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Last on

Sun 4 Dec 2011 17:00 BBC Radio 4

Duration:
40 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 29 November 2011

Jews in Iraq? Alan Yentob investigates a 2600 year old community, now almost disappeared. Once they thrived as a third of Baghdad's population, now only seven Jewish people remain.

Few people realise there was once a thriving Jewish community in Iraq - in 1917 it was a third of Baghdad's population. Jewish people had government jobs and dominated the music scene. They were an integral part of the community, living peacefully with Arab neighbours. The Jews had been in Iraq for more than two and a half millennia, since it was called Babylon, and remembered in Psalms. For centuries it was the centre of Jewish learning. Alan speaks to people who remember a life in Baghdad characterised by integration, religious diversity and colourful traditions.

In the 40s, everything changed. Nazism, Arab-nationalism and anti-Zionist feeling created a wave of anti-semitism. Violent pogroms flared up, young Jewish men were publically hanged, Jews were forced from jobs. By the 1970s nearly all had left, many in 1951 when 110,000 people were flown to safety in Israel. We hear from those who remember the community's traumatic final days.

Now those few Jews who remain are hidden away. They will certainly be the last of the ancient Babylonian Jewish line, says Canon Andrew White, the 'Vicar of Baghdad'.

In a very personal programme, BBC Creative Director Alan Yentob, himself the child of Iraqi Jewish immigrants, looks into his heritage and uncovers the hidden history of the Jews of Iraq. Although the community is now almost vanished in Iraq itself, its traditions survive though around the world. With interviews, archive recordings and contemporary music, Alan brings its vibrancy to life.

Producer: Hannah Marshall
A Loftus Audio production for BBC Radio 4.

  • Photo Credit

    The picture of a Jewish family in Baghdad in 1912 is used courtesy of the Jewish Museum London

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