Proofread by: Rebecca Lash
Transcribed by: Temi
Interview date: 8/21/2017
Location: Toronto, Canada
Interviewer: Lisa Newman
Total time: 1:31:18
Note: Background communication between interviewer and camera operator has been omitted from the transcript.
Caroline Bassoon Zaltzman: Born in Baghdad, Iraq, 1957. Arrived in Israel 1971. Arrived in Montreal, Canada February 1976.
Caroline Bassoon (00:00:16):
I am Caroline Bassoon Zaltzman. And you were born.
New Speaker (00:00:20):
Born in Baghdad, Iraq. Do you want me to tell you when?
Lisa Newman (00:00:21):
Caroline Bassoon (00:00:25):
Lisa Newman (00:00:28):
born at home?
Caroline Bassoon (00:00:29):
No Born in the hospital.
Lisa Newman (00:00:30):
was that unusual then?
Caroline Bassoon (00:00:31):
Uh, uh, not, not for Iraqi Jews. No. Um, there were, for most part, they were fairly modern. I think if you didn't live in Baghdad, if you lived outside and in some of the towns outside Baghdad and non in the capital then maybe yes. But, uh, certainly in Baghdad, at least in the late fifties, people went to the hospital. Um, I can't tell you probably my father's generation I'm sure did not, but definitely in our generation,
Lisa Newman (00:01:03):
Who else was in the family?
Caroline Bassoon (00:01:05):
Um, just my parents. I'm the first born. Um, my mother, my father. And at the time when I was born, um, I only had from my family that was in Iraq, my mother's parents, my grandfather and my grandmother, Abdullah and Rose and my aunt, my mother's only sister Esperance.
Lisa Newman (00:01:23):
And your mother's maiden name was.
Caroline Bassoon (00:01:31):
Rabbi [ph] it's, I don't know where it came from.
Lisa Newman (00:01:34):
Do you know how many generations your family was in Iraq?
Caroline Bassoon (00:01:38):
I really have no answer to that. I asked my grandfather when I came to visit to Israel and I asked my grandfather in Iraq and I don't think anyone really can trace it back that long for the most part. However, the Iraqi Jews go back to the destruction of first temple, which is in the 570 something. So probably, you know, in the order of 25,500 years, uh, it's continuous, you know, for the people didn't really go, they didn't, they did not immigrate to Iraq. Some people came left Iraq and went for business elsewhere. So they would have gone to India. So a lot of the Jews in India are from Iraqi origins that went to Indonesia, uh, some went to China, um, and genetically speaking, they may have actually went to Russia.
Lisa Newman (00:02:25):
And what was your parents' work? [Coughs]
Caroline Bassoon (00:02:29):
Well, my dad was a bookkeeper. He, um, he did, he basically worked for a company as a bookkeeper. Um, and, um, uh, he has a high do want to tell you that? I don't know he has a high school education. Um, my father was a very, very smart man. Not was. He is incredibly smart, still incredibly smart. Um, he, but he had to work from age 12 to support his family of 10 children and his parents because his father who was a musician, um, who had a band and basically played at weddings and bar mitzvahs, wasn't really making a lot of money. And, um, there was a lot of people in the family. So my dad at age 12 had to work after school. He used to tutor and the way he will tell you the story is that he would go to school and he would come home.
Caroline Bassoon (00:03:27):
And the first thing he'll do is he will go and basically tutor to make money. And then he'll come home at 11 o'clock to do his own homework. And he always excelled in school. And when he finished, uh, elementary school, they needed the equivalent of $5, which I don't know what that is, $50 or something to go to high school. And he also needed, um, clothes, pants and suits. So apparently the Iraqi community would donate money to people who don't have money to get clothes, but no one donates money to, for them to go to school. So he almost didn't go to high school because he didn't have the $5 dinars that he needed. And then his principal, when he didn't show up on the first day, his principal called him and he said, David, you have to come to school. How can you not come to school?
Caroline Bassoon (00:04:14):
If you don't come to school, then who's going to come to high school? He said, take the money. They donate to you to go get the clothes and just use that for tuition, which he did. So he graduated from high school, but he didn't have the money to go to university. And he also was a, there was always a quota on Jews going to university. So, um, only the wealthy would have gone and the quota would have gone to the ones who are wealthy. So he never did. However, when he was in his sixties and we were in Montreal, it was determined that he was going to get a degree from university. So after school, he went to Concordia university and he did one or two courses a semester throughout the years, including in the summer. And by the age of 70, he was basically about three credits shy of graduating, but he decided to move to Montreal, to Toronto.
Caroline Bassoon (00:05:08):
And it wasn't really about the degree it really was about the fact that he did it. And he had a great GPA, like actually GPA was like 3.7 or something, which is insane [LN: and he will be interviewed as well. So yeah, we'll hear some of this from him, was your mother's family, uh, similar background?] Um, my mother's family in terms of how far back they go? Yeah, the same. My, my mother's family was a little bit wealthier. Um, my grandfather, his father was well known in the community. I'm not honestly sure what he did. I don't know if he was in import export. I, I don't, I don't know exactly. Um, I'm sorry. That's my grandfather, my mother's grandfather. So I don't know what he did. His name was, Meir Rabbi [ph]. Um, but he, he had three children with his wife, my grandfather and my one, my uncle Gergie and, and other, uh, uh, daughter and the wife at age 25 died at childbirth.
Caroline Bassoon (00:06:15):
So he had, um, I think five-year-old, um, three year old, two year old. And then after about a year he remarried and he had five more children with this woman. He remarried, this woman was actually fairly wealthy. And I think he, as I said, he was, I think he was doing better. He was doing well. So eventually those children, they all became very successful. Um, my grandfather was the oldest. He's the only one who did not go to university. He was born probably in 1900 and I think he may have had to serve in world war one or something. I, again, I don't know that perfectly, but, um, his brother, uh, the one who was, um, he has a sister who of course had probably the elementary school education and that's, it got married. The brother became a very famous physician. Uh, in Iraq. He was the physician to almost all of the, um, rulers of Iraq, even at a time when the Jews were persecuted, he's the man that they always saw.
Lisa Newman (00:07:18):
And his name was?
Caroline Bassoon (00:07:19):
Gergie Rabbi [ph] he's really extremely famous in the Iraqi community. Almost everyone in the Iraqi Jewish community knows him. We all became doctors because of him. He was a true inspiration. He was one of those people who had a black medical bag and went everywhere and essentially make, made his diagnosis by just listening and doing a physical exam. You know, he was an amazing man. So my, my brother, sister and I all became physicians because of him and his two out of his four children became doctors because of him. And then, um, the other five kids all also became fairly. So one was a doctor pharmacist, not one doctor, doctor pharmacist, the daughter married a doctor and the youngest one was actually a nuclear physicist. He was involved within nuclear physic department in Washington, DC. He had like the highest of clearance from the American government.
Caroline Bassoon (00:08:18):
He just passed away last year. [LN: And where did those people end up?] All of those people ended up in the States. Um, the five people ended up in the state. Now two of them, the pharmacist, or one of the doctors were in Iraq when we were there. And I can tell you about this in a bit later. Uh, but the others are, were in the States. My uncle Grrgie was in Iraq when we were growing up and he ended up leaving in the sixties. And that there's a story there too. So if you want me to tell you the story about that, [LN: why don't we tell that now. Okay. So my uncle Gergie Rabbi, who's the famous physician. Um, he was very well respected. He was fairly wealthy. He had mentioned with this is even during the sixties, when the Jews being persecuted, he had a driver and a housekeeper and a gardener, and he was very well treated, very well respected.
Caroline Bassoon (00:09:13):
So in 1965, when the Jews of Iraq were not allowed to leave or have a passport and no one was able to leave other than escaping, probably from 63 onward. Um, my uncle Gergie, his wife, and he only had two of his four children with him in Iraq. His other, his two daughters who were older were in boarding schools. Um, and when the Jews of Iraq, when, when the Jews were not allowed to leave anymore in 1963 or so, the daughters were already abroad in Switzerland and they didn't come home, but his two younger sons were with them, but they somehow managed to get a passport and they got a passport for all four of them to leave to the States. Um, there was some pretense that they needed to go to States. I don't remember exactly what they said to them, but he managed to get a passport and they all left.
