Memories of the 1958 Iraqi revolution

Not many Jews have recorded their memories of the 14 July 1958 revolution in Iraq, when a bloody army coup d’état led by Abdul Karim Qasim overthrew the Hashemite monarchy. Tamara Ruben interviewed her aunt Amy, a young woman at the time, to record her memories of this period as part of Tamara’s efforts to raise awareness of the plight of Jews from Arab countries.  The events she lived through were so traumatic that  her aunt Amy, who now lives in England, resolved to depart from Iraq, even if it meant leaving her parents behind – an act that demanded much courage. These are her aunt’s words (With thanks: Nancy):

The young King Faisal II, murdered in the 1958 revolution aged 18

The revolution in Iraq of 1958 took me back to one of the scariest and most agonizing times of my life. This is because the Iraqi masses believed that killing and abusing Jews would be a safe bet at a time when the new military government was busy consolidating its power and grip on the country.

The Jews had their telephones cut off, Jewish government officials were fired (if there were any left after the establishment of Israel), and several Jewish homes, including ours, were raided.  We waited in fear for them to take us and throw us in jail. Some prominent Jews were left to rot in prison. Six soldiers armed with rifles raided our house. It was three storeys high. They searched every corner. One soldier asked my father to sit at the table and sign a document. My father, horrified and grey-faced, was ready to sign. When I mustered enough courage to ask the soldier what document he was signing, the soldier replied, “We couldn’t find any spy equipment.” After they left, I told my father that I was leaving Iraq and that he had to leave too. He refused because of his age and my mother’s various illnesses.

I was told that the Chief Rabbi of Baghdad was so concerned that he complained to the leader of the revolution, Abdul Karim Qasim, who had pledged to protect the Jews. Qasim tried to keep his promise until he was assassinated in his office in the Ministry of Defence.* This was the counter-revolution of  February 1963. Power was passed to his assistant and revolutionary collaborator,ʿAbd al-Salam ʿArif, who died three years later in what they believed to be a ‘planned’ helicopter accident….

In the 1958 revolution, the entire royal family was put to death.

The body of the young King Faisal II was secretly exhumed and buried when the junta realised that there would be a rebellion if it was known that the body of the beloved young king had been dragged through the streets. I don’t think  that the British dared to intervene because Iraq had remained under their influence while it was supposedly independent!

The hated crown prince, Abdel Il-llah, whom the mob thought was the agent of the British colonialists, was tied up, murdered and his body dragged through the streets of Baghdad.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Said escaped, but was caught the next day, disguised in a woman’s abaya, and was shot immediately.

The next day, I got up to go to work as usual when I discovered that our front gate was blocked by a tank. Martial music blared on all radio stations. I left on July 14, 1959:  it took me one year to get a passport.

My parents stayed another year and left in 1960 via Turkey to join the rest of the family already in Israel”.

*In fact he was given a short trial and was executed by shooting.

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This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

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