Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Iraqi Jewish Archive

On January 17, the AP reported on the state of a Jewish archive found in Iraq and taken to the United States for preservation. In May of 2003, U.S. troops looking for weapons of mass destruction received a tip to investigate the basement of secret police building building. The troops discovered that the basement was flooded and that there were no WMDs on location. However, there was a finding to be made. The troops came upon books, photographs, and papers floating in the water, which, upon inspection, revealed themselves to be Jewish archival materials. Upon the approval of the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, the archive was sent to the United States in 2003 and is now at the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland. The original agreement was that the U.S. would return the archive to Iraq after two years but, although NARA has said that Iraq can have the materials back, more preservation work (and funding to do so) is needed.

The situation is complicated by the history of Jews in Iraq. As the AP article explains, the Jewish community once thrived in Iraq, despite periods of persecution. However, persecution of Jews intensified when Iraq sided with Germany during World War II and upon the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. The 1950s saw a mass exodus of Iraqi Jews as a result of continued oppression; most current estimates put the Jewish population in Iraq at a staggeringly low figure of less than ten. The Jewish archive is believed to have been confiscated from Jewish families by the Iraqi secret police. Consequently, some Jewish authorities argue that the archive no longer belongs in Iraq.

However, the director of the Iraq National Library and Archives says that the materials should be returned to Iraq because they are part of Iraqi cultural history, much of which was lost during the 2003 invasion. The AP reports that Iraqi officials plan to travel to the U.S. next month to assess the archive and to plan for its return. A 2003 description of the archive, plan for preservation, and estimated cost of preservation can be found here: Iraqi Jewish Archive.

Iraqi Jewish Archive upon Discovery

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