Caroline Bassoon (00:10:03):
But the caveat was that he, he basically, of course, can only take with him the equivalent for what you need to take to go on a vacation for two weeks. If, of course you can't take any money out of your bank, you can't sell your house, you can't do anything. So he, they left with basically the Butler still in the driver still in the house, the housekeeper still in the house, the gardener is still doing the house. They left with a minimum that they need to go on vacation. So when they got to the States, my aunt, his wife was very unhappy because there, she had doesn't have the status or the money. And, um, and so, but my uncle decided that he wanted to get his American board. He was at the time 60 years old, he was an internist. He's been working as an internist for his entire life, but he didn't have his American boards.
Caroline Bassoon (00:10:51):
So he basically decided to study to get his American boards. My aunt decided no, that's not for her. She was a poor person and a nobody there. So she took the two sons and came back to Baghdad. And of course it was the biggest mistake of her life. So my uncle stayed and after she arrived, um, the situation's only deteriorated further. And, um, she, and then Jews were being arrested. This is even before 67 war. They started to arrest the Jews, put them in jail and, uh, some people disappeared, some people were killed. Um, so she heard a rumor from some acquaintance that her oldest son who at the time would have been 18, uh, uh, or so, um, he was going to be arrested. So somehow she found a way to escape through the South of, uh, um, Iraq. And she managed to take her two sons and they escaped through the South because at the time the North, the Kurds were fighting with the Iraqis and you could not escape through the North to Iran.
Caroline Bassoon (00:11:56):
So the only way to escape in 1966 was through the South, through the Arabian sea, which is between Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. And it was very dangerous because there was a lot of chances that any of the other countries will catch you as you were escaping. Anyways, she managed to get across, but it was a very difficult trip. They robbed them when they arrived to Iran. Um, she thought they were going to rape her. Then they arrested them and put them in jail for a week or so until they have to, because they had no identification of any kind. And they had to identify who they were. And eventually she ended up, um, being safe, but they had a very difficult time. But what happened immediately after that, because I realized that she escaped with the two kids and my uncle Gerie didn't come back.
Caroline Bassoon (00:12:44):
They arrested the two brothers, the doctor and the pharmacist who were also in Iraq. And they, they were one of the first people to be arrested. And so even before 67 war and, uh, basically they accused them of helping her escape. And, um, so they were in jail at the time for, I think about a year and a half, including through the 1967 war and their mother who is my grandfather's stepmother, who didn't have any other children at the time in Iraq. She came to live with my family, with my parents and with us because there was nowhere else for her to go. So that was their first arrest. [LN: Wow. Who are you named for? Do you know?]
Caroline Bassoon (00:13:32):
Yes. My mother's name is Grace. My mother was a big fan of Grace Kelly. Grace Kelly is gave birth in January or February of 1957 to her daughter, princess Caroline. Well, Caroline actually in French and she named me after princess Carolina of Monico. [LN: Did you have another name in Arabic or Hebrew?] No, no Hebrew names, no Arabic names. [LN: What language did you speak at home?] Um, so apparently the first language I spoke was English and because they decided that I should speak English because if we leave, that would be very helpful. But, um, in, after the in 1959, when there was a revolution and they got rid of the King of Iraq, and again, I don't know why, but they apparently came and searched our house. And while I was, I was apparently two or one and a half or whatever, and I was speaking in English and my parents were very worried that they would accuse them of spying. And thankfully nothing happened that time. So they decided after that, that I should speak Arabic and not English. So after that, I spoke Arabic.
Caroline Bassoon (00:14:48):
[What are some of your early, early memories?] Um, well, the earliest memory I have is my grandfather. I went to, uh, I went to kindergarten when I was four, uh, to a school that was run by the nuns. And it was not far from where my grandparents lived, which was on the Tigris river, um, overlooks the Tigris river. And my grandfather would walk every day at lunchtime to take me to bring me home for lunch. And then my grandmother would always ask me what I wanted for lunch and she'll always make it for me. And then I always would have an ice cream or something. I also remember that my grandfather always, whenever he bought me an ice cream, he always bought my mother, my grandmother, something it's almost never that he would ever get me something without coming home to bring her something which was really nice.
Caroline Bassoon (00:15:43):
In retrospect, it was so normal, but I think about it now. And it's just such a nice thing, they had a very good relationship. So that's not a bad memory. And then I remember at the same time that one of the nuns said, um, about me, she's so pretty. It's such a shame that she's a Jew. And I remember that very well. Cause I remember asking my grandfather, what is that? Why does she say that? And it was very jumbled response. I don't know what it was, but it was that those are, you know, that's my that's when I was in kindergarten, [LN: it was, uh, run by the nuns, um, were there other Jewish children?] Yeah. Now why? Because it was very highly regarded. It was run. Well, it was a good school. My, my mother and my aunt actually went to that school. Uh, when there were, I think in elementary school, it was a regarded highly
Caroline Bassoon (00:16:41):
And, and when I was in kindergarten, that was not far from where my grandparents were. So it made sense, I think to go there, um, I didn't go to prayers or anything, so I don't remember that. But [LN: your mother spoke other languages?] Uh, yeah, my, my mother went to high school, so did my aunt and they learned French. They spoke French very, very well. And they also spoke English and I did too in elementary school. And well, I only did up to grade eight, but we studied Arabic, French and English. [LN: And as far as a Jewish communal events, do you remember?]
Caroline Bassoon (00:17:25):
Not so much because you know, I'm born in 57 and things really started to deteriorate. Um, somewhere around 1963, the King of Iraq was deposed in 59. The, there was a military ruler. Um, uh, his last name is Qasim. Abdel Karim Qasim. Who apparently when I don't, I have very little memory of that, but I did read afterwards that he was in fact not bad for the Jews. He basically claimed that everyone is free to practice whatever religion they have, but he was a military ruler anyway, he, so that he lasted till 1962 or so. And then the baath party had a, they had a coup d'etat and the baath party came to power. So from then on life for the Jews just basically became increasingly more difficult and civil liberties were being taken away. It was really equivalent to what happened in Germany in the late 1930s, 38, um, slowly people had lost their jobs.
Caroline Bassoon (00:18:34):
You could not hire a Jew or, uh, uh, you can't hire a Muslim and you can't, as a Jew you can't work for a Muslim. Um, telephones were cut. Letters will always be open and read that wasn't even hidden. They opened it and they delivered to you open. Um, there was, you couldn't sell your house or buy a house. You couldn't sell a car or buy a car. Uh, you could not import or export or get a license to import or export, um, a telephone. If there was a telephone they were wiretapped, you could see there's, somebody is listening to you. Um, [LN: so you were a five year old girl. What did you experience ofthese restrictions?] Well, the first thing, well, so before that, the first thing I remember actually is when there was the coup d'etat when they deposed, um, Abdel Karim Qasim. We were in school and there was martial law.
Caroline Bassoon (00:19:26):
And I remember I was my, my brother, uh, and he's a year younger than me. And we had to get home. And then this woman who was to pick up there to pick up their children, she said, well, tell me your name and tell me your address. I'll take you home. You know, this, there was no telephones or whatever. And I remember actually thinking if my father comes, he's not going to find us, but then I was so scared to stay alone and wait for my father. So this woman actually take us home. So I remember the day that that coup d'etat happened. Um, there's no exact memory of this. I remember getting a letter that was open. I actually remember seeing my parents read a letter that was already open, which I never thought about much until really maybe years later when I got to Israel and I realized, well, no letters aren't open [laughs] when you get a letter, it shouldn't be open.
Caroline Bassoon (00:20:19):
It didn't even occur to me that that was not a normal thing. Um, it, we, when there was a, so at the beginning, when I was little, we did have, uh, Rosh Hashanah and Passover, and Friday nights and every- [LN: with whom?], At my parents' house, my mother would do it. My aunt, my grandmother will come and she will help cook. Um, and they usually would stay with us over the weekend, anyway. Um, my uncles, the two uncles who were there, sometimes my uncle Gergie with his wife and children. Um, there was one, the, my grandfather's sister, uh, who I said, I told you she was married. Uh, two of her five children were all also there. That was the entire family that we have. So people will gather, but even in the 64 65, when I have memory of it, they never all came at the same time.
