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Guide to the Tamar Morad, Dennis and Robert Shasha Collection of Iraqi Jewish Oral Histories

 Collection
Identifier: ASF AR 72

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains oral history materials collected by Tamar Morad, Robert Shasha, and Dennis Shasha, in connection with the writing and compilation of the book Iraq's Last Jews: Stories of Daily Life, Upheaval, and Escape from Modern Babylon (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), including approximately 60 audio recordings, with at least one third accompanied by transcripts; a few transcripts or narratives without recordings; and a small amount of related biographical material, including memoirs and other writings, one family history, and photographs (Series II). The interviewees and their families represent a range of professions, including international merchants and bankers, as well as rabbis, doctors, politicians, intellectuals, musicians, poets, and artists. The materials convey personal accounts of Jewish life in Iraq from approximately the 1920s to the early 1980s, as well as Iraqi Jewish experiences of emigration, transit journeys, and new lives in the diaspora, in locations including Iran, India, Japan, China, Israel, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States.

The remainder of the collection comprises a small amount of general materials (Series I) related to the editors' work in conducting interviews, and researching and publishing the book, including lists of contacts, a book proposal, and photographs of many of the interviewees, taken at an event in 2006.

In the published book the editors shaped the interview content into polished autobiographical narratives. The collection contains the original interview recordings on which 18 of the 20 narratives in the book were based (half of them accompanied by transcripts); those interviewees were: Eli Amir, Mordechai Ben Porat, Oddil Dallall, Ronit Dangour, Shlomo El-Kevity, Salim Fattal, Linda Masri Hakim, Oded Halahmy, Saeed Herdoon, Shlomo Hillel, Ilana Marcus, Sami Michael, Salim Sassoon, Zuhair Sassoon, Shlomo Sehayek, Alfred and Hanina Shasha, Aida Zelouf, and Ezra Zilkha. There is also a draft narrative for one other interviewee included in the book, Dhiaa Kasim Kashi, but no audio file; Kashi, who is a Shiite Muslim, was the only non-Jew interviewed. (There is no material in the collection related to Richard Obadiah, the 20th narrative in the book.)

In addition, the collection contains oral histories or autobiographical narratives pertaining to 47 individuals whose stories are not told in the book, including two sisters (Violet and Daisy Moalem), and a mother-daughter pair (Rachelle Dallal and Joyce Sopher), respectively, who were interviewed together; and two autobiographical narratives, one written by Nissim Rejwan and another, by Selim Dangoor (who died in 1998, before the project began). All of the additional interviewees except one (Baruch Levy) are named in the "Acknowledgements" in the book (p. xvi); Shmuel Moreh, although not named in the list of interviewees, is thanked for his help with researching the history of the community (as is Rejwan); he is also the author of the book's introductory chapter, on the historical context.

Dates

  • circa 1900, 1930s-2007
  • Majority of material found within 2003-2007

Creator

Language of Materials

The collection is in English and Hebrew, with a few items in French and Spanish and reproductions of two documents in Arabic.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to researchers.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact: American Sephardi Federation, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011 email:ASFinquiries@cjh.org

Historical Note

The History of the Jews in Iraq (in brief outline)

The Iraqi Jewish community is one of the oldest in the world. The region of modern-day Iraq was known by the Greeks as Mesopotamia and is identified with biblical Babylonia. The community traces its roots back to the episodes of captivity brought about by Nebuchadnezzar II in 597 BCE, and, again, in 586 BCE, with the destruction of the First Temple. The site was subsequently a great center of Jewish learning, where the Babylonian Talmud was compiled. After the rise of Islam and the Arab conquest of the region in the 7th century CE the land became known as Iraq. The city of Baghdad, founded in 762, eventually became the home of the greatest concentration of Iraqi Jews. In 1258 the destruction of Baghdad by the Mongols precipitated a long period of general economic decline.

From 1534 until World War I Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire, except for a brief interlude under the Persians in the early 17th century. Under Ottoman rule, just as under the earlier caliphates, Jews, as well as Christians, as non-Muslims professing a monotheistic faith, held the protected legal status of 'dhimmi,' which gave them the right to worship, and a certain amount of self-administration, but also entailed certain restrictions that reflected subordination to the Muslim majority. The well-being of the community depended on the attitudes of particular rulers, with some periods of persecution.

