Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery
Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage
An exhibition at the National Archives, Washington, DC
Open through January 5, 2014
In 2003, Coalition forces in Iraq discovered a cache of water-soaked books and documents in the basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters in Baghdad. This group of material included thousands of books and documents relating to the Jewish community of Iraq. The National Archives was asked to provide advice on how to rescue this important group of materials, and over the past years intensive efforts have been involved in the preservation of these important books and documents.
The exhibition in both English and Arabic tells the story of the documents, and how they are being preserved and made accessible worldwide. This 2,000 square foot exhibit will include 24 original documents and books from the material known as the Iraqi Jewish Archives and an audio-visual presentation on the preservation of the material. In addition, the holdings will be online in an accessible database.
Discovery: tells how the documents were discovered and the efforts made to rescue them and begin the process of identification and preservation. A short film includes images from the discovery, rescue and preservation efforts. Trunks used to ship the documents to the United States are exhibited.
[PHOTO: In the flooded basement of the Mukhabarat, Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters in May 2003]
Text and Heritage: provides context for the documents and outlines the significance of text in Jewish life and tradition and the important role of this region in Jewish belief, scholarship and history. Documents include a Torah scroll fragment, a Babylonian Talmud, a Rabbinic Bible dated 1568.
[PHOTO A Hebrew Bible with Commentaries from 1568 – one of the oldest printed books recovered.]
Iraqi Jewish Life: Constancy and Change: illustrates the long history of Jews in Iraq and the importance of their religious, communal, and domestic culture. A Haggadah, prayer book, and an illustrated Hebrew calendar are included in this section of the exhibit.
[PHOTO: A Haggadah (Passover Eve service) from 1902, hand lettered and decorated by an Iraqi Jewish youth.]
Personal and Communal Life: a selection of correspondence and publications to illustrate the range and complexity of Iraqi Jewish life in the 19th and 20th century. Original documents as well as facsimiles in flipbooks show the range of community life from school primers to international business correspondence.
[PHOTO: A Hebrew elementary school primer — over 60 copies were found in the Mukhabarat headquarters.]
After the Millennia: discusses the last years of Jewish communal life and events that led to the departure of most of the Jewish population from Iraq. Included is a 1951 law freezing assets of Iraqi Jews.
[PHOTO: A 1951 law that froze assets of Jews leaving Baghdad.]
Preserving the Past: shows the treatment, preservation, and digitization of these documents books and how they are being made available worldwide.
[PHOTO: A Zohar from 1815 – a central text kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), with a hand-drawn page.]
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This exhibition was created by the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC, with support from the U.S. Department of State.