Washington, DC - May 15, 2015 - U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that the State Department, along with the Ambassador of the Republic of Iraq to the U.S., will extend the period in which the Iraqi Jewish Archives may remain in the United States. The United States had initially agreed to return the items in 2014.
In 2003, American soldiers found the collection of Iraqi Judaica in a flooded Baghdad Intelligence Center. The collection, which includes partial Torah parchments and ancient prayer books, had been seized by Saddam Hussein’s troops and belonged to members of the once-vibrant, exiled Iraqi Jewish community. In October, Schumer called on the State Department not to return the archive to Iraq and later met with Secretary of State John Kerry about the importance of this issue. Schumer has said that because the ancient items were stolen, they do not belong to Iraq and therefore, the U.S. should not return them. Schumer today applauded the decision to keep the collection in the U.S. until a permanent location in the U.S. is determined.
“I applaud the decision to permit the Iraqi Jewish Archive to remain in the U.S. until a permanent location is found. However, we will not rest until the collection is made accessible to the Iraqi Jewish community indefinitely,” said Schumer. “These sacred and treasured artifacts were taken from the Iraqi Jewish community during a time of state-condoned discrimination, and this community should have access to the precious possessions they were forced to leave behind.”
"I must convey the heartfelt sentiment of WOJI - to the US and Iraqi governments for reaching an agreement under which the Iraqi Jewish Archive will remain in the United States for the foreseeable future. It is WOJI's fervent conviction that we, the Iraqi Jewish community, are the rightful heirs of the Iraqi Jewish Archive, our precious patrimony,” said Maurice Shohet, Chairman of the World Organization of Jews from Iraq (WOJI).
In 2003, 16 American soldiers discovered 2,700 books and tens of thousands of documents in a flooded intelligence building in Iraq. The collection had belonged to synagogues and Jewish organizations in Baghdad. The Iraqi Judaica includes a Hebrew Bible with commentaries from 1568, a Babylonian Talmud from 1793, a Torah scroll fragment from Genesis, a Zohar from 1815 and other sacred ritual objects.
The Iraqi Jewish Archive was shipped to the United States and is now at the Washington, D.C. National Archives. Some items from the collection are displayed as part of an exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City; the exhibit ends on May 18th. The United States spent $3 million restoring select documents and on October 11th, the National Archives and Records Administration opened an exhibit that displays 24 of the recovered objects.
Items of the collection were seized by Saddam Hussein in 1984 from a Baghdad synagogue. The collection was placed there by Iraqi Jews during their mass exodus in the early 1950s. In the 1940s, outbreaks of anti-Jewish rioting occurred, and in 1948 Zionism was a capital crime. Between 1950-1952, more than 130,000 Jews left Iraq and were not allowed to carry more than one suitcase each. The U.S. State Department had agreed to ship the collection back to Iraq in 2014.
In December, the Iraqi delegation, in cooperation with the Iraqi Jewish community, buried 49 Torah scroll fragments, which were part of the collection. The burial under Jewish ritual custom took place at New Montefiore Cemetery.
Schumer has been advocating on behalf of the Iraqi Jewish community and has urged the State Department not to return the collection to Iraq. In February, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution, which Schumer co-sponsored, that urges the State Department to renegotiate the return of the archive.
Schumer today announced that the State Department, the Ambassador of the Republic of Iraq to the United States and the National Archives and Record Administration will extend the period in which the collection may remain in the United States.