'They pleaded to the soldiers not to take him away'

Charly Atrakchi recalls the night Iraqi soldiers took his father away, two years before his family fled to Israel.

Jewish refugees from Triploi arrive in Haifa 521 (photo credit: Arnold Behr/Jerusalem Post Archives)
Jewish refugees from Triploi arrive in Haifa 521
(photo credit: Arnold Behr/Jerusalem Post Archives)
Charly Atrakchi was born into a wealthy family in Basra, Iraq, in 1957, the son of Kobi (Yaakov), a textile importer and one of seven siblings.
“We had a large house with several stories and my father owned large date plantations which produced both dates and date honey,” Atrakchi told The Jerusalem Post on Monday at the “Justice for Jewish refugees from Arab countries” international conference of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
After the Ba’athist coup in 1968, Atrakchi’s home was put under surveillance, the telephone lines were cut and the family needed official permission for any journey they wished to make.
“On November 8, 1968, a Friday morning, I woke up to the sounds of screaming and shouting,” Atrakchi recalls. My mother and my father’s parents, who lived with us, were pleading with Iraqi soldiers, begging them not to take him away.
“That was the last time we saw him,” said Atrakchi simply.
After a month or so, Iraqi state radio began reporting that a network of Israeli spies had been uncovered, he said. “We were glued to the radio broadcasts and one evening we heard a report declaring that my father was the contact man for a network of 14 spies who had been arrested.”
The spies, including nine Jews but not including Atrakchi, were put on trial, found guilty of spying for Israel and sentenced to death by hanging.
Charly’s father, Iraqi officials declared, was the second-in-command of the spy ring but had escaped from prison, explaining why he was not tried.
According to Atrakchi however, an elderly Jewish suspect who had been arrested on suspicion of spying but subsequently released, later told the family that their father had been tortured and executed in front of them in order to coerce the other suspects into confessing to the espionage charges.
The 14 men, 11 from Baghdad and three from Basra, were hanged on January 28, 1969 and their corpses put on public display in their respective cities the following day.
“500,000 people turned out to celebrate in Baghdad. They handed out sweets and fruit juice, and rejoiced,” Atrakchi said.
The family remained under surveillance for another two years before they finally fled the country in the summer of 1971. Taking one piece of hand luggage each, the family pretended to be going on vacation to northern Iraq and took a train to Baghdad.
From there they made their way to the northeastern city of Kirkuk and, with the help of Kurdish smugglers, the Atrakchis crossed into Iran across mountainous terrain and made their way to Tehran where the Jewish Agency took care of them.
On August 10, 1971 the Atrakchis landed in Israel. Charly, a project manager in a hi-tech firm, is married to the daughter of refugees from Germany who left that country in the 1930s. They and their three children live in Shoham.
“I very much hope the [Foreign Ministry] campaign succeeds,” he said. “The stories of the Jewish refugees must be preserved and recognized and I will do everything I can to help achieve this goal.”