I was born in Baghdad, Iraq on May 8th, 1938 to a prominent Jewish family. My father, having won a scholarship from the Iraqi government (then controlled by the British), was sent to Bombay University, India, to study civil engineering.Upon completion of a 5-year program, he returned to Basra (Iraq) and worked on the development of the Iraqi railroad system. He met my mother on her visit to her brother (who worked for my father), and was married within six months.
Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to head the railroad system in Iraq and was moved to Baghdad. We lived in an opulent section of Baghdad, on the same street where two of Iraq’s most recent Prime Ministers lived. We grew up playing with their children.
Then came World-War II. The Pro-Nazi opposition attempted a coup of the government, which brought back the British Army to suppress it. In the meantime, to placate the populace and induce them to join in the revolt, the leaders encouraged a three-day free-for-all looting and rampage, and anything they could do to Jews, Christians and Kurds, including killing and hanging.
Then came the formation of the Jewish state, Israel, in Palestine in 1948 (the British having withdrawn from Palestine) and the subsequent attack in an effort to eradicate the Jewish settlers and regain control of Palestine. The Arabs were defeated and the state of Israel came into being.
Among the defeated Arab forces were the Iraqi army (which never signed the U.N. sanctioned armistice agreement), and returned to Iraq humiliated. Again, they took their wrath on the minority population of Iraq, especially the Jews, accusing them of aiding and spying for Israel. More public hanging followed, which I witnessed at age 10. On that “subversive” list, were all the wealthy and prominent Jews of Iraq (who trace their roots to the Roman expulsion form their homeland some 2,500 years earlier). On that list, my father’s name eventually appeared.
A while later, my father contacted the Zionist Underground Organization and arranged for me and my younger brother, Yeftah, to be smuggled out of Iraq. Much intrigue and many months later, we crossed by boat and on foot into Iran (which was sympathetic with the state of Israel and the plight of the Jews) and ended up in a ‘concentration camp’ in Tehran, Iran, where children from around the world, but particularly from Europe, were concentrated, and later air lifted to Israel. We lived in a kibbutz. For a period of 2 years, we were separated from our parents. They didn’t know whether we survived the journey; (nor did we know if our family survived).
After living in Israel for approximately 10 years, I left (1958) on ‘a short vacation’ and ended up in Brazil, where I lived for 2 years. I then came to the U.S. (1960) on a student visa, attended Columbia University and classes at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Eight months later, having run-out of money, I joined the U.S. Army. Six months later I was sent to Korea to serve with the 1st Cavalry Division (1960-63). This was Kennedy time. Later, Johnson ordered the 1st Cavalry to Vietnam, where it sustained nearly 80% casualties. As far as I know, I am left with only one army buddy (John H. Stacy, Oklahoma). (The movie Apocalypse Now, starring Marlon Brando, depicted that division.
There followed approximately 35 years of working in the U.S., marriage, three daughters, and a grandchild. Then came the September 11, 2001 terror act against the United States. I applied and volunteered to work for the F.B.I. (counter-terrorism) and have since retired. Someday, I intend to return/visit Baghdad, and see what has transpired since I left 55 years ago. So far I am unable to obtain a visit visa to Baghdad.
My book, the Return to Baghdad chronicles my journey from birth until today. The last chapter of the journey will circle back to my roots and cover my return to Baghdad (real or imaginary), visiting places, taking hundreds of photos and searching for my birthplace. It will end in one of these scenarios:
1. A successful visit to Baghdad and return to the U.S.
2. Deciding to stay, live and die (of old age) in Baghdad.
3. I get caught and accused of spying for the U.S. and Israel, and get executed by a firing squad, (assuming Iraq gains its independence and is allowed to govern itself).