Caroline Bassoon (00:21:11):
They would come staggered. The people will start arriving hour before, because you don't want to have 10 people coming to your house all the same time. Beause you may be watched. Cars would never be parked in front of your house. They'd be parked at some other street and come over. So they were always afraid of the gathering case. Somebody would accuse them of spying. that I remember very clearly. And again, it didn't occur to me that that was not the norm for a long time. Windows will completely and utterly shut at all times. You know, when we're doing prayers, the windows and the curtains will always closed. We didn't live particularly in a Jewish neighborhood. You know, there were Jews in our neighborhood, but our neighbors weren't Jewish. They were Muslims and Christians. So maybe because of where we lived, you know, they were very worried about what people will say.
Caroline Bassoon (00:22:04):
I don't know. Um, I don't know. I don't know when this sta- started exactly. I don't have a memory of people coming into house and not doing that. So somewhere and obviously in 63, 64, that started to happen. [LN: Do you have any memories of synagogue?], Yes, I have a memory. We, so we, there was a synagogue and we went for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We would take the bus cause no one drove and we would have a ticket as opposed to money and we will stay at the, and it wasn't near us. So we'd have to go by bus and then we would stay there the entire day until the services are finished. So for Yom Kippur we would be there the entire day until, um, the fastest over. Um, but at some point in mid sixties, maybe after 67 war, I don't know, uh, we stopped going because at some point, at one point they actually firebombed a synagogue and then prayers were at home. There was never a place where you would gather. So somewhere in the mid sixties whether it was 66 or 67, we stopped going to synagogue. [LN: Did you know people who were physically attacked or killed?]
Caroline Bassoon (00:23:18):
Yes, yes. Actually I do. One of my father's best friends. His name is Charles Horesh [ph], he's one of the nine people that were hanged in January of 69. It was a very good friends of my father. In fact, day or two, before he was arrested, he was at our house. And uh, if you ask, my father will tell you that story a little bit better, but apparently this guy had a beef with somebody in his work and my dad told him to go and make it go away. And I guess he that didn't have a chance to make it go away or he didn't make it go away. And they arrested him, accused him of spying.... I guess Charles Horesh was, um, my father, my father's really good friend. He was one of the people that was arrested and hanged, uh, in January of 69 and a few days before he was arrested, he was at our house and he told my dad that he had beef with one of the people at his work. And my dad told him to go and fix it. And as I said, either, he did not have a chance to fix it or he didn't fix it. They arrested him, um, charged him with spying and hanged him. [LN: How did you learn of that?] Um, well that happened 69. So, um, in 69 I was, uh, 11 and, uh, we all knew about the sham trial that happened for about 48 hours.
Caroline Bassoon (00:24:58):
And the day of we knew that they it was all over in the news that they hanged the traitorous Jews. And basically they invited the whole city to come and celebrate and they hang them in the central, um, um, square square. Thank you [laughs] I was gonna say circle, but it's a square. Um, it called, uh, I think it's the Jomhouri [ph] or something. I can't remember. And they hanged them and basically there were there pictures. It was in the newspapers. Their corpses are hanging and there are people celebrating and dancing under their feet. People brought their children with their food. They had a picnic of it. So we knew the names of the people that were hanged. And we knew that. I knew that Charles Horesh was one of them. One of the other people that was hanged was a kid in my school. He was 18 years old.
Caroline Bassoon (00:25:55):
They actually came to arrest his father. He wasn't home. They wanted to take the older brother who wasn't home. They told this boy, I think he was 17. Actually. They told him they arrested him. They told him he has to say he's 18 so they can not let him go. And he was one of the people that I didn't know him very well, but he was in my school. [LN: What did you do when that day?] Uh, my, my grandmother, my great grandmother, um, whose sons were in jail, there were, she was staying with us. So my mother told me to go and pull the plug from the TV in the back so that no one would turn the TV on so that my kids, my brother and sister can see it. And especially my grandmother, my great grandmother, she didn't see it. We stayed home. It was a national holiday for everybody. [LN: What was that like for you?] It was awful. I actually still remember this day so badly. I really do. I have a , it's etched in my memory. I think it's etched in everybody's memory. Is was a really, it was a terrifying day. You know, it can happen to anyone. It happened to somebody that we knew, a friend of my father, can happen to anyone. Um, yes, it's scary. That was really very scary.
Caroline Bassoon (00:27:09):
[LN: Did you have friends who were not Jewish?] Um, yes. When I was little, so we went to Jewish school. Um, elementary school was, was, uh, Menachem Daniel and I went to one year of high school. Um, this, I went to two years of high school, no one year of high school, grade seven. [LN: and what was that school?] Um, that was Frank Iny. Yeah. So I up to grade six, I finished grade six at Menachem Daniel and I went for grade seven. Uh, in uh Frank Iny. Um, so we went to Jewish school for more than one reason. First of all, the education was much better, but also, um, really Jews didn't go to public school. But we had few non Jews in our school and that's because people decided that that was an excellent, uh, private school. So when I was in Menachem Daniel, there was at least two boys that were not Jewish that were friends with when one boy's name is Ramsey.
Caroline Bassoon (00:28:17):
I know his father was a pharmacist and I, we were friends probably up to grade four maybe or so. Um, and then there was another boy whose name was Omar. His mother was Jewish. His father was Muslim. And that was very difficult for them because they're usually if there was an interfaith marriage in Iraq, both, both of them would be ostracized, but for some reason, this boy was in Jewish school. So, uh, he was also, there probably until about grade, maybe grade six, five or six, um, in high school in, Frank Iny, there was no Jews and I was not friends with anyone in my neighborhood. You know, we rarely left our house alone. Um, you know, I I'm, if I knew that if I saw them in street, I may know who they are, but I never talked to anybody, of any of my neighbors, [LN: do you remember going to a bar mitzvah?]
Lisa Newman (00:29:17):
No [LN: wedding?] No.
Caroline Bassoon (00:29:23):
[LN: Do you remember hearing about Israel or Zionism?] Only, only in sort of the newspaper well the newspaper, TV, radio, TV, um, and only bad things you know, only, you know, only how the government of Iraq portrayed it. I knew that we had family in Israel. I knew that my father, [LN: how did you know?] well, cause my father told me he's like, my dad had nobody, my father had no family whatsoever in Iraq. Um, and so I knew he had brothers and sisters and parents that left and that are in Israel, but I, um, but I don't, I didn't know very much about Israel, really. I really didn't. I, and neither did my parents for that matter. Um, I mean, what they know is what they heard back from the family, but not much else. There's not a lot of communication all the time between them. It's not like they knew all the news. You know, my father, my father had a sister that died in 52. He didn't know about her , it took two years later. Not because there was not a whole lot of ways that he would have information being, you know, being brought back to him from Israel. [LN: He couldn't get a letter from?]
Caroline Bassoon (00:30:42):
No, there was definitely no letters, no phone. And so the only information would be if somebody somehow found information from let's say Britain or US, and somehow there was a connection, probably a business connection, uh, and somebody would report to him. So he found out my father found out about his sister, um, in 54, because that's when he took his mother to, he met, he managed to, um, he went to Vienna and then he, his mother and his brother came to Vienna and he saw them in 54. So only then did he know that his sister passed away. And then after 59, things were only harder. That was much more difficult to even communicate or, and then nobody could even leave Iraq. So there was much, much less communication. So we didn't know very much cause they didn't know very much.
Lisa Newman (00:31:37):
What do you remember being afraid of?
Caroline Bassoon (00:31:41):
In Iraq? I was afraid all the time. I was afraid that my father is going to be arrested and killed. I was afraid that, um, what's going to happen to us. I was afraid that we could be killed. I, uh, I was afraid what kind of future we're going to have? I was always afraid that we don't have, I, my father stopped working somewhere around 64. He was at home. He used to take us to school and pick us up and he made, he would have pattern or made dresses and made headbands and you know, helped us with studying. He was home. I always wondered what are we going to live on? I asked the alot, what are we going to live on? What did they say? Don't worry [laughs].
