Watch Joseph's Story
Joseph Shamash was born in 1948, in Baghdad, Iraq. He was born the second oldest in a family with seven children. His family ancestry in Iraq goes back numerous generations. Although Jews in Iraq had a rich history they were forced to live as second class citizens, or “Dhimmi”, which means they are not granted the same basic human rights as Muslim citizens. On top of being treated as second class citizens, there were also acts of great violence perpetrated against the Jewish people. Joseph’s parents lived through the Farhud of Baghdad, which took place on the 1st and 2nd of June, in 1941. It was an event in which Iraqi Muslims — encouraged by Nazi propaganda — led a pogrom against Jews living in the capital city. Hundreds of Jews were murdered, thousands injured, and countless homes and businesses were burned. The Jewish quarter of Baghdad was left devastated and the horrific event left the Jews of Iraq fearing for their lives.
As a result of previous violence the Jewish community had faced, from a young age Joesph was made to be cautious about sharing the fact that he was Jewish with others. On one occasion, while was walking down the street, a local boy asked Joseph if he was Jewish — feeling afraid he did not answer — Joseph was then attacked by the boy with a board that had a nail in it. Though injured and bloodied, Joseph was able to make it home.
Although Jews in Iraq were allowed to leave the country, it was only permitted if they renounced their citizenship and forfeited their possessions — which would include homes, businesses, and any accumulated wealth. Despite everything they would be giving up, Joseph’s family made the decision to leave their home country. They fled Iraq in 1957, and made their way to New York.
Joseph currently resides in California, and has three children. He continues to tell his life story so that the evidence of the things his family experienced will not be lost. He also seeks to help create greater awareness of other Mizrahi Jews, and the oppression and persecution they faced in their home countries.