Commemorations have taken place in Israel on the anniversary of the hangings in Baghdad’s liberation square of nine Jews on 27 January 1969.
Over 40 years later, the community and its representatives are still
trying to grapple with the consequences of that fateful day.
the defeat of Arab armies on all fronts by Israel in the 1967 Six Day
War and the 1968 ‘war of attrition’, the 3,000 Jews who remained in Iraq
following the mass migration of the 1950s were being singled out for
vengeance by the Iraqi regime. Dozens of Jews had been arrested and
imprisoned. The remainder were placed under virtual house arrest. One
Jewish girl remembers that secret service men installed themselves in
armchairs opposite her house in order to keep her family under 24-hour
surveillance. The tension was such that she and her mother made a suicide pact.
bank accounts were frozen. Jews lost their jobs. Jewish students were
not allowed to pursue their university studies. Foreign trade agencies
were taken away from Jews and handed over to Muslims. Telephones were
cut off. There was no escape: Jews had to carry special identity cards
and could not obtain the necessary passports in order to leave the
country. They were virtual hostages to the regime.
intensified with the rise to power of the Ba’ath party in 1968. Saddam
Hussein was its deputy leader. Before long the regime had concocted a
story of ‘Zionist espionage’. The stage was set for a show trial of
unspeakable cruelty and cynicism. Of nine Jews falsely accused of being
Zionist spies, four were under the legal age to face execution. No
matter – the regime falsified their ages.
The late Max Sawdayee describes the scene on 27 January 1969 in his book All waiting to be hanged:
of people, red, excited, smiling, laughing, walking fast, running,
jostling – all with one and only one goal: to reach as quickly as
possible the square where the ‘traitors’ are hanged. We take the same
streets we came from, and return home. Wife tells us that she has heard
from neighbours that the ‘spies’ now hanged in the Liberation Square
were actually executed at the central prison at about eleven o’clock
last night. They were brought to the Liberation Square at about two in
the morning after improvised scaffolds had been erected by prisoners
mobilised from the central prison, and by soldiers. She has heard also
that many people were already there at two in the morning watching the
scene of preparations for the hanging.
“The poor ‘actors’ of
the scene… are dressed in special, humiliating brown linen trousers
and shirts, barefoot, with the hands of some of them (for some
mysterious reason) dressed in special white gloves. All of them are
labelled with large sheets of paper stating, first of all and in big
letters, their religion, then in small letters the reasons why they are
“ The sight of the nine, their heads twisted and
drooping, their bodies dangling from the gallows and swinging high in
the air, with all these vengeful mobs, all excited, agitated, cheering,
dancing, chanting, singing, cursing the dead, spitting and throwing
stones on them, or jumping high to catch their feet or their toes –
well, this sight is most humiliating and sad, and most unforgettable.
It shakes one to the bones. It shakes even one’s faith in humanity.
we tune in to our car radio, the announcer is still howling madly.
‘Great people of Iraq! You great people of Baghdad and Basra! Today is a
holy day for all of you! Today is your feast! The day of your joy and
happiness! The day on which you have got rid of the first gang of
despicable spies! Iraq, your beloved Iraq, has executed, has hanged,
has settled the account with those traitors! You great people of
Baghdad and Basra, get free, move, go to your Liberation Squares to see
with your own eyes how the traitors are hanged!’ then he goes on to
read the names of those ‘traitors’, perhaps for the third or the fourth
Morris Abdulezer, an Iraqi Jew now living in Canada, describes the lead-up to the hangings:
innocent men were tortured then put through a televised mockery of a
military trial, which culminated in nine of them being publicly hanged,
one acquitted and two others were sent to Basra to face another trial
and then were hanged on August 25, 1969 in Basra.
“I can recall
precisely how terrified and confused we were throughout the entire trial
and, more precisely, the night of January 26 when the guilty verdict
was announced by the military judge. We did not believe that the
sentence of death by hanging would be carried out because the whole
court process did not make sense, from the defendants who were not
allowed to appoint their own lawyers, to the stories and accusations
that were outrageous and full of lies, where the defendants were being
asked to bear witness against each other.
“We waited in fear,
praying and trusting in our Jewish faith and hoping for pressure to come
at the last minute from the international community to end this
But international pressure did not come – until it was too late.
reign of terror continued. Iraq’s rulers promised that there would be
further hangings. Every citizen was urged to inform against their Jewish
neighbours. Scores of Jews disappeared. Linda Menuhin, now a columnist
and peace activist in Israel, recalls that her own father was abducted
on the eve of Yom Kippur on the way to the synagogue. He was never heard
of again. “We don’t know what happened to my father exactly. Until
today we have never said Kaddish for him.”
president of the World Organisation of Jews from Iraq (WOJI), believes
that the number of Jews who were executed in prison, abducted, or simply
vanished without trace exceeds 50. After the American invasion of Iraq
in 2003, a young Jewish jeweller, newly-wed to one of the few eligible
Jewish women in Baghdad, was abducted in December 2005 and never found
Only five Jews remain in Iraq.