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The author’s family before leaving Baghdad.

In 1941, as the British were about to leave Iraq, 179 Jewish men, women, and children were killed in a pogrom in Baghdad called “Farhud,” or “violent dispossession.” Over 1,000 people were injured. Houses were robbed. Realizing the Jews couldn’t live in Iraq unprotected, my uncle joined the Haganah to help establish the Jewish underground.

Members of the underground used to meet at my grandparents’ house, where my uncle taught them how to use weapons. They walked around the streets of Baghdad with weapons hidden under their clothes to protect the Jews. If the Iraqis had found out, they would have executed everyone involved.

When Israel was established in 1948, the Jews were fired from all government jobs. Devastated, my grandfather could not wait to leave Iraq, but my uncle refused to leave until all the Jews fled. My grandfather left with the rest of the kids, ages 2–19, including my mother, while my grandmother stayed behind with my uncle until “the time is right,” as he said, to join the rest of the family.

After a year, my uncle still refused to leave, so my grandmother told him she was taking the train to Al Kifl, the city where the prophet Ezekiel is buried, to pray for our family. She did not want him to know the truth: she was about to give up their citizenship and get the certificates to leave Iraq. She had to do this outside Baghdad so he wouldn’t find out. The train was hot and crowded, and usually a woman would not ride without a man, but my grandmother, stubborn and brave, had no choice. She returned safely and hid the certificates.

One evening, my uncle burst into the house, pale and scared. He told my grandmother one of his friends in the underground was caught. The Iraqis would torture him, get all the names, and come for them and kill them both.

My grandmother did not say a word. She took his arm and walked him to her bedroom closet. She opened the door and revealed the certificates to leave hidden under a pile of clothes. My uncle, not knowing if he should be upset or happy, hugged her, and they fled.

The Iraqis, as expected, looked, for my uncle. They put a prize on his head, but he was long gone, safe in Israel with his family.

Over 60 years have passed. I moved from Israel to Seattle and wrote my family story in a work of historical fiction. One day, a few months ago, a Muslim student from the American University of Iraq contacted me. She told me how much she liked my book. She was surprised to learn that I wrote the history with no hatred.

She asked if her class could interview me through Skype. I agreed, excited for this unique opportunity. They asked me what I am: Iraqi, Israeli, Palestinian, American? I answered, “I am all this, and a Jew too.” I said that if we look closer, we can see that people are people everywhere.

Iraq has many memories for my family — good and bad. I choose to look at the better side of it. 

Revital Shiri-Horowitz lives in Bellevue and is the author of Daughters of Iraq and Hope to See You Soon. Learn more about her experience at revital-sh.com.
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