Karmel Melamed
Iranian American Journalist and Commentator

Berookhim’s Execution Devastated My Family In Iran

Iranian Jewish businessman Ebrahim Berookhim who was randomly beaten and executed by Iranian regime in July 1980. Photo courtesy of Berookhim family.
Ebrahim Berookhim, an innocent Jew executed by Iranian regime on July 31, 1980.

In 1980 when the Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime was in power in Iran after the previous year’s revolution, my parents, like many Iranian Jews did not wish to leave Iran. The new Islamic regime had executed the Jewish community leader Habib Elghanian and also executed a Jewish businessman, Albert Danialpour. These executions were no doubt painful for Jews in Iran but many Jews in Iran at that time did not believe or want to believe that their lives were in any imminent threat. Some thought the executions of these two Jews were a part of the larger purging by the new regime of their enemies from the previous Shah’s reign and that eventually the rule of law and some of normalcy would ultimately prevail.

They were dead wrong.

My own family and thousands of Jews in Iran did not realize the serious threat of the new Khomeini regime to our lives until our relative, Ebrahim Berookhim, a 30-year-old Jewish businessman with no ties to the Shah’s government was suddenly executed for no reason by the Ayatollah’s thugs on July 31, 1980. After his execution, our lives in Iran were devastated and we promptly fled the country leaving behind everything we owned.

Forty 40 years after Berookhim’s death, my father is still traumatized by the events that he undertook to retrieve his friend and relative’s body and provide him with a kosher burial. I share Berookhim’s story with my American Jewish brethren in hopes that they will finally wake up and are motivated to take actions against the very serious genocidal threat to world Jewry from this radical Islamic regime in Iran.

Berookhim’s problems started with the beginning of Iran’s Islamic revolution, in early 1979, when his family’s five-star Royal Gardens hotel in Tehran was confiscated by the newly formed Islamic regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Nearly all of his family had already fled Iran for the United States in the prior months, but Berookhim’s remained behind.

One day, armed thugs of the regime overran the hotel and quickly blindfolded him. They took him to the Khasr prison in Tehran on trumped-up charges of being an American and Israeli spy. They claimed he and his family were spies because they allowed Americans and Israelis to stay at their hotel.

Ten years ago I interviewed Berookhim’s sister Shaheen who said that two months after her brother was captured, she was finally able to get him released from prison, but only after paying what she said were ridiculously large bribes and other payments to the prison officials. Each and every one of Berookhim’s family members and friends whom I spoke with said they urged Berookhim’s to escape from Iran after his release from prison, but he responded negatively to them all.

This mistake of remaining in Iran proved fatal for Berookhim. But he didn’t see what was coming. Shaheen said that in the months after Berookhim’s first arrest, he and his 82-year-old father, Eshagh Berookhim, voluntarily visited the infamous Evin prison, located just north of Tehran, because they believed promises the Iranian officials had made to them — that their hotel would be returned when they agreed to present their case at the prison. Then, one morning, in April 1980, during one of these voluntary visits, the Evin prison authorities arrested Berookhim again and sent him to prison. This time, his elderly father was arrested with him.

Over the next nearly four months, Shaheen worked tirelessly to free them. Then, early one morning, she turned on the radio and was devastated to learn that her beloved brother had been abruptly executed at the prison earlier that same day. Around the same time, my father heard the news from a co-worker, and he, too, was shocked. Berookhim was not only his dear friend but was his brother-in-law’s brother.

Without hesitation, my father and another Jewish man risked their lives by going to the prison morgue to retrieve Berookhim’s body because most of his family was no longer in Iran to give him a kosher burial. Those seeking to retrieve the bodies of a person the Ayatollah regime had deemed “infidels” risked being arrested by means of guilt by association.

At first the regime’s prison officials refused to release Berookhim’s body. Then after much pleading with them they agreed to release his body only on the condition that a substantial cash payment was made to cover the cost of the bullet used in the execution! My father and the other Jewish man somehow collected the money from local Jewish businessmen and paid the prison officials. They were eventually given Berookhim’s bloody body.