Caroline Bassoon (00:32:25):
He said, don't worry. I worried, but we never lacked for anything. It's not like we, and we had a house, nothing ever in the house ever got fixed when it got broken, we're always leaving. The bags were always packed and there's every time we outgrew our clothes the first thing that happens is my mother will change the bag, the clothes in the bag that's ready to go. Um, if something broke, you didn't really fix it. If you didn't need it, for sure. He didn't fix it. If a couch broke, you just moved the couches from the other room into that room. If a chair broke, well you'll deal with less. Um, you know, so they're always, we're always leaving. Nobody wanted to invest anything because we're always leaving, but it's not because we're lacking anything. But so I don't, I don't, I don't know what they lived on.
Caroline Bassoon (00:33:09):
I think they, they probably anticipated it and they maybe have cash sitting around. I think there were some business deals that my dad did. Um, do you want me to tell you about that? I'll tell you about, do you want me to tell you about those businesses? Okay. So I remember two things two, two times. So one time. So Jews, I think after 64, so we're not allowed to have a license to import or export. So my dad had a Muslim friend. Um, his name was Zuhair, I think Zuhair. And this other friend of his whose name was Abu Layla and I don't know what other names he has. That's all I knew him as. And they were really good friends with my father. And I remember actually I was a little girl that they would come and visit probably till about 67 or so after that definitely didn't.
Caroline Bassoon (00:34:01):
But, um, he must've made a deal with, with at least Zuhair who was an importer. Um, and they brought a whole bunch of Cadbury chocolate and they were all stored in our dining room and Zuhair brought them under his name. And I guess when they sold them, my father had a, uh, had a portion of the, of the sale, but we had a lot of Cadbury chocolate and that's actually a good memory. I still love Cadbury chocolates [laughs] Um, so that one, and then the other story, which is actually a really good, I guess it's a good story. So this guy Zuhair, they had a deal again, that my father will upfront the money to bring TVs to Iraq, to Baghdad. Um, so Iraq is kind of, I'm going to say 200 years behind, but maybe not quite 200 years, but culturally they're 200 years behind, but even TVs, there were very few houses that had TVs in the sixties.
Caroline Bassoon (00:35:02):
So they brought these TV. I think they were color TVs actually, which I think at the time was a major novelty in, in, in Iraq, in Baghdad. So the brought these TVs and, and my father fronted the money. And Zuhair, um, brought the TVs and put them in his warehouse and he was going to sell them. And, and they were going to share the profit. And one day, uh, there was a knock on the door at 11 o'clock at night, and Zuhair's wife with his two sons were there. And she said to my father, Zuhair had a heart deck he's in intensive care. We don't know if he's going to make it through the night. I know that these TVs are yours, half yours, but if he dies, this is going, I can't give you anything back. Cause there's no record that these things belong to you.
Caroline Bassoon (00:35:54):
So go with my sons now and bring your share of the TVs, take them out of the warehouse. So that's what they did all night long. They kept going back and forth and all these TVs, which they stacked in our living room and dining room for months. And he died, actually he died that night. So but I don't know what happened to the, I don't know who actually sold the TVs afterwards. Cause they didn't obviously get sold, they weren't sitting in our living room the whole time, but that's, I think that's how they made their money. It's finding a ways of people helping you finding some loophole or something. [LN: Just to go back a bit. We didn't mention that your report card was found].
Caroline Bassoon (00:36:42):
So the I'll tell you the background of how all of this was. So in 19, in 2003, when the American soldiers went into Iraq, they had, um, they went into the Mahabharata, which is the secret police, Saddam Hussein's secret police. Cause they had reports that there were weapons of mass destruction in the basement of the secret police when they got there, a bomb exploded just before they arrived. And there was a water, it sounds like probably a day or so before they arrived, there was water damage in the basement of the secret police building. When they went in, they saw two rooms labeled, one was Israel and the other one was the Jews of Iraq. In the room,labeled Israel. They found evidence that when Saddan Hussein was sending Scud missiles to Tel Aviv in 1991, that he was trying to target the area of Ramat Gan where a lot of the Iraqi Jews that left in the 1950s, settled. Scud missiles are not very precise.
Caroline Bassoon (00:37:50):
So he was not very precise and, but he definitely did have a target. And before 2003, when I was in Israel, um, in the, in the, uh, after 1991, my friends showed me buildings that still have holes in them, in Ramat Gan from the Scud missiles. And they left it. They decided they're not going to fix it because that's the memory of the Scud missiles. Um, and my high school that I went to in Is, uh, which was at the corner from Ramat Gan was actually one of the few buildings that were really damaged and they had to rebuild it. So the joke when I was there before 2003, and before we knew about all of this was that yes, it, Saddam Hussein was trying to kill us. He knew we were all living in Ramat Gan and they all like joked about it. They thought it was a joke, but it turned out that it wasn't really a joke.
Caroline Bassoon (00:38:42):
He really did keep tab of where people were. And he did know that most of the Iraqi Jews settled in that area in Tel Aviv. And he was very much aiming for that area. So that was the one room. The other room was filled with water and they could see papers floating in the dirty water. And they could see that some of it was Arabic and some of it was Hebrew and there were pictures and they knew that they had something important, but they couldn't really tell because these, all of this was buried, um, under three feet of water. So at the time they made a deal with the representative, the Iraqi government that they're going to take this material out, they're going to dry it, restore it, archive it and give it back to them. 10 years later, the story about how they did it is amazing how they actually shifted, they froze it,
Caroline Bassoon (00:39:35):
then they have to ship it to the U S frozen so that they can preserve it. And then they worked on it for, for 10 years to, to, uh, uh, clean it, restore it, get the mould out and digitize it. So in 2013, we all got, uh, most of the Iraqi Jews got emails saying that there going to be an exhibit of the Iraqi Jewish, uh, Jewish Iraqi, um, uh, archives that was basically found by the American in 2003. We didn't know the whole story, but it's going to be exhibited in the national archive in Washington, DC. We all thought, okay, that's very interesting. We thought that they were gonna be exhibiting things like, you know, mezuzah scrolls, uh, stuff that they stole out of our houses, you know, things that, gold things, you know, we had no idea that it was going to be anything like that.
Caroline Bassoon (00:40:32):
But nonetheless, when we, a lot of us figured, Oh, we should go see it. This is, would be interesting. So we, my husband and I, and we made plans with our friends. One of them, uh, the husband, Ed Agar [ph] was born in Iraq, um, in 1955. And he left in 1961 when Jews were still able to take a passport and leave. And he was six years old when he left. And we're very good friends. And the four of us made plans, got tickets, uh, booked a hotel. And we were going in at some point in November to see the nat- the exhibit. And I have a long weekend and just m- make a mini vacation. So about three weeks before I was, we were going, um, I was a Wednesday morning. I was going to work. I get an email from my, one of my friends that I went to school with in Iraq
Caroline Bassoon (00:41:24):
who I have been in touch with, and we're still very good friends. [LN: her name?] Her name is Lily Shor [ph]. Lily Shor is the one who actually volunteers for the Babylonian museum in Ber, in Or Yehud. So Lily's email says, Carolyn, did you see this? And that's all it says, and there's a link. So I click on the link and my grade six report card with my picture and my grades and everything is right there. And I don't know what to do with this. I am really stunned. And I'm reading the story about what that is, and I can't comprehend, how is this, how is this part of the national archive? How is that there? Like, I don't get it. And I don't know. I had a lot, a lot of emotion, but I had to go to work, I had patients. So I closed the computer. I went to work.
Caroline Bassoon (00:42:18):
Didn't think about it. Tried not to think about it. Saw my patients. And somewhere around six o'clock when I was done, I was still in the office. I look at this thing again in my phone, and then I forward it to my husband and my two children. And within three seconds, I get back from all three of them. Cool, cool. So cool. And I'm thinking to myself, I don't know that I felt that cool was in the hundred things I felt today. I felt a lot of things, but cool was definitely not one of them [laughs]. I don't know. I felt violated. I felt angry. I felt sad. I felt scared. Why Saddam Hussein keeping track of us. Why does he have my report card? So I went home and I was talking to my husband. And, um, it was interesting that I had to say to him what I felt, but, you know, I guess when you live in Canada, you don't know how these things feel. So anyway, um, we, you know, he told friends, I told people at work about this and, um, made sure that my report card, my marks were what I always said they were, cause they were an Arabic [laughs]. And that was the only thing he was very interested in. Oh yeah. She did do well in grade six [laughs].
