PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Thursday, December 12, 2013

Iraq’s Exiled Jews Fight To Keep Memorabilia

photo

At one time there were 150,000 Jews living in Iraq. Iraq had one of the oldest Jewish populations in the world, dating back some 2,600 years. For centuries, Jews lived peacefully in Iraq until the 1930s, when Nazi ideology began to take hold. That’s when Jews began to experience discrimination and were often barred from employment and attending universities.

By 1948, when Israel became a Jewish nation, being identified as a Zionist became punishable by death in Iraq. Tens of thousands of Jews emigrated from the country until they were barred from leaving in 1952. By the 1960s, Jews were prohibited from owning property. Their assets were frozen and they had to carry yellow ID cards.

One of the yellow ID cards Iraqi Jews were required to carry. (Courtesy of Edwin Shuker)

One of the yellow ID cards Iraqi Jews were required to carry. (Courtesy of Edwin Shuker)

In the early 1970s, under international pressure, the last of the Jews of Iraq were allowed to leave. They could not bring any of their belongings with them. For years, it seemed the record and history of Iraqi Jews had vanished, but in 2003 when an unexploded bomb from U.S. forces caused a flood in the basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters in Bagdad, some 2,700 items confiscated from Iraqi Jewish homes were found.

The items — thousands of documents, pictures, books and ancient Jewish paraphernalia — were lent to the U.S. by the Iraqi government. After sitting in Texas for almost 10 years due to a lack of funding for restoration, 24 of the items are now on the display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., in a new exhibit.

The items are slated to be returned to the Iraqi government, but many Iraqis Jews living in the diaspora are fighting to keep the items out of Iraq, and perhaps returned to the families who have lost them.

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks with Cynthia Kaplan Shamash and Edwin Shuker, who were childhood friends in Baghdad. They escaped from Iraq in the early 1970s and are now members of the World Organization of Jews from Iraq.

Guest

  • Cynthia Kaplan Shamash, member of the World Organization of Jews from Iraq.
  • Edwin Shuker, member of the World Organization of Jews from Iraq.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

June 6 Comment

Introducing A New Here & Now Website

Coming June 9, 2016, Here & Now listeners and visitors will experience our stories and journalism online in a whole new way.

June 3 Comment

Teenagers Create Impromptu Exhibit At San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art

As the pair toured the museum, they wondered if they could do better. So 16-year-old Kevin Nguyen decided to get creative.

June 3 3 Comments

‘Silver Linings Playbook’ Author Explores Conformity, Mental Health In New Teen Novel

Matthew Quick published his fourth young adult book, "Every Exquisite Thing," this week.

June 2 13 Comments

Do Meal Kits Provide Great Taste Along With Convenience?

Resident chef Kathy Gunst tested a multitude of meal kits, and gives co-host Jeremy Hobson the inside scoop.