My father recalled: “his body was still warm while he lay in the mortuary at the Jewish cemetery; it had been desecrated with markers, and the soles of his feet showed signs that he had been tortured with steel wiring.” He also said, “You could tell he was shot at point-blank range, because the opening was a half an inch in diameter on the front of his body near his heart, and the hole on his back side was two or three inches wide.”

Shaheen, her husband, Masood, and other friends and family were at Berookhim’s’s burial in Tehran’s Jewish cemetery. Several weeks later, Shaheen said she was able to bribe the prison officials by paying them a substantial amount of money to release her elderly father, who had been moved to the prison hospital due to his poor health.

When he was released, Eshagh repeatedly asked for his son Ebrahim but was not told of his beloved son’s execution. Instead, Eshagh was hidden inside another family member’s home, then smugglers were paid to carry him on a camel across the border out of Iran and into Turkey. Shaheen said that, at the same time, she and her husband were fortunate enough to flee Iran on a flight to Germany. Only after the three were reunited in Germany were, they able to mourn their loved one in peace. It was there that she finally broke the news of her brother’s execution to her father and he was forever devastated.

Even though the Iranian government never officially announced its reasons for executing Berookhim, his friends, family and other Iranian Jews living in Southern California have their own theories. Some believe he was executed to strike fear into the hearts of Jews in Iran, to force them to abandon their substantial assets so the government could confiscate their wealth. Others believe the execution may have been an act of revenge by the Iranian clerics and Palestinian terrorists in Iran following Israel’s declaration of Jerusalem as its undivided and eternal capital not long before this time. A few individuals close to the Berookhim family also believe that some of their hotel’s former disgruntled employees who had become officials in the new regime may have conspired to have him killed out of jealousy or in order to confiscate his family’s wealth.

My parents told me that Berookhim’s execution was the final breaking point in their decision to suddenly flee Iran and leave behind all our assets; we fled in September 1980. As it turned out, we were among the last to flee Iran via plane; Tehran’s international airport was shut down just three days after our flight because of the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War.

We traveled first to Germany, where my father had relatives living in Hamburg, but we had not had time to obtain entry visas amid the chaos of our departure from Iran. Once again, we were immensely fortunate — the immigration agent granted my family visas at our arrival after my father spoke fluently to him in German and explained our predicament. From Germany, we had a brief stay in Israel, and then, two months after leaving our Iranian home, we finally immigrated to Los Angeles, where my parents restarted their lives from zero.

It’s been 40 years since the Ayatollah regime executed Berookhim for no reason and my family has still not gotten over it. The pain and wounds left from this senseless killing after all of these years are still present. What is truly heartbreaking about his brutal murder is the fact that when he was executed, he had no wife and no children—  he was still fairly young and his life was abruptly cut short for no reason! Today only his surviving siblings and extended family mourn for him. Sadly, my father still has regular nightmares of the entire ordeal and wakes up many nights screaming from them. And Berookhim was not the only Jew executed by the Ayatollahs in Iran, they had previously executed the Jewish community leader Elghanian and Jewish businessman Danialpour as well as nearly two dozen others during the last 41 years.

My purpose in sharing Berookhim’s story is to perhaps try to wake up America’s Jewish community from its slumber by recognizing the very real genocidal threat from Iran’s radical Islamic regime to the Jewish homeland of Israel and to Jews worldwide. When will you wake up and realize that this illogical fundamentalist Islamic Ayatollah regime cannot be appeased or negotiated with? Why do you continue to support or vote for U.S. or European politicians who want to compromise with Iranian regime mass murderers of your fellow Jewish brethren? Why do you ignore the anti-Semitic laws of the Iranian regime which have left Jews as third-class citizens? Why do you ignore this Iranian regime’s repeated unapologetic denial of the Holocaust?

What will it take for you all to finally realize the Iranian regime has been waging a four decade war against the Jews and launch a serious public awareness campaign about this regime? I call on you to remember what happened to this innocent Jewish man Berookhim at the hands of this Ayatollah regime and reconsider its serious dangers to Jews and all of humanity. Forty one years of this nightmare regime is enough! We will not remain silent! We will continue to remind the world of the crimes this Iranian radical Islamic regime has committed against Jews and non-Jews alike.

About the Author
Karmel Melamed is an award-winning internationally published Iranian American journalist based in Southern California; He is a member of the Speakers Bureau of JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa
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