Caroline Bassoon (00:43:38):
Um, and then, uh, then one of the people, actually, one of the doctors at St.Mikes, he has a son who works for, uh, the national post. And this doctor said, you know, you really have to get the story out. You know, people don't know anything about the Jews of Iraq. They don't, Jews of Toronto don't know about the Jews of Arab lands, let alone non Jews. And it's a story that should be told. This is an interesting story. It has a human face. It's an important story. So I got contacted by, by Joe Connor from the national post. And he actually did a feature on this. Uh, um, and he interviewed me and it was in November of 2013. It was a really good piece, I think. So we went to see this exhibit and the exhibit when we went to see it, the exhibit had, the archives that they took out was 2,700, um, pieces that they archived under, uh, uh, numbers, because they don't know who Caroline is or anybody else ,they did their best.
Caroline Bassoon (00:44:42):
Not everything was tremendously well-preserved, not everything had a picture. Not everything could be read well, there were massive number of report cards. Uh, rosters going to school, who came today, basically attendance, um, of who came to school. There were our monthly report cards. So every month we used to get graded and ranked and all of those records, or a lot of them for many classes for many, many years, uh, were there, there were mundane letters written by the head of the Iraqi Jewish community about how many chickens they need for kosher slaughter before Pesach. There marriage records, there were birth certificates. There were bar mitzvah certificates. There were pictures. There were, there was a letter that they must have stolen from our house, that my father asked his old school that he went to sh to school called Shamash, which wasn't there when I was growing up.
Caroline Bassoon (00:45:41):
But he needed a letter to say that he finished high school. Because when he thought, if we scaped, he needed to let know his employer, that he graduated high school, that letter's there. Um, they just went into the schools, went to the synagogues, went into the homes and stole any record. And I don't know exactly what the purpose is. The only purpose I can think of is him. Saddam Hussein wanted to keep a track of the Jewish community that was there. They knew that the Jews escaped there's, um, there's actually a, an advertisement in the paper we left in August of 1971. There was an advertisement in the paper in September of 71 with our names in it, my father and my mother, us, and some 50 other Jews saying, if you do not present yourself in the next 30 days, you will lose your Iraqi citizenship. So they knew we escaped, but they stole the stuff to still keep track of it.
Caroline Bassoon (00:46:42):
[LN: Before we talk about your escape, tell me as a young person, while still in Iraq, what were your dreams, thoughts about your future?] I was very good in school and they drill in your head all the time. That what you, the only thing you could take out of Iraq is what's in your head. So we all tried to work very hard. Um, you know, I, you know, education was very, very important for Iraqi Jews, very important. And for my father specifically very important, he didn't have a chance to go to university and he was determined that his children will succeed. And I was also very lucky that my parents who are Iraqis treated their daughters and their son exactly the same way, we're encouraged to succeed. We're encouraged to pursue whatever we want. We were given all the possibilities that they could. So I don't know that I was going to be a doctor or really when I was in Iraq, I had thought, I wasn't sure.
Caroline Bassoon (00:47:44):
I know we all admired uncle Gergie. We all want it to be him. But at that time, I'm not sure that I knew that that was going to be my path, but I always knew I'm going to have to go. I'm going to go to university, I'm going to succeed. I'm going to do something. Um, and we just dreamt about leaving every year, we went and got our, um, medical examination to get a license, to come to Ca- to get a visa, to come to Canada, to come to the United States. Should we ever be lucky, that would be the year to leave every year. You know? So we're always leaving. My whole entire life in Iraq was about leaving. [LN: and then you actually did] Yes. So in 1970, um, so the years of after six day war were, were very, very difficult for the Jews. Very difficult.
Caroline Bassoon (00:48:37):
So things were really bad. They just got much worse. And they, um, had a, this is actually a law that I did not know the Jews of Iraq after 67, a war we're not allowed to go beyond 10 kilometer radius from their houses. And there were watched 24 seven by the secret police who were in their black um, volkswagen cars at every corner. Um, that law was actually taken out in somewhere at the late 69, uh, towards the end of 69, because the international community knew about the hanging in 69. And this was one concession the Iraqi government did because of the outrage about the hanging. Um, I only found this out a couple of years ago, actually, this part of the story. I only, I didn't know, but, um, so after 69, they took away the inability to travel for more than 10 kilometers.
Caroline Bassoon (00:49:35):
Also in 1970, the war between the Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi government, um, there were truce, and, uh, the all Iraqis were able to go to the North, which is where the mountains are and where people go to summer, or they have cottages, but the war was there throughout the sixties. So 1970 was the first time that anyone can go to the North and explore escaping through the North, to Iran, the Iran at the time, uh, the Shah was in power and the Shah of Iran may have been a dictator and not a great ruler for his country, but he was a friend to Israel and to the Jews. So in 1970, a bunch of people tried to go and find a way to escape through the North, uh, into Iran. And some people succeeded, but Iraqi government knew that, um, that the Jews are trying to escape.
Caroline Bassoon (00:50:31):
And at some point when my dad was there looking to find a way to escape, they arrested, um, few hundred people, families with children and grandparents and infants and everyone who was there trying to find a way to, to escape. And my father was among them and they brought them back and they put them in this Bahai center cause there was no jail, but they could put them in. And they were there 30 days or somewhere around that, 34 days. And then they had to let them go because again, it's families and children. And I think it sounds like the world knew about it. So they had to let them go. But then after that, they smartened up. So the following summer, two Iraqi Jews decided to take upon themselves to organize it so that no more than 25 to 30 people escape on any particular day.
Caroline Bassoon (00:51:22):
So that, that massive number of people will not be at the border. And, um, because that's conspicuous. So basically on August 13, 1971, it was, they came to tell us that it was our turn. I was a Friday night. And, um, you couldn't even take the bag that my mother had packed because you have to take even less than that. My mother smuggled a few pictures, which I think of my dad knew about, he would have been very, very, very upset because what are you doing with pictures vacationing in the North? They took one bag for five of us and one bag from my grandparents and my aunt, um, and just really contained stuff they would do if you went for three days vacation, uh, in the North. Any need jewelry we had is what we were wearing. And, um, any documentation, my father had his documentation that he thought he needed to leave.
Caroline Bassoon (00:52:22):
And some, I think they, they hid my mother's purse, uh, and other stuff. So, um, that day we basically, my mother took the Friday night dinner, the chicken and the rice. And we took a taxi to the train station in, Baghdad closed the door, cars in the garage. Everything is exactly as it is. Closed the door. And we took, uh, the taxi to the train station. Then we took the train to Mosul and ate our Friday night on the train, Friday night meal on the train. And then we, when we got to Mosul, um, we took taxis and, um, we had to go through a bunch of checkpoints, but my father's, my father looks fairly Mediterranean. He looks Iraqi and he, his name is not particularly Jewish. And he many checkpoints, all they asked him was for his, for his li- for his driver's license.
Caroline Bassoon (00:53:24):
So his name is David Bassoon, it doesn't sound particularly Jewish and no one stopped us. So we went through a bunch of checkpoints and we traveled to the area where it's controlled, controlled, but at that, at that time, it wasn't really controlled. Now it's a semi autonomous, um, um, there's a semi autonomous government in the North of Iraq run by the Kurds. At the time the Kurds just had truce, but there's still areas that were really administered by the Kurds. And so my dad had a name of an address of a person to go see who's a Kurd. We went to his house and this man, uh, I guess money was exchanged at that time. And this man got us transported to a warehouse, um, somewhere, but in the North of Iraq, going towards Iran, we stayed there for a few hours. There were guns in that warehouse, including some Israeli Uzis.
