Thursday, February 19, 2009

Baghdad hangings: remembering the horror

It is 40 years since 27 January 1969 (Hebrew date 8th Shevat 5729), when Saddam Hussein ordered the hangings of nine innocent Iraqi Jews in Baghdad's Liberation Square. Memorial services have been held in synagogues around the world: the event yesterday at Ohel David Eastern synagogue in London attracted 250 people.

Here is the speech delivered on Shabbat 31 January 2009 at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, Montreal by Morris Abdulezer, Past President of the Synagogue: (With thanks: Irene)

"On this Shabbat we assemble here to remember and recall the memory of the nine individuals whose lives ended on the 8th of Shevat 40 years ago. They were murdered just because they were Jews living in Iraq.

Even though this day marks the 40th anniversary of this event we must not forget that at least another 42 Jews, four of whom were women, were hanged and or murdered thereafter. In addition to those killed there were many more that were imprisoned, interrogated and tortured but subsequently released - and scarred for life.

To start, I would like to mention the names of those nine individuals indicating their age, profession and from which city they came from.

I would also like to mention that those of them whose ages were said by the court to be 20 or 21, were in fact younger (as young as 17 - ed). The court forced this lie in order that they could be prosecuted and hanged.

-David Heskel Barukh Dallal 20 yrs old a student from Basra
-Sabah Haim Dayan 25 yrs old a university student from Basra
-Fouad Gabbay 35 yrs old a forwarding agent from Basra
-Naim Khedouri Hilali 21 yrs old a student from Basra
-Charles Raphael Horesh 45 yrs old a commission agent/ rep from Baghdad
-Jacob Gourdgi Namerdi 32 yrs old an employee of BOAC from Basra
-Heskel Saleh Heskel Saheyek 20 yrs old a student from Basra
-David Ghali Yedgar 21 yrs old a student from Basra
-Ezra Naji Zilkha 60 yrs old a merchant from Basra

As we know, the history of the Jews of Iraq is rich with tradition, spanning thousands of years of cohabitation with the Arabs in the region that we call the Middle East. Though there were many times in our history that the Jews were persecuted for their religious beliefs in many parts of the world, one period culminated in the persecution of Jews living in Iraq: starting with the Six-Day war, it ended in 1973 after the majority of the Jews had escaped.

Many of us here today including myself, along with many close friends and family members, can remember the terror-filled days, months, and years, following the Six-Day War in 1967.

As Jews, we were denied basic access to communication when our 'phone lines were cut, denied access to universities, we were unable to work, and denied travel to outside of Iraq.
At first, all of this we reluctantly accepted, and managed our lives without.

However in 1968 the government under President Hassan Al Bakr, with Saddam Hussein as his right hand henchman and deputy, decided to begin a campaign of terror and killing against the Jews of Iraq.

At that time, we numbered close to 2500, living mainly in Baghdad and Basra. This campaign of scare tactics included random abductions, posting secret agents in front of our residences and businesses, interrogations, seizing of assets, businesses and homes.

Then, in the fall of 1968, the government rounded up a dozen Iraqi Jewish males from Baghdad and Basra, and jailed them under false pretenses, accusing them of being Israeli spies. These 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 mockery.

Even when, on the eve of January 27, the authorities called on our chief Rabbi, Hakham Sassoon Khedoori, to send a person to prison to help with the prayers, this too was done in a way that indicated their evil ways and their lack of a sense for justice. While reading Shema Yisrael to the prisoners, this individual was pushed, and with a rifle pointed at him, was ordered to read in Arabic and not in Hebrew, all the while with the victims standing under the gallows crying and pleading that “we are innocent”.

However, on the morning of January 27 1969 the reality set in and nine innocent Jews were killed. Many of us were on our way to our daily activities when we heard the news, and we immediately went back to the so called safety of our homes.

There were a total of 13 men hanged in the public square called Saht el Tahrir (this ironically means Liberation Square). 9 of them were Jews, executed without even the dignity of having their faces covered. With a sign on their chest saying Yehudi or Jasus (Jew or Spy), all this was done with celebration and jubilation on the part of the people of Iraq.

