September 25, 2007

The UN, Iran, and Albania...

NYPD Security Post with Museum in the Background

Every year at the end of September, New York is transformed. The United Nations General Assembly meets, and leaders from around the world come to New York. Located, as we are, across the street from the Ritz Carlton Hotel, our lives are affected each year by the annual migration. For whatever reason, the Ritz is considered an appropriate place for high visibility leaders to stay. It may be that it is easier to provide the necessary level of security.

In any case, for this entire week, the Ritz, and consequently the Museum, has been subjected to the most visible and rigorous security precautions that one can imagine. For periods of time, the entire area is blocked off, requiring arriving hotel guests to be dropped off hundreds of feet from the hotel. Portable bollards have been installed, and there are literally hundreds of uniformed and plain-clothed law enforcement personnel all over the place. For much of last week, the rumor was that President Ahmadinejad would be staying there along with the Iraqi leader. The local press speculated that the Iranian President might just pop across the street and visit the Museum.

We were faced with the delicate issue of how to handle a possible visit from Ahmadinejad and whether to invite him (as many had urged us to do). We were opposed to issuing an invitation but committed to allowing a visit were it to take place. Because of all of the speculation about a possible visit, and in light of the significant publicity that his appearance at Columbia had engendered, we decided to prepare a statement, which we issued late yesterday afternoon:

We have not extended an invitation to President Ahmadinejad to visit the Museum, nor do we intend to do so. As an institution dedicated to educating the public about the Holocaust, we open our doors each year to tens of thousands of people of all ages and from all backgrounds. Were President Ahmadenijad to visit the museum, he, like all of our visitors, would be confronted with the undeniable fact of the Holocaust --a powerful antidote to the poisonous distortions of history.

It seems unlikely that he will show up at our door, but we did receive a very special visit yesterday from a man of a very different calibre -- Sali Berisha, the Prime Minister of Albania. He came by to see the Museum and visit with our Chairman, Robert Morgenthau. Prime Minster Berisha is a former president of his country and also the former leader of the opposition. Sitting across from this impressive man, I reflected on those men and women in the post-communist era, who came to fill positions and take leadership roles in totally unexpected ways. These individuals were not groomed for the government and diplomatic posts that they were called upon to fill, but stepped forward to change the course of the history of their countries.

The Prime Minister talked with us about the little known history of Albania during World War II, and the admirable record of benign treatment and protection of the Jewish Population. We agreed that the Museum would investigate the possibility of public programs or a small exhibition on this important topic.

It was an exhausting and exhilarating day of contrasts, personalities, and some high drama.

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