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Alyssa A. Lappen
- Published on Amazon.com
The 12 chapters in this superb 235-page book detail the brutal expulsion of Jewish residents of Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon by totalitarian Arab regimes after Israel's 1948 creation. These were part of a mass ethnic cleansing that swept Arab regimes in the Middle East in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s. Some 850,000 Jewish residents of 22 Arab lands--whose families had inhabited them for thousands of years--were robbed of homes, businesses, bank accounts and all their worldly possessions.
The author worked with editors at Israel's financial newspaper, Globes, and Dalia Tal, Amira Liss in London, Rom Dagoni in Washington and Samir Rafaat of Egypt, to interview Jewish immigrants from Arab lands. He also supplies proof--documents and photographs from the Israel State, Central Zionist, Joint Distribution Committee and Hagana Archives and the Public Records Office in London.
As readers learn here, Iraq's Jewish community made huge inroads into trade and banking after the Suez Canal opened in 1869. One family was so wealthy they rented their Baghdad home to King Faisal while his palace was built. During Iraq's British Mandate period, 1917-1932, for lack of qualified Muslim and Christian workers, the British hired many Jews in government ministries.
In 1932 Iraq had 800 Jewish civil servants, 800 Jewish railway clerks, 100 Jewish employees of foreign firms and 66 Jewish bank clerks. But in 1932, three months before Hitler rose to power, Dr. Fritz Groba became Germany's Consel General to Iraq. He bought the daily newspaper, al-Allem al-Arabi, Levin writes, and began publishing an Arabic-language Mein Kampf. In 1934, dozens of Jewish government employees were fired, which was followed in 1936 with the firing of 300 Jewish senior government clerks.
The history of Iraq was tortured and unstable from its 1932 independence forward. Faisal had favored the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine but died in September 1933. His mentally unstable son Ghazi took the throne, but died in a car crash in April 1939. Rachid Ali al-Khilani, an open admirer of Hitler's Nazi Germany, came to power,. As Levin shows, he resigned in 1941, staged a military coup three months later and was eventually toppled by Britain's army.
Iraq's business was greatly supported by the Jewish community, however. In 1938 and 1939, 10 of Iraq's 25 richest merchant families were Jewish--including the Ades (auto importers and insurance brokers); David and Shaul Rajwan (tea traders); David Sasson (construction magnate); Abudi Kaduri Zilka (banker); Ezra Meir Lawy (car dealers); and the Shemesh brothers (tea traders). Their success was accompanied by burgeoning hatred of Jews, according to Levin.
By June 1941, Levin writes, "the notion of Jewish co-existence in Iraqi society exploded" with the Farhud, Iraq's version of Kristalnacht. Some 180 Jews were murdered in Baghdad alone and 240 Jews were officially reported wounded (though reports put the number at 700); 586 Jewish businesses looted and 99 Jewish homes destroyed. Nezimaa Mu'allem-Cohen recalled hearing gunfire and shouting all night long. In the morning, his father went to synagogue and returned telling his wife that Jewish homes had been burned, daughters raped, homes looted, a synagogue burned. As his father spoke, a mob broke down two doors and entered shouting and waving sticks. A shot rang out and the family's father was dead. A policeman they called for help asked, "How do you want to die?" and bashed the new widow on her head with his gun.
Iraq's 135,000 Jews worked in trade, industry, craftsmanship and services and tried to reintegrate during World War II. But their share of Iraq's imports business fell from 80% to 50% after the war, while their share of government contracts fell by half to 5%.
In 1948, Iraq officially instituted harsh persecution of the Jews. Police searches of homes and business became routine, complete with mass destruction of Jewish property. Families of Jews who had left Iraq between 1933 and 1949 were forced to report their property, which the state confiscated. Jewish bankers could not collect their loans, and Iraqis extorted money from Jewish neighbors on pain of informing on them to the authorities.
In 1948, Iraq barred Jews from importing and their share of the business fell, to 20%, while their share of exports fell 60%, to 2%. In a Sept. 17, 1948 memo, which was never sent, Iraq's persecuted Jewish leaders complained that the regime's actions closely mirrored those of Hitler. One 1948 parliamentary candidate had delivered this one-sentence speech: "Heil Hitler, choose me, I am an enemy of the Jews." In April 1949, 103 Jews were sentenced to death or imprisonment for such ludicrous charges as disseminating "libelous information," possessing "a Jewish New Year's card, imprinted with the Star of David," creating "Zionist propaganda," sabotage of "a telegraph machine" and so on.
On March 2, 1950, Jews remaining in Iraq congregated in their synagogues on Purim to learn that a Parliamentary law would allow them to leave--but would also strip them permanently of their citizenship and everything they owned. Jews in Iraq, like the Jews of Germany, had become officially "an unwanted element." Jews were rounded up, shorn of all their goods, harassed, starved and otherwise abused. Finally, Israel arranged to airlift more than 120,000 Iraqi Jews home.
The same story repeated in Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, where large and ancient Jewish communities were also expelled with nothing but the shirts on their backs.
Readers of Locked Doors should also consider Malka Hillel Shulewitz' Forgotten Millions: The Modern Jewish Exodus from Arab Lands. In nine compelling essays, it details anti-Jewish pogroms in Iraq (1941), Egypt (1945) and Aleppo, and the brutal expulsion of 850,000 Jews from Arab North Africa and the Middle East from 1941 through 1976.
As Levin shows here (and Shulewitz shows elsewhere), these events cannot be attributed to Israel's 1948 creation.
--Alyssa A. Lappen