There was live TV coverage and announcements that the day of execution be declared a holiday for all Iraqis to rejoice. Hundreds of thousands were out in the street dancing in front of the hanging corpses without any show of remorse, respect, or value for these human lives.
This picture will remain implanted in my memory, and the only way I can describe it to you is to compare it to a scene of savages celebrating in a barbaric and horrible way. Just like what we would see in a Hollywood produced movie.

The campaign of terror continued thereafter, with many Jews taken from their homes to be jailed, tortured, murdered or prosecuted in similar forms of mock trials, with some never to return to their families. They simply just disappeared.

With such a small community totaling less than 2,500 at that time, and with the death of these nine Jews that were hanged, along with the many others incidents that followed, the impact on our small community was enormous.

With 51 killed, and another 100 plus imprisoned and tortured, every individual and family was touched not once but several times by this reign of terror.

The Jews of Iraq, and all Jews from all countries around the world, must never forget this terrible time of horror and fear.

Today, and every day we must give our thanks to Hashem for what we have, our trust in our faith, our families, our community, our safety and our freedom, and we must never forget those who were executed on that horrible day in 1969 along with all the many others who faced similar tragic end thereafter.

On 8th of Shevat 5769, we commemorate the memory of those nine individuals who were slain, whose lives were stolen.

We must always remember because the reality is that it could have been any one of us living there during that terrible time who could have suffered a similar and tragic fate. "

Baghdad hangings: a widow's account


Anonymous said...

Saddam Hussein and his associates have not been prosecuted for these crimes, or for other crimes committed against Israelis and Iraqi Jews.

Although Hussein is now dead, many of the ministers and high officials of his regime are still alive. Jews worldwide should press for those involved to be tried and, if found guilty, to be punished. Many cases are being investigated involving crimes against Kurds, Shiites, political opponents of Hussein and just hapless individuals who crossed the psychopathic power-crazed Baathists. Cases of crimes against Jews should be pursued as well. And Tariq Aziz is definitely one who has to answer for the Iraq rocket attacks on Israel in the 1991 Gulf War.

Anonymous said...

For the sake of accuracy only 10 (including 8 Jews) were hanged in Baghdad (Saht Al-Tahrir) while the other 3 (Including 1 Jew) were hanged in Saht Um Al-Broom in Basrah.The Jew was Ezra Naji Zilkha,The Christain was Zaki Zeito and the Moslem was Haji Jetta Baie Kokel.

Anonymous said...

I was 14 when Ezra Naji Zilkha and the others were excutyed. I remember the laughable trials and the defendents protesting their innocence. No one in our family believed they were guilty.
I remember being put in a bus and taken from school to Sahat AlTahreer, where thousands of similar people were "demonstrating" and "celebrating" the excutions. It was mass hysteria.
In 1971, I achieved enough marks to be accepted in Baghdad University Medical School. A student with clearly a Jewish name had also high marks and his name was with us. The Jewish man "FAILED" the interview together with a disabled Iraqi who had Achondroplasia. The Jewish man then applied to College of Science. His name was at the absolute top of College of science list. No one with his marks applied at the time to anything but Medical school or Engineering college.
I am an Iraqi Arab and am ashamed by my fellow countrymen. I wish our Jewish brothers the best. Sincerely. After all, we are both Semites and share the same ancestor, Abraham.
Now living happily in the UK

bataween said...

Thank you Mohammed for your interesting account and good wishes.Inshallah Iraq is moving in the right direction now...

Anonymous said...

If Israel secures peace with Arabs, it could potentially become the richest nation on earth.
Arabs admire and trust Jewish systems. I know.
The Trillions of Arab Petro-Dollars will then all end up in Israel.
Israel may then become the strongest economic power in the world.
Israel must do that before it is too late.
Gradually, Dubai is becoming the financial hub of the rich Middle East.
Arabs call Dubai "The Jews of the Gulf", and they mean it as a compliment.
Dubai provides a slightly more Westernised social and economic structure. Israel will be able to provide a much better structure.
I can't wait for that

bataween said...

If there were peace with Israel, the benefits would not be one-way but spread all over the Arab world. Israel is a leader in technology, irrigation and science. Imagine if the deserts of Arabia could be turned into orchards and gardens!

