Today, Holocaust Memorial Day, is also the 40th anniversary of the hangings of 14 people in Baghdad and Basra by Saddam's brutal regime. Nine were Jews executed on trumped-up spying charges.
Iraq was reeling from Israel's lightening victory over the Arabs in June 1967. It turned against the few thousand Jews still living in Iraq. Persecution was at its worst at the end of 1968: scores were jailed upon the discovery of a local "spy ring" composed of Jewish businessmen. Fourteen men - eleven of them Jews - were sentenced to death in staged trials and hanged in Liberation square in Baghdad. Others died of torture.
On January 27, 1969, Baghdad Radio called upon Iraqis to "come and enjoy the feast." Some 500,000 men, women and children paraded and danced past the scaffolds where the bodies of the hanged Jews swung; the mob rhythmically chanted "Death to Israel" and "Death to all traitors." This display brought a world-wide public outcry that Radio Baghdad dismissed by declaring: "We hanged spies, but the Jews crucified Christ."
Following are extracts of a statement to the Maariv newspaper in Tel-Aviv in March 1991 made by Mrs. Selima Gubbay, widow of Fuad Gubbay, one of the martyrs:
"Fuad and I were so happy when suddenly our lives were torn apart. One day four Iraqi officers in a blue Volkswagen drove into our home in Basra. They went straight to the air conditioners and pulled out the transformers. "These are transmitters," they shouted, "you are spying for Israel." Fuad was roughed up when he protested. Our younger son, David, was picked up and thrown against the railings when he tried to kiss his father. He cut himself, and his face was full of blood. The blood was an evil omen of the future.
It was 1968 and I was four months pregnant. Fuad was taken away to a jail in Baghdad. Eventually, he was put on trial with other Jews, all accused of spying for Israel. The trial was broadcast live on radio and television. Fuad pleaded not guilty. I traveled from Basra to Baghdad to see him in prison. When I got there they pushed me into a room beat me up and kicked me out. In the next room, separated only by a thin wall, the warders were telling Fuad, "your wife is on the other side of the wall. She's pregnant. If you don't admit your guilt, we're going to rape her, and afterwards open her stomach and cut up the child."
The next day during the broadcast of the trial, I heard Fuad pleading guilty, admitting that on such and such days, he was here and there, sending secrets to Israel. When I checked the dates, I realized that Fuad had been with me and the children all of those times. He had made up the story in order to save us. On the morning of January 27, 1969, the streets of Baghdad were even more noisy and crowded than usual. It was the day of the hangings. A day of national celebration. I could hear the neighbours shouting enthusiastically, "Hang the Israeli spies."
Dancers were brought from far and wide to dance under the gallows. There were free rides on the buses and trams so that people could come and celebrate under the corpses. And what was all the celebration about? The Iraqi nation was taking its collective revenge for defeat of a division on the Jordan front in the Six Day War, and that is how Iraqi television was broadcasting pictures of nine hanging Jewish corpses, among them my husband Fuad, all innocent people. The loudspeakers announced that from 4 o'clock that afternoon, the bodies would be brought down so that the mob could deal with them in the streets. I returned to Basra and people, including Jews, avoided me for fear of being linked with my husband's so-called activities."
Mrs Gubbay then described how she fled to Israel with her children in July 1971. Over 50 more Jews were, after 1969, executed or died through torture in jail.