FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 23, 2013
SCHUMER CALLS ON STATE DEPT. NOT TO RETURN TO IRAQ NEARLY 3,000 JEWISH ARTIFACTS, ORIGINALLY SEIZED BY SADDAM HUSSEIN REGIME—U.S. PLANS TO RETURN CONFISCATED ITEMS NEXT YEAR; JUDAICA COLLECTION BELONGS TO IRAQI JEWISH COMMUNITY EXILED OVER 50 YEARS AGO
n 2003, American Soldiers Discovered 2,700 Ancient Iraqi Jewish Artifacts—Including Parchments From Torah Scrolls & Prayer Books; U.S. Has Spent $3M Preserving Collection & Plans to Return Items to Iraq in 2014
Schumer Calls on State Dept. to Not Return Judaica Collection to Iraq; Artifacts Were Stolen by Iraqi Government & Belong to the Thousands of Iraqi Jews Exiled in the 1940s and 1950s
Schumer: U.S. Should Work With Iraqi Jewish Community to Ensure Artifacts Remain Accessible to Jews Worldwide
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the State Department to not return more than 2,700 Jewish artifacts to Iraq. 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. The collection is being preserved by the National Archives in Washington, DC and the United States has agreed to return the materials to Iraq in 2014.
Schumer said that because these ancient items were stolen, they do not belong to Iraq and therefore, the United States should not return them. Schumer is asking the State Department to work with Jewish organizations and the Iraqi Jewish community to determine an alternative location for these sacred artifacts.
“These sacred artifacts were taken from the Iraqi Jewish community and thus do not belong to the Iraqi government; rather they belong to the thousands of Iraqi Jews, an ancient and once-vibrant community, who were exiled many years ago,” said Schumer. “The Iraqi government illegally obtained these artifacts and I am urging the State Department to do everything in their power to ensure that these treasured artifacts remain available and accessible to Jews worldwide.”
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 community was large, vibrant and once one of the oldest communities of Jews anywhere in the world. Tragically, they were targeted for discrimination and abuse and suffered exile by the tens and tens of thousands, losing precious possessions, including these religious materials, which rightly belong to the exiled community of Iraqi Jews,” said Schumer.
The Iraqi Jewish Archive was shipped to the United States and is now at the Washington, D.C. National Archives. 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 has agreed to ship the collection back to Iraq in 2014.
Schumer today called on the State Department and the National Archives to reconsider its decision to return the artifacts to Iraq. Schumer made the case that because these items were stolen by the Iraqi government, they should not be allowed to return to Iraq. Schumer today urged the State Department to work with Jewish organizations and the Iraqi Jewish community both in the U.S. and abroad to find a location to store and display the Judaica collection.
Dear Secretary Kerry,
I write today out of deep concern over the decision to return over 2,700 pieces of Iraqi Judaica to Iraq next year. These treasured artifacts belong to the Jewish community and I ask that you do everything in your power to ensure that these artifacts remain available and accessible to Jews worldwide – especially the exiled Iraqi Jewish community.
In 2003, American soldiers found the collection of Iraqi Judaica in a flooded Baghdad Intelligence Center, and the United States has spent over $3 million dollars preserving the collection. 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 exiled Iraqi Jewish community. This priceless collection of 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.
Items in the collection were seized by Saddam Hussein in 1984 from a Baghdad synagogue. Iraqi Jews placed the collection there during their mass exodus in the early 1950s. In the 1940s, outbreaks of anti-Jewish rioting occurred and in 1948, Zionism was made a capital crime. Between 1950-1952, more than 130,000 Jews left Iraq and were not allowed to carry more than one suitcase each. When the United States attempted to assist Iraqi Jews who wished to leave Iraq after the U.S. invasion in 2003, just 34 Jews were found in the entire country – a mere shadow of a 2,500 year old community which at its height numbered over 130,000 people.
These items belong to the people who were forced to leave them behind when the Iraqi government chose to exile them from their homes. Since the exile of Jews from Iraq virtually no Jewish life remains in the country – this treasured collection belongs to the Jewish community and should be made available to them. I strongly urge you to reconsider your decision to return these artifacts to the Iraqi government and urge you to work with Jewish organizations and the Iraqi Jewish community both in the United States and abroad to find a location to store and display these cherished items in a manner which respects their history.
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer