‘It’s as if my lost history came back to life’, Joseph Samuels felt when he visited an exhibition of the Iraqi-Jewish archives in California. If the archive returns to Iraq, he fears, these historical treasures could be lost forever. Article in the Miami Herald:
Joseph Samuels: archive represents lost history
Despite the U.S. government’s valiant effort to preserve and
restore this treasure, the State Department is preparing to return the
artifacts to Iraq in September 2018 in accordance with an agreement made
with the Iraqi government under the Obama administration.
But these artifacts belong
to the Iraqi-Jewish community and their descendants. Returning the trove
to Iraq is tantamount to returning stolen treasure to a thief.
President Donald Trump and the State Department should do all that they
can to prevent such an injustice.
I was born in 1930 in Taht
Al Takia, the Jewish quarter of the old city 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 10 years old. There was nowhere to run, and no country to take us in.
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 a
rare example of what was stolen from more than 850,000 Arab Jews and
the historical Jewish presence that Arab regimes are attempting to
erase. At present, there are only about 3,000 Jews living in Arab
countries who are continuing our story.
Decades later, the Baath
Party, led by Hussein, looted and confiscated public and personal items
from synagogues, Jewish schools and community properties. On May 6,
2003, the U.S. Army uncovered these artifacts hidden in a flooded
basement of the Mukhabarat (Iraqi secret service) headquarters.
With the approval of Iraq’s
provisional government, the U.S. military rescued the damaged items and
brought them to this country. The U.S. government has since spent more
than $3 million to restore the archive, exhibiting it across the
country. The artifacts brought tears to my eyes when I first visited the
collection at the Nixon Library. It’s almost as if my lost history in
Iraq came back to life.
The hearts of the Iraqi
Jewish community are filled with gratitude toward the heroic teams who
rescued and restored this collection. Thanks to the United States, we
have preserved these pieces of history for present and future
But Iraq has proven itself
an unreliable custodian, and we fear these historical treasures could be
lost forever. Trump has the chance to be remembered as the preserver of
our history, just like Moses who brought the Hebrews from Egypt and
kept their message alive for future generations. I implore the
administration, on behalf of all Jews from Arab lands and our
descendants, to keep our icons of history from being sent back to those
who stole them from us.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article180216911.html#storylink=cpy