About the Exhibition
It has been a long road for hundreds of Jewish communal and religious books and documents from Baghdad to the National Archives at Kansas City, where they will be exhibited this summer in partnership with the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education.
The story of this journey began on May 6, 2003, just days after Coalition forces entered Baghdad. American soldiers discovered an assemblage of documents, prayer books, office correspondence and Hebrew calendars submerged in four feet of water in the basement of the Mukhabarat, Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters. Many soon realized the importance of this unlikely survival of books and manuscripts, which are part of the legacy of the Iraqi Jewish experience.
Given limited treatment options in Baghdad, and with the agreement of Iraqi representatives, the materials were shipped frozen to the United States where the National Archives and Records Administration undertook the significant effort to preserve, catalog and digitize them. Over 2,700 Jewish books and tens of thousands of documents were recovered. Dating from the mid-16th century to the 1970s, they became known after their discovery as the Iraqi Jewish Archive.
In addition to the preservation and digitization of this material, the National Archives developed an exhibition that was displayed in Washington, D.C. and in New York City. H.E. Lukman Faily, Iraqi Ambassador to the United States, announced, “In order to continue this important work and to allow the exhibit to be displayed in other cities in the United States, the Government of Iraq has authorized me to extend the period which the exhibit may remain in the United States.”
These books, documents and artifacts provide evidence of the once vibrant Jewish life in Iraq, the modern designation for the country carved out of ancient Babylonia, Assyria and the southern part of Turkey after World War I. Iraq is not only the home of the oldest Jewish Diaspora, but the one with the longest continuous history.
Iraqi Jewish life unraveled in the mid-20th century, with the rise of Nazism and proliferation of anti-Jewish propaganda. In June 1941, 180 Jews were killed and hundreds injured in an anti-Jewish attack in Baghdad. Seven years later Iraq entered the war against the new State of Israel. In 1950 and 1951, as many Iraqi Jews were stripped of their citizenship and assets, the community fled the country en masse. The remarkable survival of this written record of Iraqi Jewish life provides an unexpected opportunity to better understand this 2,500-year-old Jewish community, which for centuries had flourished in what had generally been a tolerant, multicultural society.
Community Legacy Fund*
Oppenstein Brothers Foundation
H & R Block Foundation
Arvin Gottlieb Charitable Foundation, United Missouri Bank, Trustee
Annette & Same & Jack Swirnberg Charitable Foundation , Bank of America, N.A., Trustee
- Earl J. and Leona K. Tranin Special Fund*
- Flo Harris Supporting Foundation*
- Harry Portman Charitable Trust, United Missouri Bank, Trustee
- Menorah Legacy Foundation
- With special thanks to preview patrons Trudy and John Jacobson
- Additional support provided by the Jewish Art Fund*
*at the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Kansas City
The National Archives and Records Administration has undertaken the Iraqi Jewish Archive project and exhibit with generous funding and support from the United States Department of State and, during the pilot phase, from the National Endowment for the Humanities through the Center for Jewish History. Special gratitude is owed to the Republic of Iraq and the Embassy of the Republic of Iraq for their continued support and advice. Assistance and guidance have also been generously provided by the World Organization of Jews from Iraq, American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Library of Congress.