The Jewish population of Baghdad in 1824 was estimated at 1,500 families. According to one source in 1848, the city had 3,000 Jewish families, and nine synagogues. By 1860 the number of Jewish residents had risen to 20,000, amounting to slightly more than one quarter of the population. There were also many smaller Jewish communities scattered throughout northern Iraq, the largest being at Mosul. Due to shifting economic factors in the late 19th century, following the opening of the Suez Canal in 1862, many Jews, like others in the country, moved to the south. From that time through World War I, the Jewish community at the southern port city of Basra grew significantly.

Traditionally Iraqi Jews spoke Judeo-Arabic, which was based on Arabic but written in Hebrew characters, with the incorporation of Hebrew vocabulary, as well as words from Turkish, Persian, and Aramaic. They also spoke Arabic and participated in Arabic culture, including literature and music. Significant developments in the 19th century included the establishment in Baghdad of the Alliance Israélite Universelle school for boys, in 1864, the first modern Jewish elementary school, as well as a similar school for girls, in 1893. This trend within the Jewish community toward secular education, including instruction in European languages, led to greater occupational opportunity in business, finance, and government.

In the early 20th century the Young Turks movement spurred reforms including the declaration of equal rights for non-Muslim minorities under the Ottoman constitution of 1908. World War I brought the occupation of the region by the British and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The borders of the modern state of Iraq were determined in the postwar treaties, with the proposal of a British Mandate for Mesopotamia (i.e. Iraq) leading eventually to the establishment of a constitutional monarchy under King Faisal I, in 1921.

According to British figures, there were 87,488 Iraqi Jews in 1919, making up approximately 3% of the total population (2.85 million). At that time approximately 50,000 Jews lived in Baghdad, constituting 20% of the city's population. Thanks to the modernizing influence of the British and Faisal's tolerant policies, the Jewish community in Iraq enjoyed prosperity and relative security in the 1920s and early 1930s, a period remembered by some Iraqi Jews as a 'golden age.' Sir Sassoon Eskell served as the first minister of finance under Faisal, from 1921 to 1925, the only Jew ever to hold a cabinet-rank position in the Iraqi government.

Iraq achieved independence in 1932. The situation of Jews in the country deteriorated in the course of the 1930s. Faisal's son Ghazi, who ascended to the throne in 1933, was less tolerant than his father, and there was infiltration of Nazi influence through propagandistic undertakings of the German ambassador. Some Jews were dismissed from government posts in 1934 and an unofficial quota system began to prevail in the civil service. The Arab revolt in Palestine in 1936 fueled pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist, as well as anti-Jewish sentiment in Iraq, as elsewhere in the Arab world.

After a pro-Nazi coup in April 1941, the British occupied the country, and the brief Anglo-Iraqi war ensued, in May 1941. In the vacuum of leadership and security following the British victory, violent anti-Jewish riots broke out in Baghdad. This pogrom, known by the Arabic term 'Farhud,' meaning 'violent dispossession,' resulted in the murder of 179 Jews, the injury of many more, and the looting or destruction of hundreds of businesses and homes.

Following the Farhud the Jewish community recovered; the majority still saw their future as loyal Iraqi citizens. However, in the following years some young Iraqi Jews became engaged in the Zionist underground, and others in the Communist underground.

In the wake of the United Nations resolution on the partition of Palestine, the establishment of the state of Israel, and the subsequent Arab-Israeli war (Israeli War of Independence) there was a charged anti-Jewish atmosphere in Iraq, with Jews increasingly experiencing abuses and subject to restrictions. In September 1948, the public hanging, after a brief trial, of a wealthy Iraqi Jewish businessman, Shafiq Adas, of Basra, who was charged with selling military equipment to Israel, shocked the Jewish community.

In 1949 some Iraqi Jews fled Iraq illegally over the Iranian border, aided by Zionist emissaries. In response to the situation, in March 1950 the Iraqi government passed the Citizen Revocation Law, which enabled Jews to emigrate by revoking their citizenship. Tens of thousands of Iraqi Jews registered for this right – 105,000 Iraqi Jews arrived in Israel by July 1951. The Iraqi government froze the assets of many Jews attempting to leave after March 1951. Around that time Israel mounted an airlift to assist the emigration. The airlift, or the mass emigration in general, later came to be known as "Operation Ezra and Nehemiah," after the biblical figures who led the Jewish people out of the Babylonian exile back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple in the 5th century BCE.

