Don’t Return the Iraqi Jewish Archive

My Arabic name is Yusuf Sasson Shumail. I was born in Taht Al Takia, in the old city of Baghdad, Iraq on December 31,1930. In 1941, I survived the anti-Jewish pogrom, known as the Farhud.  During the Farhud, which happened during the holy Jewish holiday of Shavuot, Baghdad’s Jewish population came under the attack of vicious mobs. Rioters looted and burned Jewish homes and businesses and murdered innocent Jewish men, women and children. I was eleven. Some have referred to the Farhud as the Kristallnacht of the Middle East.

In June, 1948 I graduated from Al A’Dadiah High School, ready to continue my studies in America. Being Jewish, I was refused an exit visa. Fearing government persecution after Iraq lost the war against Israel in 1948, I was smuggled out to Iran, and then to Israel. You can read about my escape by clicking here.

My father and my oldest brother, Shmuel, were well-known importers of cloth, pajamas, shirts, silk dresses and men suits. Fearing government harassment and threats on their lives from Muslim customers, who refused to pay their bills, they were smuggled out to Iran in 1952.

The warehouse building called Khan, which they had owned for many years in Baghdad’s clothing district, was confiscated. The value of the merchandise and confiscated property was between 300,000 – 500,000 dinars. In today’s value the estimated cost is between $900,000 to $1,200,000. Our fully furnished home in the Al Alwiya district, and our private car, was also confiscated. Our citizenship was revoked and we lost not only our private property, but also our community and access to our favorite synagogue and it’s contents.  My story is not unique, as all Jews from Iraq had their private and communal property confiscated and their citizenships revoked.

My family and I are truly happy, grateful and honored to be living in this great nation, the United States of America. We never look back or think of what was taken away from us.

The Jewish religious archives, recovered by the US troops in the basement of the secret police headquarters in Baghdad after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 are the last remnants of my decimated 2,600 year-old community. Sadly I learnt that the US government is planning to return the archives, restored at a cost of $3 million dollars to Iraq. If this is allowed to happen it will be compounded injustice to me, my parents and ancestors and the whole Jewish community from Iraq. It will rob my ancestral heritage from my children and their children, a connection to their history.

The Iraqi government robbed us of all our assets and possessions. In 1948 there were approximately 150,000 Jews living in Iraq. There are less than five elderly Jews remaining in Iraq today. Sending the archives back to Iraq will be a travesty of justice and risks obliterating the last vestiges of our rich history there forever.

Please, please don’t let this happen. You can learn more about Iraqi Jews and the archive by clicking here.

About the Author
Joseph Samuels was born in Taht El Takia, the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Iraq in 1930 and he now resides in Santa Monica, California. He is a member of the Speaker’s Bureau of JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa)