Sunday, May 19, 2013

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 them.

    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 doing.

    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 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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