WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) are working together to ensure that roughly 2,700 Jewish artifacts -- including Torah parchments and ancient prayer books -- discovered in Iraq in 2003, are not returned to that country. Instead, the Senators believe the treasures should be housed in a location that is accessible to scholars and to Iraqi Jews and their descendants who have a personal interest in the artifacts. There are few Jews remaining in Iraq today.
American soldiers uncovered a collection of Jewish historical items stolen from Iraqi Jews by Saddam Hussein, who hid them in the basement of the Iraqi secret police. In 2003, the U.S. and the Coalition Provisional Authority signed an agreement whereby the U.S. would preserve the artifacts and then send them back to Iraq this year. The collection, which cost nearly $3 million to preserve, is being displayed by the National Archives and Records Administration.
"These priceless artifacts were stolen by the former government of Iraq," said Senator Toomey. "We should not ship the collection back to a country where their owners no longer reside. With this bipartisan resolution, I am pleased to join Senators Blumenthal and Schumer in urging the State Department to reexamine returning the collection to Iraq."
Said Gregg Roman, Director of Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh: "Senator Toomey's bipartisan leadership regarding the Iraqi Jewish Archive is refreshing and fully welcomed. It does not make sense to send these precious artifacts back to Iraq when they were stolen in the first place, let alone no longer having a community in Iraq to look after them."
The National Archives and Records Administration opened an exhibit in Washington, D.C. that displayed 24 of the recovered objects from October 11, 2013 to January 5, 2014. The archive will also be displayed in New York City from February 4, 2014 to May 18, 2014. The archive is scheduled to be sent back to Iraq in June 2014.
Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) are also sponsors of the resolution.