On July 31, 1980 my relative Ebrahim “Ebi” Berookhim was the third Jew to be officially executed by the newly formed radical Islamic regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. He was an innocent successful 30-year-old Jewish man with no political affiliations nor did he have interactions with those involved with the former regime of the Shah of Iran. Nevertheless his killers in the infamous Evin prison accused him of spying for the U.S. and Israel just to confiscate his family’s fortune and their five-star hotel in the heart of Tehran.
Ebi’s killing prompted my family to flee Iran after my father risked his own life to retrieve Ebi’s body and give him a kosher burial in Tehran’s Jewish cemetery. With the anniversary of Ebi’s execution coming up this week month, my parents, my relatives and his friends finally opened up to be about this tragedy that completely transformed our lives. The following are just some of excerpts of my conversations with Ebi’s loved ones…
“Ebi returned to Iran in the mid-1970s after he finished his college education in Denver. He served in the Iranian military for a few years as was required for all male citizens of the country. Now Jews typically did not serve in the military but Ebi did complete his military service because he wanted to get it out of the way. In 1979 Ebi was in the army and the revolution erupted. I believe it was the beginning of 1979 when one day I came to the hotel and the revolutionaries had taken over the hotel. When I asked the people there where Ebi was, they said he was blindfolded and taken away. This was where his problems had begun. No one else from our family was in Iran at that time. I finally found Ebi in the Khasr prison and they officials said we’ve got your brother on charges of espionage, being a Zionist and allowing El Al pilots to stay at your hotel.
After he was in prison for two months we got him released after we paid the officials bribes to get Ebi out. When Ebi was released from prison, we tried to resume our normal lives. Ebi did not go back to the hotel and he lived in my home for two or three months. My father then came back to Iran after Ebi was released from prison. My father thought that he could regain his hotel because he was not political and had not do anything wrong. At least once a week, my sister, my father, myself and my father went to Evin prison and allowed the authorities to question us because they said they would return our hotel to us if we answered their questions. We were not afraid. Every night when we returned from the questioning at the prison, I would beg him (Ebi) to leave Iran and go to America for a vacation and he kept putting it off and telling me ‘I’ll go tomorrow morning, I’ll go tomorrow morning’.
One morning when they had asked us all to go prison, Ebi came to me and said let’s go and I told him listen to me…don’t go there, that place is not the place for you to be and he said no. I forced me to go. When we got there, I stopped the car to let Ebi and my father out first and then park. He told me to park the car and then come in after us. I only went to protect them. When I came inside the prison office, I saw that Ebi and my father were not seated where they needed to be seated. When I asked the officials where they were, they said both of them had been taken away. I went chasing after them inside the other rooms and they grabbed me and in the process tore off the sleeve of my coat. They said; ‘we’ve got your father and brother and where holding them to protect them’. Whatever I did to get them and bring them out, I was unable to do so”.
- Shaheen Makhani, Ebi’s sister
“He (Ebi) was a year and half younger than me. We were very close, our names were very similar. People in our family used to me ‘Abe the bigger one’ because I was older and called him ‘Abe the smaller’ one. He had a great heart and everyone loved him because he was always thinking about others first before himself.
My grandfather didn’t expect such a revolution in Iran, he thought it was temporary and didn’t expect confiscation or execution. He believed in his love of Iran. He believed that even thought he was a Jew, he would be treated like another citizen of Iran and unfortunately the revolution in Iran proved otherwise.
I talked to Ebi when I escape from Iran and went to Germany. I told him ‘Ebi please please escape from Iran’. He said ‘don’t worry everything is o.k. and everything will be fine. He believed in himself and he was optimistic. If was a little more pessimistic about the situation, he would still be alive. Ebi only crime was that he was a Jew and that he was wealthy”.
- Abraham Berookhim, Ebi’s nephew
“I was in my office around 7:30 in the morning and I heard the news from another fellow that was working in my office that on the radio they had announced that they had executed Ebi and 21 pilots the night before whom they thought would bomb Khomeini’s palace. Then myself and two others from the Jewish community— one of whom had a contact in the prison morgue, decided to go to the prison morgue to get Ebi’s body. Later on we found out that his body was transferred to the city morgue, so we went there to get his body. We paid the money he demanded and were given the body.
I don’t remember how Ebi’s body was brought to the cemetery but I was there when it arrived. They shot him at point blank range. The bullet went through his heart and you could tell he was shot at point blank range because the opening was a half an inch in diameter on the front and the hole on his backside was two or three inches wide. He was clean shaven and clean— I later learned from one his prison mates that the guards had woke Ebi up at 3 am and told him to shave and shower because he was going to be released.
The gentleman who was in charge of the Jewish cemetery warned us not get excited or use bad words during the burial because there would be people there from the government taking notes and photographs of those in attending the funeral. Since they killed an innocent man, I was extremely disappointed and didn’t want to stay in that country. After those days I decided that Iran was not the place for us because this was an innocent man who had nothing to do with politics and was randomly killed for nothing”.
- George, my father
“I met Ebrahim Berookhim in the Khasr prison when the regime’s thugs had arrested me and imprisoned me on charges of spying for America and Israel. I was imprisoned there for four months. After a few days of arriving at the prison, I was placed in a private cell which I later learned was kept separate for Jews who were eventually going to be executed. A few days later the cell door opened a weeping and nearly white faced Ebrahim Berookhim was thrown inside with the rest of us prisoners. He explained to me that he had tried to get a lawyer who would help his family keep their hotel and that he was arrested by the regime in order for them to frighten his family into giving up their hotel.
One day by a miracle of god, we were both released from prison and I quickly fled the country while he remained behind. Later on they re-arrested Ebrahim and I learned that the same people came looking for me but I had fled the country at that time. I later learned from one of the guards in that prison who I met in the U.S. said that he saw first hand that Ayatollah Khalkhali had personally ordered Ebrahim’s execution. Unfortunately at that time after the revolution, there were no real laws and it was easy for those in power in the regime at that time to do whatever they wanted in the name of Islam.
I was in the U.S. when I heard he was execution. I was shocked at the news and I was guilt ridden and angry with myself for not doing more to convince Ebrahim to flee Iran with me after we were both released from prison together”.
- Behrooz Meimand, Ebi’s Jewish prison mate
“I received a telephone call from one of my relatives that they had executed Ebi Berookhim. Your father stepped forward to get his body because none of Ebi’s brothers or the elders from his family were in Iran except for Ebi’s sister and his brother-in-law. Your father didn’t tell anyone that went to get his body. He knew that his life was at risk because at that time if you went to get someone’s body who was executed, then they (prison authorities) would ask you what relations do you have with this executed person and then throw you in jail. Also the regime considered those who were executed as infidels and wanted to bury them all in mass unmarked graves. For every Jew that the regime killed, the different levels of people from the Jewish community fled the country. After the regime killed Ebrahim Berookhim, everyone that was educated and those who thought they would not be touched by the regime since they were not political, were suddenly caught in a passive storm and knew that they had to flee Iran quickly. This is because they realized that just as Berookhim was randomly been accused of being an Israeli spy, so could anyone of them be easily accused of being a spy and then executed. Now proving you are not a spy is an ordeal and problem in itself”.
- Roset, my mother