Not many people can claim to have had Colonel Muammar Qaddafi as a pen pal. But a retired Jewish florist in Brooklyn named Louis Schlamowitz can.
In fact, the 81-year-old Schlamowitz has letters from several notorious Middle Eastern leaders: Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Yassir Arafat.
The New York Post published a story on Monday in which Schlamowitz describes the late Libyan leader as “a good pen pal.” Schlamowitz said he was not saddened by Qaddafi’s death but “felt bad about how he was killed.”
“He should have stepped down like the president of Egypt,” Schlamowitz said. “It’s about power and money, and when they lose it, they go down and the people who are their advisers go down with them.”
Schlamowitz says he first wrote to Qaddafi in 1969, after he took power in Libya.
“I wished him well and congratulated him on being the new leader of Libya, hoping for many more years ahead of him,” Schlamowitz told the New York Post.
“At the end of the letter, I said I’d be very grateful if he would send a personal picture of himself to add to my Middle East collection.”
About a month later, Schlamowitz received an autographed picture of Qaddafi in the mail along with a note thanking him for his “kind message.’’
In 1981 Schlamowitz began sending him Christmas cards. The unlikely friends even exchanged thoughts on Israel. But in 1988, Schlamowitz decided to stop writing Qaddafi after hearing of his role in the Pan Am bombing that killed 270 people over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.
“Qaddafi committed crimes against humanity. I didn’t want to get mixed up with him or his organization, so I backed out,” he said.
Schlamowitz’ unusual correspondence did come at a price. Both the CIA and the FBI have paid him visits over the years to quiz him about the notes, as well as those from the spiritual leader of Iran’s revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini.
Six months ago, after the uprising in Libya began, Schlamowitz decided to check in with his old pen pal.
“I wanted to give him a lift, with all he was going through. So I wrote him a letter saying, ‘If you don’t take care of your people, your people will take care of you,’” he said.
The letter was returned unopened.