Remembering the Jewish community of Baghdad

New film celebrates thousands of years of Iraqi Jewish history including the story of the first Baghdad beauty queen - a young Jewish woman.

Yoni Kempinski,

David Dangoor
David Dangoor
Yoni Kempinski

Described as “gripping” and “absorbing” by Peter Bradshaw, the The Guardian's chief film critic, Remember Baghdad reveals the untold story of Iraq, though the eyes of the Jews, Iraq’s first wave of refugees. From picnics on the Tigris and royal balls, to hangings, imprisonment and escape, moving individual stories take us from past to present.

The life of the Jewish community, probably the oldest Jewish Diaspora, is shaped by British and Nazi influence and the creation of the State of Israel. Told through vivid testimony, home movies, and news archives, as well as footage from Iraq today, we follow the lives of four Jewish families trying to make sense of turbulent times, and one man goes back to buy a house in Iraq.

David Dangoor, one of the people behind the film's creation, fled Iraq 50 years ago.

The memory of Iraq is, for those born there, “like a distant bell ringing in the back of our heads, always reminding us where we came from.”

Dangoor comes from a prominent family of Baghdadi Jews. His grandfather was the world's largest printer of Arabic books, while his great-grandfather was the Chief Rabbi of Baghdad. Dangoor's mother was crowned “Miss Baghdad” in the country’s first beauty contest in 1947. More than three decades after they fled the country, Dangoor and his family applied for Iraqi passports after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and even voted in the subsequent elections.

Another Iraqi Jew featured in the film, Edwin Shuker, has a unique longing from the place he was forced to flee decades ago. “To say that we are gone, finished and that we’ve left forever is unbearable for me,” laments Shuker, who has bought a house in Erbil, in northern Iraq, and visits frequently.

The film resonates on many levels, especially because of the massive current refugee crisis in the region and the tensions over Kurdistan. However, the story of Jewish Iraq has also returned to the headlines as the Iraqi Jewish Archive, a collection of 2,700 books and tens of thousands of historical documents from Iraq's Jewish community found by the United States Army in the basement of Saddam Hussein's intelligence headquarters during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, is at the center of a tug-of-war between the U.S. and Iraq, with many Jewish scholars and organizations insisting the archives should either stay in the U.S. or come to Israel.




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