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01 March 2011

The Jews of Iraq and the Sassoon Family

The Jewish history of the country of Iraq is one of the longest, most historically significant of all countries. It's documented history dates back to the time of Babylonian captivity in 586 BCE. Over the centuries the Jews in Iraq have come under the control of various countries and peoples, some favorable to the Jews, some not.
In the early 1530's, Mesopotamia and Iraq came under the control of the Ottoman Turks, who took Tabriz and Baghdad from the Persians, which led to a better life for the Jews. In 1623, The Persians regained control of which caused the situation to deteriorate. Finally, in 1638, the Turks regained control of the area.

That army that regained control included a large group of Jews. That event, the reconquest is known as "Yom Nes" or the Day of Miracle. This time was a period when the Jewish population began to grow. After some time, the area fell under Turkish control, which did not hinder the growth of the population but did create a situation that saw the condition of the Jews worsen. By the early 1880's the Jewish population in Baghdad was 30,000, and in 1900, it had climbed to over 50,000, which was more than a quarter of the population of Baghdad.

This time of growth was also a time when some Jewish families became well established. One of those was the Sassoon's. David Sassoon was born in October of 1792 in Baghdad. His father who was a wealthy merchant, was for many years the State Treasurer to the Turkish Governor of Baghdad. While in Baghdad he married Hannah Joseph, daughter of Abdullah Joseph and had 4 children, 2 sons and 2 daughters. David, fearing the persecutions that were happening in Baghdad took his family and moved to Persia. Finally in 1832, he left Persia and moved to what would become his home, Bombay. In Bombay, he became head of David Sassoon and Co., a house of banking and mercantile. Through this company the Sassoon would obtain great wealth and power throughout the world.

In modern times, Iraq saw it's Jewish population grow to over 120,000 people prior to the 1948 Arab-Israel war. After the war as persecution grew most Jews left, many for Israel. Just as before with David Sassoon, the conditions in Iraq, forced so much of the strength of the community to move elsewhere. Today, very few Jews live in Iraq.

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