Saddam Hussein’s Jewish treasures: Professor reveals details about archive

“We knew they were gathering intelligence about Israel, but we had no idea there was a distinct division for Jews,” says professor.

By Adina Katz, World Israel News

An American professor is speaking out about an archive of Jewish texts, records and materials he discovered in an Iraqi government building during the 2003 war.

Dr. Harold Rudd was instrumental in salvaging much of a Jewish archive damaged during an American airstrike in Baghdad and retrieving the documents for restoration in Washington, D.C.

Rudd, a Pentagon consultant at the time, was on the ground during the initial American invasion of the country.

But after an American missile struck the then-internal intelligence agency’s headquarters in Baghdad, Rudd received a surprising phone call.

‘Come quickly!’- A race against the clock

A member of an Iraqi political opposition party phoned Rudd to inform him that there was an expansive archive regarding Iraqi Jews that was stored in the basement of the building.

While the missile had not detonated, it had severely compromised the building’s water systems, causing flooding on the bottom floors.

Rudd rushed to the site and was shocked by the scale and magnitude of Jewish materials stored there.

“We knew they were gathering intelligence about Israel, but we had no idea there was a distinct division for Jews, which also included a highly specialized archive,” Rudd told Ynet.

According to Rudd, Saddam Hussein had ordered his internal intelligence to repeatedly raid synagogues and other Jewish sites throughout the country, storing all materials – from birth records to graduates of Jewish schools to Torah commentary dating back to the 16th century – at the entity’s headquarters.

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Rudd, who himself is Jewish, said that he immediately understood the significance of the archive, which contained everything from wedding records to religious texts dating back 500 years.

As water flooded the basement, Rudd felt the pressure to ensure that the archive would be preserved for posterity.

“I found myself immersed in waist-deep water, surrounded by sacred books and scrolls,” he said. “It dawned on me that urgent action was imperative to prevent further damage [to the materials.]”

After retrieving the documents, many of which were wet, Rudd phoned a number of contacts – including famed Soviet Jewish prisoner-of-Zion Natan Sharansky – for advice on how to minimize damage and asking for help.

Sharansky, Rudd said, reached out to then-Vice President Dick Cheney for assistance. Within hours, Rudd accounted, Cheney sent experts to help him properly store and pack the materials for preservation and restoration in the U.S.

The archive was originally flown to Texas, then on to a specialized facility in Washington D.C., where it remains to this day.

A new home for the archive?

Rudd noted that according to international law, the American government should theoretically return the archive to Iraq. However, because the archive is specifically focused on Iraqi Jews, Rudd said he believes “it should be entrusted to the Babylonian Jewish Heritage Museum in Israel, which now safeguards the records and archives of Iraqi Jewry.”

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While there are legal complications and bureaucratic hurdles to overcome, Rudd said he is certain “this transition will occur eventually.”

Although the entirety of the archive is accessible online, “there’s no substitute for the ability of Iraqi Jews and their descendants to physically engage with and closely examine the documents and books that constitute their personal legacy.”