Friday, October 18, 2013

Return Of ‘Stolen’ Jewish Trove From Iraq Fueling Anger | The Jewish Week

On eve of D.C. exhibit, community wants ‘illegally expropriated’ material to remain in Jewish hands in U.S.

Staff Writer 

Jewish trove found in an Iraqi government building. Photos courtesy of Harold Rhode
Jewish trove found in an Iraqi government building. Photos courtesy of Harold Rhode
The treasure trove of materials tells the story of the rich history of Iraqi Jews, stretching back 2,500 years to Babylonia. There are Torah parchments, a Hebrew Bible with commentaries from 1568, a Babylonian Talmud from 1793 and a Passover Haggadah from 1902.

The material, believed to have been seized by former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, was found in the flooded basement of Iraq’s intelligence agency in Baghdad two months after the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Eventually rescued by U.S. troops, it was preserved and restored at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, with help from philanthropists and foundations as well as $2.9 million in federal funds.

Now, as the trove is about to go on view at the National Archives, the prospect that the material will be returned to Iraq after the show — under an agreement between the U.S. and Iraqi governments — has sparked anger in the Jewish community.
Harold Rhode, who discovered the trove while working as a Defense Department policy analyst assigned to Iraq’s transitional government, said he is “horrified” to think the material would be returned when it had been “stolen by the government of Iraq from the Jewish community.”

“It would be comparable to the U.S. returning to the German government Jewish property that had been looted by the Nazis,” he told The Jewish Week.
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