Thursday, August 15, 2013

Recalling Farah through her school records

The school records were found of Farah Shina, also known as Gladys, who died in the UK aged 29 leaving two small children.

There have been many articles written about the Jewish archives shipped from Iraq to the US in 2003, but this Washington Post piece is the first to personalise them by focusing on the school records of star pupil Farah Shina, who died in Oxford aged 29. The article is  also is the first to state that the archive will return to Iraq after an exhibition of the most spectacular items at the National Archives in Washington DC closes in January of next year. (With thanks to all those who emailed me about this article)

The girl’s name was Farah. She had thick, dark hair. And in the school snapshot found in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s ­secret-police headquarters, she is smiling and wearing a pretty dress. She was probably about 13 when the picture was taken in the 1950s. She was a student at the Jewish intermediate school in Baghdad, where she scored a 94 in English and an 88 in history.

 In another time, her life might have passed unnoticed outside of her family and friends. But her school records, and those of other Iraqi Jews, as well as a trove of water-logged treasures from Baghdad’s Jewish past, are being conserved at the National Archives for their return to Iraq next year.

The material, found when U.S. troops invaded Iraq a decade ago, includes a 400-year-old Hebrew Bible and a 200-year-old Talmud from Vienna. There is a small, hand-inked 1902 Passover Haggada, a colorful 1930 prayer book in French and a beautifully printed collection of sermons by a rabbi made in Germany in 1692. And there are binders filled with school records like Farah’s from the 1920s through 1975. The Archives plans to open a major exhibit of some of the items Oct. 11.

 Farah Gourgy Shina, the eldest of seven children, was a superb scholar, a valedictorian and a role model who helped raise her siblings, said her brother, Sammy G. Shina, in an emotional interview last week. He said he did not know that her records had turned up in the salvaged trove, and the Archives said it knew nothing about her aside from her faded school papers. Shina said everyone called his sister Gladys — short for gladness, the English translation of her Arabic name. After a life of example and accomplishment, she died of cancer in England in 1968 at age 29.

 She left behind a husband and two small children and is buried in Oxford, England. “I don’t want to make it look like a tragic life,” Shina said in a telephone interview, crying as he remembered her, “because I think she had aspirations of greatness.”

Farah’s records were among the approximately 2,700 books and “tens of thousands” of sodden documents retrieved from the ruined Baghdad basement, said Doris A. Hamburg, director of preservation programs at the Archives.

The trove, named the Iraqi Jewish Archive, was found by U.S. troops on May 6, 2003, in the bombed-out headquarters of the Mukhabarat, Hussein’s secret police — who had, among other things, busily gathered intelligence on Iraqi Jews.

Most Jews had fled Iraq years before in the face of the violence and intimidation of the mid- to late 1900s, leaving behind the last traces of their rich 2,500-year history there, Archives officials said. With the consent of Iraqi authorities, the material was brought to the National Archives for conservation later in 2003, Hamburg said. But the project stagnated, according to a State Department official, as Iraq descended into insurgency and sectarian bloodshed, and it was not clear who in the Iraqi government would be the contact for the project.

 “They wanted it back,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk more freely about the negotiations. “But we wanted guarantees that it was going to be taken care of.”

Read article in full 

All articles about the Iraqi-Jewish archive

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