Caroline Bassoon (00:54:26):
Um, which again, I did not know until I did some [laughs] training in the army in Israel afterwards, but there were guns everywhere. And, uh, then about midnight, we were put in, um, uh, Jeeps where they muddied the license plates and they took us across to a valley and they just left us there. And we were there about 25 people. So it was my brother, sister and I, my parents, my aunt, my grandparents, and, uh, um, two other, a boy and a girl who they asked my dad, if he would agree to take them with him because they didn't have room for his parents to come, but the parents wanted this guy and his sister out, the guy was about seven years older than me. And she was about, um, maybe nine years old. So I was 14. And so he would have been about 21 and she would have been about 23. And so they were with us. So this was part of our family. So we were 10, and I think there was another two families and the total was about 25 people. They left us in this valley, and really at that time, nobody knew what's going to happen....
Caroline Bassoon (00:55:48):
So, um, they left this in this valley and then at that point, people were really getting very anxious.....So they put us in this valley and at that point it was actually cold and, uh, very scary and very dark. And really at that point, nobody knew what's going to happen. We thought they, you know, they must have, they could have the Iraqi government or those soldiers could be here or the police or anyone. And this was still in, in Iraq. We were not yet in Iran. Um, but then about an hour and a half or so later. So somewhere like around four o'clock in the morning, they came back with other cars and, um, they basically drove across the border. We arrived to a town called Hana [ph]. And when we arrived to the town, we were greeted by, um, I guess border border control, the Iranian border control. We declared ourselves refugees.
Caroline Bassoon (00:57:31):
They took us to a hotel, motel, whatever it was, it was, so it was a happy, it was a happy place, probably was a dump, but it was very happy place. And, you know, my father basically was interviewed and we weren't the first people, so they knew, so it wasn't really that difficult. And then the next day, we actually were also greeted by, um, a representative, the Israeli government in, um, into Iran. So we, the next day, so that was, we arrived there Saturday, the 14th of August. Um, um, actually probably by that time, it was about the 15th, but what we got in was about four o'clock in the morning or five o'clock in the morning, it was my father's birthday. So it was really a wonderful celebration. And the next day we were taken by buses to Tehran, and we again were in a hotel and then we were having all our, for our papers being done.
Caroline Bassoon (00:58:32):
And then, you know, we had visas to come to Canada, United States and, um, but my father and mother had to make the right decision about where to go. And they felt at the time that going to Israel was the better option. So after, [LN: why?] um, I think they felt that, you know, I don't know. Yeah. Ask my father that [laughs] I don't know. Um, I'm not sure if he felt that he had a better opportunities with, because he had family. Um, I don't know exactly. I think it's, uh, you know, cause they listened to people, Israeli representative telling them about Israel. I don't know if that made a difference about what, you know, positive would be for your children to be there. I don't know the whole story. I don't know. Um, uh, we stayed in Tehran for three weeks and then we went to Israel and we arrived to Israel sometime in September, um, of 2000, of 1971.
Caroline Bassoon (00:59:38):
[LN: And what did you do?] Um, well, so they should have put us in an Ulpan, which they didn't, which was a mistake. They decided that they're going to integrate us in schools. So they put us in high school, we spoke English and French and Arabic. We didn't know anything about Hebrew. We didn't know the letters. We didn't know any words. We didn't know anything. So it was a very difficult year. My brother and I had a very difficult year. We were sitting in school all day, no one talking to us, we didn't understand what was going on. The only teacher that really taught us anything was the chemistry teacher who was Iraqi, but he also spoke English. So he would come and speak to us in English and he would teach us sciences in English. Um, but we were, our math and sciences were so advanced in English that I didn't need to do grade nine, grade 10 or grade 11 [laughs].
Caroline Bassoon (01:00:40):
I pretty much every learned thing I learned in Iraq, in science and English and math, I've already done in Iraq. So I didn't really have a whole lot of high school education to be honest, very little. It's amazing that I got into university, but there are holes in the education. I don't have a lot of history. I've been trying very much to make up for that on my own, but you know, the basics were there so, um. [LN: And how did Israeli kids your age treat)you?] Those were not really great memories that first year, they were not, I was Iraqi. I was an Arab, 1971 in Israel. There was a very big difference between Jews from Arab land and Ashkenazi Jews. Uh, we were not treated the same and I know I really cared. Plus I was 14, I'm I'm in high school. I'm trying to break into a clique that was already there with kids who were already there.
Caroline Bassoon (01:01:47):
Girls at that age are not nice in the first place. Let alone, when you are a foreigner and you don't speak the language and you come from Iraq and it was also a culture shock. It was tremendously different than where I, what I, what I experienced, uh, you know, Israel is, um, it's a Western society. You know, there were drugs in the bathroom. I've never seen anyone smoke, a cigarette, let alone drugs in the bathroom. It was a very, very weird thing to get adjusted to very quickly in months and not speaking the language was very difficult and feeling like it was like stupid. You sit like a statue all day long in school and no one talks to you and you don't understand anything. And yeah, it was not a very good thing. And I don't think, we couldn't really complain because my parents were having their own thing. They had to learn the language and they had to find a house and they had to get a job and they had to acclimatize and for them was also a culture shock. They also came forward 200 years right away.
Caroline Bassoon (01:02:53):
So they have their own, uh, difficulties. And so we couldn't my brother and I, for sure we were not going to burden them with ours too, because they were struggling. We had massive number of family members. We've got, we had nobody, no family, like very few family members in Iraq. We arrived to Israel. My father is one of 10 brothers and sisters except for the sister died. So there were nine brothers and sisters who were alive. And they each had anywhere from three to seven children and some had grandchildren and, and that's not his cousins and his uncles and all the other people. And then my mother's side of the family that was also fairly large. So we met, I don't know, hundreds of people within a very short time. [LN: and what was that like?] So it was terrific because we didn't have family and now we have family, but also these are strangers.
Caroline Bassoon (01:03:48):
Like, I can't just feel love because this is my grandmother, my grandmother who lived with us, is my grandmother. She braided my hair. She made me breakfast. My grandfather picked me up from school. He bought me ice cream and pomegranate juice. I don't know these people they're strangers. It was not that easy to really decide in a minute that you got to love all these people. You have to kind of get to know them. And it wasn't, you know, my father was so loved by everybody because he helped his family. He sent money to them. He, he, uh, he smuggled money for many, many years to help his family. The house that they lived in was all bought by money that my father managed to send to them. And from that there was money to give the girls when they got married to give the sons to start businesses.
Caroline Bassoon (01:04:39):
So my father was revered by his family and they just loved us without knowing us. But we had to know them. So it was an adjustment for sure. And there were just too many of them. I could barely keep the names straight for a long time. And they're all strange names. They're not names I'm used to. Um, so it took a while. And, and also in Israel, um, which is a lovely thing. People don't call you before they come and visit you. They just knock on the door and they come. So every day we had visitors and everyday we have homework, homework, at least in Hebrew so that we can learn the language faster. But most of the time there's no time to homework because we're always had family and they're not speaking Hebrew, which, which have helped to learn Hebrew. They're all speaking Arabic.
Caroline Bassoon (01:05:26):
So that didn't help very much. But in retrospect, they're all. And I got to know them over the years and I got to know them even more when I went back to Israel to visit and I still go see them every single time I come whoever's alive. I still see they're amazing, loving, wonderful, terrific people who are just, you know, we're just so lucky to have them and actually unlucky not to have had them before, but it took a while. We really didn't need didn't need to get to love them. [LN: so you went to the army?] I didn't go to the army. So in Israel, in high school, you do a course called Gadna [ph], which is a preparation for the army. So they, we have class classes in school twice a week. And then they take you on these trips few times a year where you do almost like a basic army training. So that's when I learned to shoot a gun, um, hated it. Um, but I, um, left Israel actually just after graduation when I was 17 before the army. So, um, I am a draft dodger, really [laughs]. [LN: And where did you go?]
