This year, on the 19th February, there will be a special memorial service in a London synagogue to mark fifty years since the Baghdad Hangings. The service will remember the nine Jews, two Christians and three Muslims who were hung in Baghdad, falsely accused of being Israeli spies.
On 27th January 1969, an announcement was made on the radio in Baghdad calling on people to celebrate at Liberation Square, a central square in the capital of Iraq. It is estimated that 500,000 people came to celebrate the deaths of these innocent men. They had been subjected to a televised show trial for days before being publicly led to the square the day it finished. They were dressed in simple clothing, barefoot, a sign placed around each of their necks stating their religion and their ‘crime’.
Eleven of the men, including all of the Jewish accused, were hung in Liberation Square and three more men were hung at a different public location in Baghdad. At the same time, two more Jews were hung in Basra in front of similarly jubilant crowds.
Two of those killed were under eighteen years old - they had been forced to lie about their ages so that they could be executed.
The images were broadcast around the world and led international outcry. In London, a protest outside the Iraqi Embassy was arranged by the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue.
In the year following the hangings at least fifty more Jewish men in Iraq were imprisoned, killed, publicly hung, went missing, or were tortured.
Azoury Attar, one of our Sephardi Voices UK interviewees, remembers the day of these terrible hangings:
“There was no leaving. From ‘67 to ‘70 nobody left Iraq, because we were not allowed to go outside Baghdad. We couldn’t leave Baghdad. Not only we couldn’t leave Iraq - but we couldn’t even leave Baghdad, which is in the centre of Iraq. Once you go to the motorway there is the Army every 50km or so, and at every entry. So nobody left. From ’67 to ’70 we stayed.
I was on my way to go to work. We used to take the communal taxi and before we got to the round-a-bout some people stopped the taxi and they said,
‘Come down and see spies.’
I didn’t understand what it was.
‘They hung the spies. The Israeli spies.’
Meanwhile, we all got out of the taxi, and all the people start walking, so I start walking with them…and…I was standing underneath of one of the men, which I know. Hung, the scarf around his neck. This picture? Nobody can forget it when you see it. And I think I’m the only Jewish guy who saw them hanging in the square. I don’t think anybody could go there - and I saw them by chance, I wasn't supposed to be there.
And I saw the Muslims throw stones on them, spitting, hitting their legs. [He pauses] These things you can't forget. It was 27th January 1969. And one of them was seventeen, they called him eighteen. [He sighs deeply] Nine out of them were Jewish. 1969. This is the worst memory which you can have - for Iraqis – of what they did.”
The eleven Jewish men who were executed in Baghdad and Basra were:
Daoud Heskel Dalal (aged 16)
Hesqal Saleh Hesqel (aged 17)
Ezra Naji Zilkha
Na'im Khedhouri Hilali
Sabah Haim Dayan
Daoud Ghali Yadgar
Yaqoub Gourji Namerdi
Charles Rafael Horesh
Yeheskel Eliahou Dellal
Yeheskel Raphael Yacoub
Alongside them were:
Jamal Sabih al-Hakim
Abdul Mohsin Jarallah
Muhammad Abdul Hussain Nur Gita
Zaki Andraus Zitou
Albert Habib Thomas
The interview extract in this post has been redacted and edited for clarity.