By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler was one of several elected officials praising a recent agreement allowing treasured Jewish archives that U.S. troops recovered from Saddam Hussein’s basement during the Iraq War to remain here in the US indefinitely.
The items, including thousands of books, historical documents, and religious materials that were either seized from the Jewish community by the Iraqi government over the decades or left behind when Jews fled Iraq, were found in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters by US forces in 2003. The items, which were found under four feet of water in the basement, were transported to America for restoration and safekeeping.
Recovered were a variety of items, everything from Torahs, to children’s report cards, to family vacation photos. The historic treasure trove also includes a 16th Century Bible and a 1793 Babylonian Talmud
PBS reported earlier this month that the National Archives was granted temporary custody of the Iraqi Jewish Archive in August of 2003, under an agreement with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the temporary government set up in Iraq at that time. The CPA later handed over its part of the agreement to the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, PBS reported. The ministry allowed the items to be shipped to the US for preservation work on the condition that they be returned when the restoration was completed.
The archives were scheduled to be returned to Iraq next month, but Nadler (D-Brooklyn-Manhattan) and other members of congress are arguing that the items don’t belong to Iraq, but to the Jewish families that originally owned them.
The New York Times reported that several of the items recently went on display in at the National Archives in Washington D.C.
“I am glad that these important artifacts will be made available for exhibition in cities throughout the United States, but we must find a permanent solution. Any long term arrangement must ensure that the Iraqi Jewish Archives are in a place where the items are accessible to Iraqi Jews and their descendants,” Nadler said in a statement.
On May 6, Nadler joined with U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Long Island), U.S. Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) and 17 other lawmakers in introducing a resolution calling for the return of the Iraqi Jewish Archives to Iraqi Jews and their descendants.
The resolution came after congress members had written two letters, one in November of 2013 and another in January, urging the US State Department to facilitate the return of these artifacts to the Iraqi Jews and their descendants and not to the government of Iraq.
“The fact that Iraqi Jews lost such a vital part of their history was a grave injustice that cannot be undone. I will continue to work with the stakeholders – including the U.S. State Department and my colleagues, especially Congressman Steve Israel and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen – to help ensure that the possessions stolen from the Iraqi Jewish community are properly protected,” Nadler said.
In the PBS report, it was noted that the Jews of Iraq constituted are one of the oldest civilizations in the world, dating back more than 2,500 years. By the time the Iraq War began in 2003, however, the Jewish population in Iraq had dwindled to a few dozen.
Most Jews fled the country to escape anti-Semitic persecution. When they fled, they left behind the artifacts.