Caroline Bassoon (01:06:40):
I came to Canada, so I, I, um, I got in, it was a very bizarre thing and I don't know how it happened, but I got accepted to McGill university, um, in Israel. And I, it was a conditional on getting some kind of visa to come to Canada. Um, whether it's student visa or whatever. So I really wanted to come in. I really, to this day I have no idea how McGill accepted me. I mean, I had, I mean, I had English and I had science, but I, you know, um, I don't know if it was very competitive and I'm not really sure why, but I was very lucky that they did. So I really wanted to come. And, um, at the time my father, my dad, uh, when we came in 71 and 72, he started a business. He was, uh, importing very, very expensive and fine China and cutlery, and he was selling it, and the business was doing fairly well.
Caroline Bassoon (01:07:34):
There was nothing like it in Israel, Israel in seventies was a socialistic communistic country. Um, and that was an item that was very unique. So, but then 73 Yom Kippur war happened. And, uh, the economy really tanked and things were very difficult. So his business wasn't doing so well. So, you know, things happen sometimes all the same time. So if his business was doing well, probably we would have never, he would have never considered leaving, but his business wasn't doing so well. And at the same time that I was, um, I wanted to come here. One of his best friends from Iraq who has a business with import and exports. And actually it was similar stuff that they were importing He was, my father was importing to Israel. This guy was importing it to Montreal and this guy wanted to go and open a factory in New Brunswick.
Caroline Bassoon (01:08:26):
And he wanted my dad to come and manage his business in Montreal because there's not too many people he trusts. So he sponsored us to come as immigrant. And, uh, we came here in 76. So I left in 75 before the army with my brother. We went to New York to stay with my mother's uncle, who we knew for a few months. And then my, I finished grade 12 at the time my brother was doing grade 12 in New York. And then we all came to Canada. We came in 76 in February 76. So when we started McGill in September and because my brother is a year behind me and I took a year off, essentially, we ended up in university together. So we did all of our undergrad together and we both did a year of master's. And then we ended up in medical school together. So we went to graduated medical school together from McGill.
Caroline Bassoon (01:09:23):
[LN: So your parents, excuse me, we're having to adjust to another new country] Right. So this is, you know, um, somebody asked me a while ago, like when I first came to Canada, going back for a second, when I first came to Canada, I would never tell you I'm from Iraq. If you asked me, I would tell you I'm from Israel. And I would not talk about Iraq at all. I would not say anything about it. I wouldn't admit that. I wouldn't admit that I speak Arabic and I wouldn't talk about it. Um, but then at some point it occurred to me when I had kids, it dawned on me what, what my parents had to do to bring us here. They left twice. They left Iraq, you know, uh, in 1971, my dad would have been, my dad was born in 24. So in 1971 with he would've been in his late forties.
Caroline Bassoon (01:10:23):
My mom would have been in her early forties. They came with their teenage children and started life in a new country, new language, new culture, and tried to make a go of it. And then for the sake of their children, really cause they didn't have to leave Israel. There was no reason whatsoever to leave Israel. My father, my father's reasoning in 1971 for leaving Israel was not very different than what I, sorry. 1975 was not. It's the same thing as what I said about university. So in 1975, it was very difficult to get into university in Israel. You really needed to have money and you needed to have [inaudible]. You need to have to connection. Many people. Most people did not go to university.......
Caroline Bassoon (01:13:05):
So they came to Canada for the kids because it was hard, it would have been very hard for us to go to university. And my parents, my father, especially my parents, my, my father very much determined that we are going to go to university. So the reason they came to Canada is really for us, for the kids to succeed. And, uh, they had to come, you know, at that time he would have been 50, 76. He would have been 52 at age 52. I can't even imagine moving a house, let alone moving a country and starting life all over again in a new country with a new language, a new job. His job here was not as great for him.
Caroline Bassoon (01:13:48):
He worked for someone, he didn't work for himself. He had a salary, he worked specific hours. He had specific vacations. He didn't make a lot of money. Um, in, in Montreal it was not as easy for him in, you know, in Israel, if the business would have done well, he would have done very well. And he would have been his own boss and he could have been very successful, you know, he came here. He did what he needed to do for us. Um, in, uh, in, uh, 19, uh, I I'm going tell you about my revelation, but also in, we arrived to Canada in 76 and uh, somewhere around 1970, late 76, they bought the house and the house needed a lot of work. My father had some money that was smuggled out of Iraq with not just him, but my grandfather, my aunt, the whole, everybody.
Caroline Bassoon (01:14:48):
That the way they did it is whoever was leaving. Usually it's not a Jew that would give him the money, they would probably give him some partial part, you know, some tip or whatever. And this person will actually smuggle this money out. And they invested it with a friend of my father in New York, in 1980, they found out, so four years after we got to Montreal, he got a letter that showed that this letter came from the sky to show, to tell him that basically the company went bankrupt. All the money invested are gone. He made some bad investment. Um, and the company went bankrupt and very sorry about your loss, but you've lost all your money. So all of the money that they saved, um, my father or my uncle, my grandfather, everything that they smuggled out of Iraq was completely gone in 1980.
Caroline Bassoon (01:15:41):
So for them it was not an easy time. [LN: how did he handle that?] I don't remember him handling it badly. I'm sure there must have been moments where he was very angry, but I, I remember him saying, he always said, we're safe. We're here. You are all in university. All doing well, money comes and goes, we're alive. And he will still say that. I mean, he's still angry about the loss, cause he would like to have more money to give to his children, but ultimately it didn't affect anything else. So yeah, I think he's always been like that. My dad, um, about if you were alive then, and when I talk about like, how did you escape? Well, what choice did I have? It was life or death and you have to do it. Like what choice do I have when I talk about, you know, sign this paper to say what you left, the money you left in Baghdad in the bank is Israel wants to know what the, the actual amount of money left by the Jews of Arab land
Caroline Bassoon (01:16:44):
He never signs any of it. I don't care. We're alive. We're safe. We succeeded. We won. Look, I don't care what we left in Iraq. I don't want anything from them. I don't want to see them. I don't want to have anything to do with them. So that has always been his attitude. And he will tell you my dad, I'm sure that's one thing you should ask him. He feels he's accomplished every single thing he ever wanted to do. Everything he wanted to do in his life, he's got it. [LN: And what about you and your feelings?] Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I I'm not as, um, Zen with, with Iraq [laughs]. I still have a lot of anger. Um, I don't think of my childhood outside my, my safety of my parents, I don't think my childhood as being great. I don't even think as my teenagers are being great, really. Um, but ultimately I am,
Caroline Bassoon (01:17:38):
I'm great. I have a great life [laughs]. I've, you know, you overcome things and makes you a better person for it. And yeah, I've done everything. I've pretty much achieved everything I wanted to also are really amazing husband, amazing children. I have a daughter who's, uh, she's a doctor and she's doing her residency in family medicine. I have a son who just graduated law school. Um, my daughter is married to amazing man who we love so dearly, love his family. My son is with a terrific girl who I'm sure he's going to marry. What else could you want from life? That's really have a great career. I am still happy to go to work every day after 26 years of being in my office. So it's you know, that's what it is. Right. [LN: And you've been particularly active in telling the story]
Caroline Bassoon (01:18:29):
Right [overlap] so, so I was going to, so I'm going to take you back to that part where I suddenly, at some point had this incredible admiration from my parents for, for doing what they've done. And I thought, you know, if I don't talk about this then who is going to talk about it? And then I also realized that we are all going to die. Our generation's going to die and there'll be nothing left, nothing. There is just no artifacts to speak of that we all escaped with. There really is very little tangible that you come back, even, even during the Holocaust, there were some things that were left behind that you can now there's some evidence of remanant of Jewish life. Iraq has no remnant of Jewish life. There is nothing that's going to be there ever for the future. And, um, it's really became, I felt like it was very important for me to start talking about this so that there'll be some record of it for the future and then some record for my children.
Caroline Bassoon (01:19:33):
And that's the other thing that happened when my daughter was in grade two, I think in Jewish school that USDS, uh, her English teacher, um, Nancy Pearl, who is the sister-in-law one of my best friends. Um, she called me into the office one time and she said, um, that my daughter, Alina, so Nancy said that she was teaching about Jewish history. She was talking about Israel, the War of Independence. Israel is surrounded by these Arab countries that attacked it. And, um, of course Iraq was mentioned and um, at the end of, and the calling the Arab countries or the enemy at the time, and then after class was over, Alina goes over to Mrs. Pearl and she is crying hysterically. And she said, Mrs. Pearl, I have to tell you something and she's crying. And she says to her, my mother is an Arab.