According to estimates based on the official Iraqi census, there were approximately 118,000 Jews in Iraq in 1947, comprising 2.5% of the total population (some sources speculate that the number was closer to 135,000, or even higher). After the mass emigration approximately 6,000 remained.

Jews continued to flee the country over the next decades. In 1968, when the Ba'ath Party came to power for the second time after a period of political turbulence, there were approximately 3,000 Jews still living in Iraq. Under the Ba'athist regime discriminatory and oppressive measures that had affected Jews since the Six Day (Arab-Israeli) War of 1967 intensified, including detentions, firings from jobs in the public and private sector, expulsions from social clubs, revocations of business licenses, being restricted in travel within Iraq, having telephone service cut off, and having bank accounts frozen. In January 1969, nine Jews (as well as several Muslims and Christians), falsely accused of being spies for Israel, were publicly hanged in Baghdad. In the period from then until April 1973 a total of 46 Iraqi Jews were killed, or kidnapped, or simply disappeared; and many were imprisoned. The number of Jews remaining in Iraq was approximately 350 in 1975, and 120 in 1996. As of 2007, fewer than a dozen Jews were believed to be living in the country.

References

Ben-Yaacob, Abraham, et al. "Iraq." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. Vol. 10. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 14-24.

Moreh, Shmuel. "Introduction: The historical context." In Tamar Morad, Dennis Shasha, and Robert Shasha (Eds.), Iraq's Last Jews: Stories of Daily Life, Upheaval, and Escape from Modern Babylon (pp. 1-12). New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Extent

1.5 Linear Feet (2 manuscript boxes, 2 audiocassette boxes, and 187 electronic files)

Overview

This collection contains oral history materials collected by Tamar Morad, Robert Shasha, and Dennis Shasha, in connection with the writing and compilation of the book Iraq's Last Jews: Stories of Daily Life, Upheaval, and Escape from Modern Babylon (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), including approximately 60 audio recordings of interviews, with at least one third accompanied by transcripts; and a small amount of related biographical material, including memoirs and other writings, one family history, and photographs. The collection contains the interview recordings on which 18 of the 20 narratives in the published book were based. In addition, it contains oral histories or autobiographical narratives pertaining to more than 40 individuals whose stories are not told in the book. The interviewees and their families represent a range of professions, including international merchants and bankers, as well as rabbis, doctors, politicians, intellectuals, musicians, poets, and artists. The materials convey personal accounts of Jewish life in Iraq from approximately the 1920s to the early 1980s, as well as Iraqi Jewish experiences of emigration, transit journeys, and new lives in the diaspora, in locations including Iran, India, Japan, China, Israel, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States.

Arrangement

The collection is arranged in two broad groupings, with Series I containing general materials related to the editors' work on the book project; and Series II all of the oral histories, autobiographical narratives, and associated materials, arranged alphabetically by name of subject.
  1. Series I: Book project – General materials, circa 2003-2007
  2. Series II: Oral history interviews and related materials, circa 1900, 1930s-2007
Originals of all files found on floppy disk or CD have been transferred to ASF secure server space. Individual files or groupings of files are intellectually described as part of the collection below.

Acquisition Information

The collection was received from Robert Shasha.

Digitization Note

Born-digital material has been noted and is available to researchers through the hyperlinks at the folder level. With the exception of material that may still be under copyright protection, the remaining portion of the Shasha collection has been digitized in its entirety.

Related Material

A small amount of material (correspondence and statements) related to a rally held in New York City in 1969 after 53 Iraqis, including Iraqi Jews, were executed, can be found in the following collection held by the American Jewish Historical Society, at the Center for Jewish History: Records of the Synagogue Council of America (I-68), Box 24, Folder 17.

Documents of the Iraqi Jewish community dating from the 16th to the 20th century, known as the "Iraqi Jewish Archive," which were discovered in the Iraqi intelligence headquarters by the United States Army in 2003, and were subsequently treated and digitized at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, can be accessed online at http://www.ija.archives.gov.

Separated Material

Two commercial CDs were transferred to the American Sephardi Federation Library: 1) The Forgotten Refugees (The David Project, 2004); and 2) Rivers of Babylon (musical group), Treasures: Songs of Praise in the Iraqi-Jewish Tradition (Sara Menasseh, 2002).

