Friday, January 08, 2016

What will happen to the Iraqi Jewish archive?

STILL IN LIMBO: Who should keep Iraqi Jewry’s archives, saved from Saddam, now on tour in US? The future of a unique collection, salvaged in a ‘Monuments Men-style’ rescue from a secret police HQ in Baghdad, 2003, is up for grabs (Rich Tenorio, Times of Israel).
The collection was waterlogged and damaged, and the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq placed an urgent call to the United States National Archives and Records Administration in Maryland. With permission from local officials, the treasures were soon airlifted to the US in a special rescue operation.

At a cost of $3 million, the collection of over 2,700 books and tens of thousands of documents dating from the 16th to the 20th centuries has been preserved, cataloged and digitized. Today, some are being shown in an exhibition touring the US until they are ultimately to be returned to the Iraqi National Archives in Baghdad.

“There is no date,” said US National Archives exhibit director Lisa Royse about the exact time the collection is to be returned to Iraq. “[For now] they are willing to let us extend the archive’s time in the US.”

A long article that covers the story in detail from its beginning to the present. And the following is noteworthy:
Several individuals who were present when the collection was discovered during the Iraq War, however, have voiced concern over what will happen once the tour ends.

The US tour is scheduled to end in the summer of 2016 and at some point following, the exhibition is planned to be shown at the Iraqi National Archives in Baghdad. “That’s its final venue,” exhibit director Royse said.

Some have called for a permanent destination outside Iraq — either in the US or Israel.

“To whom does it belong?” asked Rhode, who has grappled with this question ever since he navigated in waist-deep waters to rescue a floating Torah scroll in Iraq over a decade ago. “The answer, to me, is that it belongs to the people who used it, the Jews of Iraq… It belongs to them, not the Iraqi government.”

‘When you take over a country, you can’t steal its treasures’
Rhode and others believe the time is ripe to reexamine the terms of the agreement under which the artifacts arrived in the US.


It seems to me that the material ought to belong to the Jewish community, the Iraqi Jewish community,” Miller said, adding that there are more Iraqi Jews now in the US than in Baghdad.

Former Pentagon official Harold Rhode studies an artifact from the Jewish community of Iraq in the basement of Saddam Hussein's secret police headquarters on May 6, 2003, Baghdad, Iraq. (Courtesy: Richard Gonzales)
Former Pentagon official Harold Rhode studies an artifact from the Iraqi Jewish community cache on May 6, 2003, Baghdad, Iraq. (Courtesy: Richard Gonzales)

In Rhode’s opinion, the ideal destination for the collection is the Museum of Babylonian Jewry outside Tel Aviv. “It’s the only museum of Iraqi Jewish heritage that exists,” he said.

Background here, with links going back to the discovery of the archive in 2003. And I have given some of my own reflections on how to proceed at the links at the bottom of this post.