Tug of War Over Iraqi Jewish Archive

— by Ronit Treatman

When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, American soldiers discovered an Iraqi Jewish archive in Sadam Hussein’s secret police headquarters. These documents belonged to Iraq’s 2,500-year-old Jewish community.  

When the soldiers entered the building, it was flooded. The documents were located in the basement, under four feet of water. As soon as they were exposed to the air, they began to get moldy.

With the consent of the Iraqi authorities, the archive was sent to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. for preservation.

More after the jump.
The archive includes:

  • a Hebrew bible from 1568,
  • a Babylonian Talmud from 1793,
  • a Zohar from 1815, and
  • a lunar calendar printed in Baghdad in 1972, among other documents.

Most of Iraq’s Jews left before the 1990s, due to persecution, leaving the archive behind.

When the exhibit is over, the archive is expected to be returned to the Iraqi antiquities ministry. It is not known where the archive will be stored. The experts at the National Archives trained two Iraqi preservation experts in the conservation procedures used on these materials.  

A group of Iraqi Jews is mobilizing to prevent the archive from being returned to Iraq, and keep it in the Babylonian Jewish Heritage Center in Israel. This museum is located in Or Yehuda, a center of the Iraqi Jewish community in Israel.