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Locked Doors: The Seizure of Jewish Property in Arab Countries Hardcover – 30 Aug 2001


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?Itamar Levin, managing editor of Globes Israel's business daily, has breathed new life into an old and heart-wrenching saga....the publication of ocked Doors has raised hopes among Jewish refugees from Arab countries now living in Israel that their rightful compensation might be realized.?-The B'nai B'rith International Jewish Monthly

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They were nights that the Jews of Baghdad would never forget. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Devastating 27 Dec. 2004
By Alyssa A. Lappen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
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
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Opens a Window Onto a Different Aspect of the Mideast Conflict 25 May 2009
By L. King - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In 1947 members of the Arab League met and proposed a draft law for the deprivation of both property and citizenship of the Jewish members of their societies. Itamar Levin follows the implementation of template in 4 of 22 Arab and Muslim countries in great detail, supplemented with testimony from some of the people affected.

I cannot add to Alyssa Lappen's excellent coverage of the Iraqi portion of the book except to say that in the 1930's and 1940's Jews constituted about 40% of Baghdad's population and were at the center of Iraqi Arts, Culture and Commerce. There were at the time some 150,000 Iraqi Jews and the Jewish community in Iraq extended back some 2700 years to the time of ancient Babylon. Now due to blatantly discriminatory laws and persecution there are none, though there are a few Jews who, under the current government have been looking into reinvesting and recovering personal property and communal artifacts.

The chapters on Egyptian Jewry show how a similar pattern. Jews owned most of the major department stores (appropriated by the State) and Alexandria's largest real estate developer Joseph Smooha was also Jewish. As in Iraq assets were frozen and Jews were dismissed from employment in public service and from many professions. Jewish businesses were nationalized. Many Egyptian born Jews were imprisoned in the early 1950s, then summarily put on ships and deported from the country. The community of 80,000 which went back to biblical times was wiped out.

The coverage of Syrian Jews looks at the persecutions of Damascus and pogroms of Aleppo where many synagogues were burned and the 40% of famed Aleppo Codex, perhaps the most important relic showing the evolution of the Hebrew Bible (next to the Dead Sea Scrolls) was lost or destroyed - in 1947. Unlike Iraq it proved almost impossible for Jews to get out of Syria in the 1960-80s with the last major exodus taking place in 1992. 4000 Jews emigrated at that time though they could only take assets of up to $2500 out of the country. Most of these went to the United States. (Parenthetically they were only allowed to leave on tourist visas which technically did not allow those to work in the U.S. as employees until recently.) I would supplement this section with Harold Troper's The Ransomed of God: The Secret Rescue of the Jews of Syria or the followup edition The Rescuer: The Amazing True Story of How One Woman Helped Save the Jews of Syria

The 4th country covered is Lebanon which had about 7000 Jews. There may be less than 10 left. Here the pressure was more subtle. Many Jews from Syria and Iraq used Lebanon as a way station which raised the Jewish population to 15,000, however the 1958 Lebanese civil war worsened the climate for Jews as they were caught between Muslim and Phalangist forces. Many Jewish businesses were boycotted because of suspected connection to Israel and Jews leaving the country were forced to sign a declaration that they would never return.

I highly recommend this book. It is a must read to understand the underpinnings of today's middle east conflict. Every mosque, church, synagogue or educational institution which has material on the Palestinian Refugees should have a copy of this book in order to place some sense of symmetry to what happened to the Jews. The chapters are well sourced and IMHO its an extremely honest historical treatment as it will reveal conflicting figures from different sources for the same event.

In Israel some 40% of the population (Jews) and another 20% (Arabs, Bedouin) can draw their heritage from Arab or Muslim lands and a good number of Ashkenazic families are related by intermarriage as well. These people understand Arab culture from having experienced it directly - is it no wonder that they are distrustful of Arab promises. In order to achieve peace in the middle east it is important that all parties understand each other's perspective and history.

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