Dear Mr. President:
Allow me to appeal to you, as a last resort, to prevent the return of the Iraqi Jewish Archive (IJA) to Iraq.
This treasured collection contains 2,700 documents, some dating back to the 16th century. It includes Torah scrolls, prayer books, and hundreds of community records, and it recognizes the once-thriving, 2000-year-old Jewish communities in Iraq.
The Ba’ath Party, led by Saddam Hussein, looted and confiscated public and personal religious items from synagogues, Jewish schools, and community properties. On May 6, 2003, the U.S. Army uncovered these artifacts submerged underwater, hidden in the basement of the Mukhabarat (Iraqi secret service) headquarters.
Under the guidance of Dr. Harold Rhode and with the approval of Iraq’s provisional government, U.S. forces rescued the damaged trove and brought it to the United States for preservation. The Jewish community was, and still is, filled with appreciation and gratitude for the heroic teams that rescued and restored these delicate pieces of history.
When I visited the Archive at the Nixon Library in 2016, there were tears in my eyes.
My lost family history in Iraq came alive.
I was born in 1930 in Taht Al Takia, the Jewish quarter of Baghdad. Baghdad was my home and Iraq was my country. But my sense of national identity was shattered when Muslim mobs looted and burned Jewish homes and businesses, murdering hundreds of Jewish men, women, and children in the 1941 pogrom known as the Farhud.
I was only 10 years old. There was nowhere to run, and no country to take us.
After the failed Arab war against Israel in 1948, the Jews of Iraq and other Arab countries faced anti-Semitism and open hostility. We suffered arrest, torture, public execution, and confiscation of property.
The Iraqi-Jewish artifacts are the only living examples of what was stolen from over 850,000 Jews from across all Arab lands, and the historical Jewish presence that Arab regimes are attempting to erase. At present, there are fewer than 3,000 Jews living in Arab countries to continue our legacy.
Returning these artifacts to Iraq is tantamount to returning stolen treasure to a thief.
These artifacts belong to the Jewish-Iraqi community and all other Jewish communities from Arab lands. For over 10 years, the United States has been a gracious host by preserving these pieces of history for present and future generations to admire and reconnect with.
However, once returned to Iraq, there will be no audience.
There is no justification, nor logic, in sending these Jewish archives back to Iraq — a place that has virtually no Jews, no interest in preserving Jewish heritage, and no accessibility to Jewish scholars or their descendants. Instead, it is possible that these precious documents will return to the basements.
For evidence of this possibility, please note that Iraq has many Jewish artifacts still within its borders. According to returned veteran Captain Elan Carr, hundreds of Torah scrolls and other relics remain locked in Iraqi storage. If Iraq were truly interested in its Jewish history, these artifacts would have been cataloged, preserved, and displayed.
However, this is not the case. No action has been taken.
I appreciated Senator Charles Schumer’s recent public stand against the injustice of sending these Jewish-Iraqi artifacts back to those who stole them. I urge you, President Trump, to speak out against this injustice as well, and I urge you and Senator Schumer to join forces in dealing with this non-political issue of justice. Your efforts will begin an unchallenged bipartisan action to preserve history for future generations.
Like Moses, who brought the Hebrews from Egypt and kept their message alive for future generations, you are the one who will be remembered as the preserver of our history.
Return this Jewish heritage to its rightful owners. Iraq has proven itself an unreliable custodian, and we fear these historical treasures may be lost forever should they return there. I desperately implore you, on behalf of all Jews from Arab lands and their descendants, to keep our icons of history from being sent back to those who stole them from us.