of terror against the remaining
3,000 Jews: the great bulk of the 140,000-member community had left in
the early 1950s carrying 40 dinars each and a single suitcase. At the
time of his abduction Yaakub was under financial pressure – not only to
provide a dowry for lovesick Linda, but because he had posted bail for a
group of 90 Jews arrested after trying to escape through northern Iraq.
The regime had determined that 100 Jews would
never be issued with passports to leave Iraq – and Yaakub was one of
them. He was among dozens of Jews to disappear without trace. He is
presumed buried at Kasser al Nihaya, the fortress jail from whence no
prisoner ever emerged alive.
In one of the film’s most suspenseful scenes,
the Iraqi journalist combs the al-Musbah district where Linda used to
live. Yaakub’s trail has run cold. Nobody remembers the Jews in their
distinctive hats. When prodded, the older locals will admit that the
entire area was Jewish-owned, but cannot explain why the compound which
used to house the Jewish Shamash school is off-limits.
Yet, after 40 years, the quest for her father
at last brings closure to Linda. She can now put to rest the shadow her
father’s unexplained death has cast over her life. Linda gains a
journalistic award for her part in bringing Arab and Jews together, in
spite of one veteran remarking that her blogging activities “are like
emptying a bath with a teaspoon.”
Individuals like the Iraqi journalist give
hope for reconciliation between Iraq and its Jews. But first, visitors
to the National Archives exhibition need to grasp what a high price the
Jewish community paid, both in terms of property confiscated and human
life cut short.