Anonymous said...

One day bataween. One day.
But only if the hardline zealots on both sides get overwhelmed by the reasonables.
Hardliners actions will only strengthen the resolve and popularity of hardliners on the other side.
Look what Hitler's Blitz did to the British morals.
It did not break their will.
The Allies city bombing campaigns also did not result in the desired break of the German population will.
Mohammed. A Jewphile

Anonymous said...


It is interesting to read your commenting, which i belive in it too.

Well, Bataween, i wish you can help me in finiding and contacting Zilka Family, i mean Naji's Brother (Heskial Zilkha : Abu Jameel) or his sons. My mom used to be the private teacher for his sons and daughters in Basra (Namely, Gracey, Toffaha, Caramella & Maurice). Please, if you know anything let me know. My Mom is with me in Dubai and she still remember them all with great faith as we used to be like one family. WM

bataween said...

This is all the information we could find:
Naji (the youngest brother) was hanged in Basrah. He was single. He was buried in the Islamic cemetery as there was nobody to deal with the burial.
His elder brother Heskel (Abu Jameel) was released after several months. He came back to Basrah and all were afraid to talk to him because he was watched by the Mukhabarat.
He went to the police, obtained a license and transferred his brother's body to the Jewish cemetery. During the transfer he and the 2 policemen with him were stoned by children shouting "They are transferring the spy".
Heskel went back to Baghdad and escaped to Israel in the early seventies. He died in Israel after 3-4 years.
Heskel was married and had a family ( Jameel, Gracy etc). But he sent his family to Israel during the Aliya in the early fifties. He was alone in Basrah and lived with his brother Naji. No-one seems to know what happened to his children - presumably they are in Israel.

Anonymous said...


Many thanks for the info. I'm sad for what they faced, mercy be upon his sole, he was a good man. My mom and dad used to visit Ammo Heskel after he was released. In early 80's, we visited the Jewish Cemetry in Basrah and prayed for them. Thanks once again. I'm still looking for his sons.


bataween said...


It is compassionate people like you and your family that restore one's faith in humanity.
If we get any more information we'll certainly pass it on.


Anonymous said...

Thanks you bataween, you can't imagine what a nice time the families spent in those days, suddenly everything came into a sad end with the wars and parties. We left Basrah few years ago and currently residing in Dubai. My Grandfather (Mansour) and Ammo Heskel used to be partners in one of the biggest trading shops in Basrah. We tried our best to get in contact with Zilkha's Family with no chance. My Mom (there teacher) is eager to hear from them.

Many thanks again. God Bless


bataween said...

Hello Mohammed
I may have tracked down a relative in London! Email me on with your contact details

Mohammed said...

Hi bataween
Just sent you an email my dear cousin.
I see there are many Jewish brothers who are longing for Basra and the good old days.
It is so sad what politics and blind religious zeal do to separate normal decent people.
I hope things will turn up better in future.
If you said in 1945 that German and UK people would be virtually living in a united entity in 50 years time, you would be certified and locked in the tower of London for high treason.
I hope that civilisation will prevail and one day a middle eastern entity will form including Arabs and Israel. All peoples move freely in between and regain their original entity, if they wish.
If that happens, then I am going to insist that minister of finance of the united land must be a Jew. Always. Just like it was in Iraq in the Royal era!
Will unlikely happen in my life time. Hopefully will in my son's.
Please, let me dream.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bataween,
Just wanted to send my warm wishes for a happy Rosh Hashana ..

bataween said...

Many thanks.

Anonymous said...

Samir Zaki Zeito....
My dad killd when i was 4 years old in Baghdad not in Basrah, his name still remembering after 40 years, me and my family in sweden, my mom and brother 2.
I dont no much about this in 1969, why its happend with my kristian dad?

samir zeito

bataween said...

Dear Samir
See latest post
We must not forget that Jews were not the only victims of the baath regime. Your father's tragedy must never be forgotten.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bataween,

Just wanted to say happy belated Rosh Hashanah ... Peace and Joy ..


bataween said...

Thanks WM and Shana tova to you and all my readers