Caroline Bassoon (01:20:29):
And Nancy said, my instinct was, I'm going to laugh. Like I'm laughing. Like, you know, like that's funny. And then she thought, this is not funny. This kid is distraught and she is genuinely upset. So she said to her, your mother is a Jew. She's an Arab Jew. There are Jews in Arab land. And then she said, Caroline, how is it? This is your brilliant daughter. How is it that your daughter doesn't know anything? How does she not know about your background, about the fact that you are a Jew and what has happened to you and all the things you went through? How can you not tell her about this? So then I started talking about this, actually Nancy asked me to come and talk about this in class, to my daughter's class, uh, when she was in grade two. And then subsequently, I actually talked about it again at USDS when the kids were doing Jewish history in grade six, when they talked about the Jews from all the corners of the world.
Caroline Bassoon (01:21:24):
So I did it for my daughter's class. And then I did it for every class after that, including my son's class, which was three years later. And I did it for one more year after that. And then I did it for Chat a few times. And then, um, then again, it just falls into my lap. I'm not going out of my way to talk about it, but I was on the March of the Living with, uh, on the adult, March of the Living in, uh, April of 2010. Um, there were, you know, thousands of kids that came from everywhere, but the, our bus was 35, uh, Jewish people from Toronto 30, from 30, from Toronto, I think five from Montreal. And when you go to these meetings, before we even go on the trip, people ask you why you're doing this trip? You know, who did you know, did you know?
Caroline Bassoon (01:22:18):
So some people were children of survivors. Some people, uh, had known someone, some people were just interested. So they come to me and I said, well, I come from Iraq and here's my story. And so everybody was fascinated. And these people that came on that trip were wealthy for the most part educated, um, influential Jews from Toronto and nobody knew anything at all about the Jews of Arab land. They did not even know there were Jews that came out of Iraq, no one ever talked about it and no one knew a single thing about it. So when we were in Israel, at one point, they asked me at one dinner to tell my story, because I was telling people on the bus one person at a time. And then they basically asked if I would just tell the whole group. So I did. And then the same thing happened when we were, are on our Is on our Israel multi-faith Israel trip.
Caroline Bassoon (01:23:19):
In 2012, we did a multi-faith trip, which we did subsequently in 2015. And we're doing again in October, 2017. But on that trip, there were, um, half the people were Jewish and half people were not, but they were mostly physicians or physicians family from St. Michael's hospital. It was all word of mouth. We didn't really advertise. People wanted to go to the strip. It was organized by us privately, but we were, we had speakers and journalists and some medical, uh, days. And I, again on the bus, I mean, I speak Hebrew. I lived in Israel. So people ask me about how come I speak Hebrew and I know things. And so I tell them I come from Iraq and none of the Jews and none of the non Jews knew anything about any of it. Well, I shouldn't say that that's not true. Dr. Bob Joss knew about it.
Caroline Bassoon (01:24:12):
He told me he read the book In Ishmael's house and he knew a lot about it. So he knew a lot about it. But other than that, no one really knew anything about it. So again, they asked me one night to give the talk about my life. So the second time we went in 2015, their work me in to the speaker list to talk about it. So it became something that I kind of, you know, I felt like it has to be done because if the people here don't know about it, then who is going to know about it? What's going to be left to tell? And, you know, there was, it was a very rich culture. It's a, it's a language is spoken only by Iraqi Jews that has Hebrew words. Some Hebrew words, um, has some, um, has some Turkish or some Iranian words, but it's very different than any other Arabic. And if you hear it, you can tell that this is Iraqi Jewish, as opposed to Iraqi Iraqi or Egyptian or, um, Lebanese or any of it. And, um, that's going to be gone. I barely speak it. Let alone anything else? [LN: How do Iraqi Jews call that language?] Iraqi Jewish.
Caroline Bassoon (01:25:28):
Yeah. It's uh, it's, it's Arabic, it's an Iraqi. It's a Jewish Arabic, essentially. Um, music. My grandfather was a musician. You know, it was very rich music. Um, the Rosh Hashanah, um, for Rosh Hashanah, you know, my husband's family, all they do is have apples and honey, and they do the Kiddush on the cup- on the wine and they break, they do the Hamotzi and they have apples and honey. Well, the Iraqi tradition has multiple different fruits and vegetables that we do these different blessings using words that are Iraqi Jewish for the fruit. So let's say we would use the word, we use dates. Okay. In Arabic dates is tamr in Hebrew it's tamar. There will be something, some blessing that says, let's say they tamu, oyveinu, besomainu [ph] because you're using the tamar from the tamr, from the date, and we eat the date.
Caroline Bassoon (01:26:39):
And there is a bunch of these things that go on from, uh, from, from, um, uh, shallot to, to, uh, head of a fish, to whatever. And they're all about that. And this is an Iraqi thing that doesn't exist anywhere else. So I have a sheet of paper that I got from the Iraqi synagogue that I make photocopies of every single year. And we do it that way. My kids have never not done that. That is the Iraqi tradition. That's what we do. So I pass around to all the guests who are at the table every single year. And I have all of these things. I always get all of the ones that we need to do all of those things. And, um, I don't even make it, but some of the desserts that we made for Hanukkah, I mean, they're all of course fried dough, but there weren't sufganiyou,
Caroline Bassoon (01:27:28):
They were zangula, which you can get in Israel, by the way, I can't make it, but you can get in Israel. So there are things there are very different in for Passover. We eat a lot of rice and a lot of beans and a lot of corn and a lot of grains because in Iraq, rice and wheat were not grown in the same place and they were not harvested in the same way. And they were not in the same factory. So there was no reason for corn and grains to not be okay for Pesach. So that is the tradition. And that's what my kids grew up with. Um, we mangle up, um, Shalom Aleichem every Friday night because the, the, the, the, the I'm going to call it song. It's not really song. The melody is not so nice, but we still do it because my parents do it that way. My kids learned Shalom Aleichem the Ashkenazi way synagogue, and we're all doing it. Everyone's trying to follow everybody else. And no one is on the same page, because some people are saying it the way my parents say it. And some people are saying it the Ashkenazi way, [LN: can you sing that? Shalom Aleichem] Um, Shalom Aleichem malachei ha shalom, malachei el yon [ph]. No, I'm going to the Ashenazi way.
Caroline Bassoon (01:28:54):
You know, I keep going, but see, I can't even do it cause I do it part Ashkenazi, uh, cause my, my inlaws do Askenazi, my husband does Ashkenazi, my kids do Ashkenazi. So it's mangled up in, on a Friday night. It is the most [laughs], we should tape that one day just because of so mangled up because everybody is doing their own tune, you know? And my dad can't hear, so he's doing his own tune and he doesn't hear what anybody else is doing. And the kids are doing [laughs[ the way they want to do. It's just, everybody's thinking their own tune and were, nobody's together. So it's very funny and I can't see, I can't even, I can't even think of it in one way or another, but it's just really funny. But so there are some things there's foods
Caroline Bassoon (01:29:41):
that are amazing. My mom was an incredible cook. I had been trying so hard to find the combination of spices that will go with some of the [inaudible] because even if I have a recipe, it's not my mother's recipe and it's doesn't taste the same. It really doesn't taste the same just because Mrs. Dangoor did it one way, my mother does it entirely differently. So I have the recipes, but I'm whatever I'm trying to do. I have to actually find the combination of spices that will taste the way my mother did it. The way her mother taught her, how to do it the way the grandmother. And there are no recipes. And my mother does handful. We used to do handfuls of this and handful of that. But a lot of that is going to be gone. So I just feel like we have to have something left behind, you know, so that our kids know where they came from because it's 2500 years. That is just going to be wiped out entirely. And they certainly not going to be much left in Iraq to even visit, even if Iraq ever become a country where anyone can visit. I don't think there'll be a lot left. So [LN: thank you very much]. You're welcome. Thank you for interviewing me. Thank you for listening to this and keeping record of it.