Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Like Sending Back Art Nazis Looted

Anyone who still thinks the Iraqi Jewish Archive should be repatriated to Iraq should read this story about a Canadian doctor born an Iraqi Jew who just wants her own property back.  No, despite some disinformation in the archaeological blogosphere, the issue is not Iraqi Government documents "about Jews."  Rather, the issue is about documents taken from Iraqi Jews who were the subject of ethnic cleansing by an anti-Semitic Iraqi state.

The documents should go to their true owners or their representatives, not the country that hounded them to leave.  It's as simple as that.


Cultural Property Observer said...

Arthur Houghton asked me to post this:

"Thank you Peter for your eloquent statement. It is inexplicable to me that those you refer to should take the low ground on this matter. They appear to have no moral tiller whatsoever.

Warm regards,


Paul Barford said...

So, tell us again, by which US law do you intend preventing this material going back to the country it came from? Or would you recommend the use of extra-legal measures?

In what way is what you are proposing not cultural property nationalism?

Your reply need not be "eloquent" but we'd be interested in hearing your reply as a disinterested observer.

Cultural Property Observer said...

I would submit the Iraqi State did not get good title to documents stolen from Jews. You should also reaquaint with Alex Joffe's views. i also think the principle of non-refoulment applies here. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/07/joffee-critiques-justifications-for.html

I don't understand your nationalism comment. Nationalism relates to the State. Here, indivduals want their personal property back.

Paul Barford said...

The word "nationalism" refers to a nation, a people (Latin root natio). Cultural property nationalism refers to a "nation" that is a people, not a political entity such as a state or political party. You say these items belong to a people, Jews. Without any doubt, that is a classic example of the cultural property nationalism which the ACCG decries.

As for the laws, I thought you and the ACCG were against applying foreign laws to the US? Who then is the importer? The US signed documents when they took the stuff acknowledging its ownership by virtue of the pledge to return it. You are suggesting the US now go back on that word.

I was not asking about abstract principles here. Since this is a lawyer's blog, I ask under what specific US law you envisage appropriating ownership of these documents and then reassigning it now they are within the USA?

Or are you going to take the legal low ground and suggest the application of extra-legal measures when it suits you?

Cultural Property Observer said...

I'm using the dictionary definition of nationalism that distinguishes individuals from nation states. See http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nationalism.

I've already given you a legal analysis applied by courts here in other situations where property was stolen by Nazis--the Iraqi State never received title to the items it stole from its Jewish citizens.

I don't think the same rules apply to the US Government when it comes to imports into the US. Also, it is my understanding the agreement that was cited was between US Government entities-- the provisional authority (or occupation if you like) and the State Department if memory serves. Why can't the US government change such things unilaterally?

I'm not sure how I'm taking the legal low ground. The bottom line is if the material belonged to Iraqi Jews, the US government should make sure they get it back. That sounds like the legal high ground to me.

Cultural Property Observer said...

A numismatic dealer, archaeologist and scholar asked me to post this comment:

Dear Peter,

I have one real comment about this Jewish Archive story.

The Iraqis make the amazing claim that these items, including the report cards of children who are now adults living elsewhere, are vital Iraqi cultural property (are high school transcripts now on the UNESCO list?).

Let's say that we actually WANT to believe this claim. What kind of evidence would we need? Well - were these records stored in the archives of the Education Ministry? Were they kept in the national archives? Were they kept in a museum devoted to the people of Iraq? Were they kept in the files of an educational institution? Were they kept in the files of the city or town governments where the people they refer to come from? Were they in the files of a Jewish institution, even though there are no longer any Jews in Iraq (but the institution itself is guarded and supported as evidence referring the country's past)? Were they held anywhere where they could be consulted openly and used for any kind or research?

NO. None of the above. They were found stored in the basement of the Secret Police, members of whom had seized all of it from people they had forced into exile or had killed or tortured. So we can say that since nothing within this archive had any obvious commercial value, they only survived due to inertia rather than any real desire to save them - a new minister might come in and decide to save space by dumping the lot or using it for heating fuel. We can be about 100% sure that any obviously precious items seized at the same time were, like money, gold, jewelry etc. etc., sold or reused (i.e., maybe the Torah scrolls still exist but do any silver or gold ornaments that came with them still exist?)