Processing Information

During processing, hard copy and digital materials were sorted and categorized according to the oral history interviewees, or authors/subjects of narratives (Series II); or, alternatively, grouped together as related to the general work of organizing and conducting interviews, and producing the book Iraq's Last Jews (Series I). Hard copy materials and cassette tapes were placed in acid-free archival folders and boxes. Disk images were produced of seventeen 3.5" floppy disks carrying word processing files (transcripts) in May 2015 using BitCurator. The disk images are in ASF secure network storage space. The physical disks are found in box 2. Individual transcript files in Word format were opened, saved to PDF/A-1, and assigned a filename, either asf-ar72-[original file name] if the original filename was descriptive, or asf-ar72-[interviewee_name] if it was not. The PDF/A files will be made available via the Center for Jewish History's digital asset management system, and are linked below in the container list.

Sixteen data compact discs were logically copied in June 2015. Unaltered copies of the files are in ASF secure network storage space. The physical discs are found in box 2. Individual Word files were opened, saved to PDF/A-1, and assigned a filename, either asf-ar72-[original file name] if the original filename was descriptive, or asf-ar72-[interviwee_name] if it was not. These files will be made available via the Center for Jewish History's digital asset management system.

Digital audio files will be made available via the Center for Jewish History's digital asset management system. A set of 61 image files was ingested as a group, entitled Photographs – Iraqi book project.

The portion of the materials that exhibited some original order pertained to interviews conducted in 2003 to 2004, which were all transcribed and the word processing files stored on the 17 floppy disks. All of the floppy disks except one were found in envelopes together with one or more cassette tapes; the envelopes had uniform printed labels, with the name of the interviewee, as well as (either printed or filled in by hand) the name of the digital file and sometimes the date of the transcription. The accompanying cassette tapes were typically labeled only with the name of the interviewee. In these instances, the content of the tapes was not reviewed; rather, it was assumed that the tape(s) found in the same envelope corresponded to the interview documented in the transcript. The 17th floppy disk (Sourani) and the corresponding cassette tape were found loose, but were labeled with the same date and thus easily paired.

Other recordings (pertaining to later interviews, conducted in 2006) were received either as loose cassette tapes (typically labeled only with the name of the interviewee), or as electronic audio files on CD, with the file name reflecting the name of the interviewee. The materials also included many printouts of transcripts that had served as working copies, some with highlighting and handwritten emendations, as well as other biographical materials. All of these materials were examined, grouped according to interviewee/subject, and the paper transcripts matched to recordings.

Most of the CDs that carried recordings were labeled as either "London" or "Israel"; each CD typically carried seven to fifteen files, documenting several different interviews. These files were all dated in 2006, and it became apparent that these were the recordings made by Tamar Morad during her trips to London and Israel in July to August 2006. Most or all of the recordings were ultimately found to be present in duplicate, but the groupings on the CDs varied, so that no single CD could be said to be carrying duplicates; rather, the files had to be surveyed as a whole in order to determine the extent of duplication. (In the case of the Israel interviews, CDs labeled simply "Israel" contained both English- and Hebrew-language interviews, and CDs labeled "Israel – English" represented separate groupings of English-language interviews only.)

A variety of materials, including audio files, transcripts, and background/research material was found on three additional CDs, and was sorted according to the nature of the files, and integrated into Series I and Series II, as appropriate. One CD labeled "Tamar" carried a folder labeled "London," containing audio recordings (mostly duplicates found elsewhere), as well as word processing files that included transcripts and some general materials related to the book project (contacts/itineraries, book proposal). Two additional CDs were unlabeled, and contained various word processing files, including working copies of transcripts (i.e. with comments, notes, and/or highlighting), and one file of background information ("wedding info," about Iraqi Jewish customs). The unlabeled CDs also contained a few files that evidently had to do with other projects of Morad, and were clearly unrelated to the Iraqi Jewish oral histories; these files were excluded from the collection.
Title
Guide to the Tamar Morad, Dennis and Robert Shasha Collection of Iraqi Jewish Oral Histories circa 1900, 1930s-2007 (bulk 2003-2007) ASF AR 72
Author
Processed and finding aid compiled and encoded by Violet Lutz
Date
© 2015
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Sponsor
as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • September 2016: Added dao links by Eric Fritzler.

Repository Details

Part of the American Sephardi Federation Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States