after the documents were found floating in
a Baghdad basement, the entire trove finally
has been restored and recorded, photographed and digitized. Several dozen documents were displayed at the Archives earlier this year, and the large crowd of visitors
included many Jews with Iraqi origins.
“One gentleman was looking at his
records from when he was in school in
Baghdad,” reports Meris Westberg, one of
Hamburg’s assistants. “He was telling his
kids about his grades and his test scores.”
The American government promised
to return the documents to Iraq after they
were restored, but there is strong opposi-
tion to that plan—from Jewish exiles, law-
makers and scholars.
Harold Rhode, a Middle East expert
who was advising American forces in
Baghdad when the documents were discovered, recently told CBS News: “This is
not the heritage of Iraq. It is the heritage
of Iraqi Jews. It is their personal property.”
Wherever the documents eventually wind
up, they are available online to everyone—
more than 200,000 pages worth.
Hamburg emphasizes that she
approached the job as a professional, on
assignment for the government. But she
admits her own family history inevitably colors her emotions. Her grandparents were killed in the Holocaust. Her parents fled Nazi Germany. She knows what it
means to feel disconnected and displaced.
“I can relate, definitely, from my family
having had to leave their home under very
difficult circumstances,” she says.
I can relate, as well. My ancestors fled
other pogroms in other countries, and
this year marks the 100th anniversary of
my grandfather, Avram Rogowsky, arriving in America.
So I feel the power of Hamburg’s words
when she says that the documents connect
Iraq’s Jews to their own past. “They can
find themselves there,” she says. “We saved
a part of history.” n
Steve Roberts teaches journalism and politics at George Washington University
and wrote a memoir about his family, My
Fathers’ Houses (William Morrow, 2005).
Send ideas for future columns to sroberts@
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