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10 May 2017

The Jews of Burma (Myanmar)

Recently, I have had the opportunity to take another look at a most interesting family, the Battat family.  It was almost 6 years ago when I was first introduced to their history and I found it amazing. At that time I was given access to a collection of records that I called the records of the Battat Family of Iraq. This collection had histories and documents that traced the family through the lands of Persia, which is modern day Iran. Now, this same family is taking me on a journey to another area of the world, Burma.
The history of the Jews of Burma is much different than that of Iran, and it covers a much shorter time frame. The first Jew to be recorded in the records of Burma, was Solomon Gabirol, an 18th century commander in the army of King Alaungpaya, however the first group of Jews didn't start to arrive until the mid 1800's.
It was at this time that Jewish families like the Battat's, most of whom were from India and Baghdad, first started establishing communities in Burma. These groups, who were mostly merchants, established businesses dealing with cotton and rice trading, and prospered under the British rule in places such as Rangoon and Mandalay. It was during this time that the Jewish population peaked at around 2,500 people. However, this all changed in 1942.
With the Japanese invasion of Burma in 1942, the Jewish community began to leave the country. With the Japanese and the Nazi's being allies it was not a place that the Jews felt comfortable being, so most fled to India. Later those who had stayed immigrated to Israel and the United States. The family of Ezekial Moses Battat and his wife Sally, had actually left even earlier, in 1931.

The family of 10 arrived in New York on 4 November 1931 on board the SS Olympic. At the time of the Petition for Naturalization in March of 1934, the family had established their new home in San Francisco, California. The 1940 United States Census (shown below) shows the births of the children all in Burma.


The Jewish population of Burma today is probably well under 100 people, but hopefully the traditions they established will now be carried on by the descendants of those families that once flourished there.

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