Jews who stayed behind in Iraq after the mass exodus of the 1950s include David Dangoor and David Khalastchi. Dangoor is one of eight Jews who recount their experience of oppression and exile from Iraq in the new film Remember Baghdad. Report by Joe Shute in the Daily Telegraph.
Despite still being a child, Dangoor recalls several moments from his youth where he noticed enmity building towards the Jews. On one occasion he sent off for an offer of a stamp starter collection he had seen on the back of a cereal packet. When the packet arrived it contained a stamp for Israel his father quickly took it off him and destroyed it. “An Israeli stamp could get you in prison,” he says.
On another occasion he remembers being asked he if was a Zionist by school friends despite not even knowing what the word meant. One 16-year-old Jewish pupil at a different school was even sent to prison after being tricked into drawing the Star of David on a blackboard.
In order to leave all Jewish families were forced to sign a document saying that if they did not return in three months all their assets were surrendered to the Iraqi state. Dangoor remembers his father saying his freedom was worth more than anything he left behind.
David Khalastchi carried on in Iraq despite worsening persecution against the Jewish community making it almost impossible to live in the country. Eventually in 1967 after having his passport confiscated for three years he managed to secure one through an intelligence contact and flee over the border with his wife and daughter.
Of the many tragedies he was forced to witness in exile, one occasion from 1969 stands out for David Khalastchi when the young Ba’athist Saddam Hussein hanged 13 people, nine of them Jewish, as supposed traitors to the regime in front of a jubilant crowd.
“They were people who had nothing to do with anything,” he says with sorrow.
Khalastchi and Dangoor are proud of their adopted homeland and have raised families here. The latter was a pupil at (now closed) Carmel College, once known as the Jewish Eton, and helped his father establish a multi-million pound property business in London.
Remember Baghdad will be screened on 3 December at the Phoenix cinema, East Finchley in London at 5.15 pm. For details see www.rememberbaghdad.com