Yes, any item taken from an Iraqi museum or library or someplace similar should be returned. But the private papers and devotional objects of ordinary people who had been prevented from taking those items with them when they were expelled from a country? We should happily return them to the people who stole them in the first place?

The fact is these items were confiscated by the Iraqi secret police from ordinary people who are now alive.

If the State Department can support an old lady getting some art work worth $Millions back from a museum in Berlin or Vienna or London or New York, because these things were seized from her Jewish Father by the nazis, how can they not give a grade school report card worth maybe $1 back to the adult who was the child who received it in the first place, back in the 1960s?



Paul Barford said...

"A" suggests: "the State Department [...] how can they not give a grade school report card [...]?"

Does the State Department currently OWN that document?

To do what you suggest (unless you want it done by extra-legal means) requires that first the DoS needs to go to court to obtain that ownership.

We can ask Mr Tompa whether it needs to do so with regard to each individual object (presumably missing out the phone books and the records made during British rule long ago), or whether it would be a smart legal move to treat the collection as a whole.

Such a case might have knock-on implications for a US coin dealer found with one or two items which can be shown to be stolen in their stock. If the case for seizing the whole lot en masse on the evidence of Dr Bassoon-Zaltzman and a few other still-living ex-Iraqi schoolkids was admissible as grounds for seizing the whole, they could henceforth stand to lose their entire stock.

So, as the blog owner is a lawyer, let us - instead of the emotional issues based on one-sided, superficial and sensationalist articles in the North American press - discuss the legal issues involved (and their wider implications) in doing what apparently you all want to do with these documents removed during the US occupation.

Paul Barford (name)

Cultural Property Observer said...

"A" asked me to post this in response to Mr. Barford's last post:

This is most depressing. If we would agree with Mr Barford would that not mean that ALL looted material belongs to the looters? The Nazis followed their own laws when they took the enormous amounts of material away from Jewish private people, museums in Germany, France, Poland (!) and elsewhere. As seems clear now, the material removed as 'degenerate art' from German museums and then sold does not have to be returned since the then Government of Germany confiscated it legally (by their laws) but everything else does (because it was taken using laws we do not accept as legal). Yet if Barford is correct in relation to the Iraqi Jews, the analogous situation must exist in relation to all this Nazi stuff. I would like to think that I have to be wrong...

The real problem is that Barford is so rabidly fanatic about the destruction of sites and other items of culture, that he loses sight of morality and right. His dismissal of claims of ownership by the Iraqi Jews who were despoiled of everything from report cards to family and community religious objects (some dating back centuries) just goes against every possible standard of justice. I suppose he believes that if he accepts that any form of state ownership is unjust then his whole system would fall apart.


Paul Barford said...

""A" asked me to post this in response to Mr. Barford's last post: This is most depressing. If we [agreed] with Mr Barford[,] would that not mean that ALL looted material belongs to the looters?"

No. I thought I expressed myself clearly.

The US can arbitrarily make itself the owner of the material and then do what you say by extra-legal means and call it "moral and right" and "justice". Of course it can. It would not be the first time by any means. Is that what you are advocating happens?

I am asking (and I've done it several times and not yet received a proper answer) how if can do it by legal means. That is, within the frames of US law as it exists at this time. This is what we are talking about on a US lawyer's blog. Why are we not?

There are two main problems I can see with your approach:

1) As I said, that the documents individually or as a group were "despoiled" [as the sensationalist newspapers and interest groups have it] really would first need to be supported in a court of law before accepted as justification for legal (though not extra-legal) action.

I asked whether that examination of the status of the objects should be of the whole archive taken together, or weighed in the case of every document individually (the school report cards have filing holes punched in the edges, by whom and when? Did individuals really receive those copies or are what exist today file copies taken from an abandoned archive of a state institution? the school would be an Iraqi state institution). But then most of these documents are not school report cards, but legal letters and that sort of thing.

Maybe somebody could answer my question objectively without all this emotional language?

2) If the US gives Dr Bassoon-Zaltzman and other identifiable individuals back their report cards etc, what will they do with the residue? What will they do with a residue that is no longer the same "archive recording Jewish lives in Iraq", because the invader who took it gave random parts of it away? The scattering of what remains of this archive by the US government will reduce its significance to future researchers. Where will it be housed and why?