Conjuring the Memory of Iraq

by Linda Menuhin


More than 40 years have passed since I fled Iraq, yet Iraq has never left me. Time and again I earnestly tried to bury my past, without much success. This year on Yom Kippur I honored my father''s memory with a sense of fulfillment.


On the eve of Yom Kippur in 1972 my father, a distinguished lawyer in Iraq, disappeared. He was the first Jewish person to disappear during the Ba’athist regime’s years in power. In 2003, as U.S. troops entered Iraq, and the Ba’athist regime was toppled, denial of my father’s destiny was no longer an option. During that time, the memory of Iraq became a steady visitor at my home in Israel. All my energy became focused on deciphering the clues of my father’s disappearance. Friends all over the world, including some inside Iraq, tried to help trace documents that might give us a clear idea of what happened to him.


This long lasting search for my father is the center of a new feature documentary, Shadow in Baghdad, by award-winning filmmaker Duki Dror. It took Mr. Dror four years to complete this film. For me, this story is a journey that I carry every day of my life. Documents helped me reconstruct my father''s image and paved the way to a rational understanding of what happened to him.


Documents are part and parcel of human history. They provide living memory that registers an entire community’s existence. To this end I am looking forward to visiting the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) exhibition, Discovery and Recovery, which will feature Jewish Iraqi documents seized by the American troops in 2003. This exhibition, which will open on October 11th, might present a balanced view of my life in Baghdad while highlighting the positive cultural relics of my living Iraqi-Jewish community and our ancestors.


The exhibition may help me develop lost memories. Were it not for the recovery and rehabilitation of the Jewish archive, these documents would have been forever lost in the sewage water of Sadaam Hussein''s secret police headquarters where they were found. While the U.S. government has rehabilitated and digitized these Jewish documents, they are committed to returning the originals back to Iraq despite the fact that there is no longer a Jewish community left there. It saddens me that the majority of Iraqi Jews will never be able to see the documents within the archive as Iraq does not allow Israeli citizens into the country. 


Some of these documents, like student records from the Frank Iny School, belong to Iraqi Jews, like myself, who are now living scattered around the world. This is not to mention religious books confiscated from Iraqi synagogues by the Ba''athist regime. Some of these books belonged to Jews who were afraid to carry them while fleeing the country illegally.


Why would Iraq insist on retrieving this Jewish communal treasure while the country is ravaged by factional warfare? If Iraq cannot protect its own people how on earth can it protect documents of a living community it persecuted? The concept of Iraqis clinging to these Jewish documents and claiming them as part of Iraq''s national heritage is a bad joke.


Like other Iraqi Jews, I care for the contents of the archive and the memories they conjure, more than the various Iraqi factions who claim them as part of their heritage yet are busy engaged in violent acts of war. With much satisfaction and equal parts pain, my life journey has created an opportunity for two self identities, the Iraqi and the Israeli, and both have somehow managed to co-exist in peace. My hope is that Iraq can also embrace and honor the experiences and rights of its various minority groups – both those who remain and those in exile.


Shadow in Baghdad will be released by the end of 2013. For more information, visit the film''s website.

For more information on the archive please click here