March 24, 2009

The Visit of the Cardinals

Dr. Bernard Lander,  Cardinal Vingt-Trois, DGM
(AP Photo/Museum of Jewish Heritage and Touro College, Diane Bondareff)

I have already written several time about Father Patrick Desbois and his important work.  Our exhibition, The Shooting of Jews in Ukraine: Holocaust by Bullets, closed today.  Among its last visitors was a delegation of Catholic leaders, who were shown through the exhibition by Father Desbois.  The delegation, led by the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Vingt-Trois, included a number of Cardinals and Bishops, primarily from France, who came to New York to visit the Museum and meet with Jewish leaders.  

Here is an excerpt from my welcoming remarks:

When Father Patrick Desbois called me several weeks ago and announced that he would like to bring a group of high church officials to the Museum, I immediately said yes.  After all, it was here in the Museum, in 2005, that Father Desbois first described to the Jewish world the full scope of his undertaking –locating and identifying the graves of Jews murdered by the Germans in Ukraine during the  Holocaust.  And it was it was the Museum that became the first American venue to host the remarkable exhibition that details Father Desbois’s work. 

I immediately said yes because we have always sought a close connection with the Catholic Church, indeed John Cardinal O’Connor spoke at the dedication of our Museum and forged our connection with the schools of the Archdiocese, stating that it was his desire that every student from every Catholic school visit the Museum.  And since then, thousands of Catholic students and their teachers have come to the Museum and learned about a painful and difficult history. They have learned about this history because people like Cardinal O’Connor – and Father Desbois -- recognized that, to become a good man or woman, to become a good citizen, to become a good Catholic, one must learn about and learn from perhaps the darkest moment in human history.

And so, we welcome this group of distinguished leaders to our Museum as we continue to carry out our crucial mission.  And we welcome them at a particularly painful moment as we try to absorb the still stinging news that a reinstated Church leader, Bishop Richard Williamson, has publicly denied a history that any recent graduate of a New York Archdiocese school knows to be true and irrefutable. 

We welcome our guests knowing that, by their visit, they send an undeniable message to all that there is no room for Williamson’s message, or that of others like him, in the hearts and minds of good men and women, of good citizens of the world. 

Speaking before the press after touring the exhibition, Cardinal Vingt-Trois made a very strong statement on the subject of Holocaust denial:

Let this be another opportunity to recall -- whether the time is right or not -- that being a Catholic is radically incompatible with denying the Holocaust, and that recent statements have caused suffering among our Jewish brothers as well as among many Catholics.

March 3, 2009

The Boss

Robert M. Morgenthau and David G. Marwell 
(Photo by Melanie Einzig)
We learned last week that Robert M. Morgenthau, the Chairman of the Museum, has decided not to seek reelection and will step down as District Attorney of New York County (Manhattan) at the end of his ninth term in December.  The Boss (as he is called), who will turn 90 in July, has been a remarkable force in New York public life for more than four decades, serving first as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York  under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. President Nixon threatened to fire him when the Boss wouldn't step down explaining that he still had important work to do.  He was elected DA following the death of the legendary Frank Hogan, who had held the record for having served  as DA for the longest period until the Boss overtook him early last year.  He made of the DA's office a creative and relentless force that contributed to making New York City a safer and fairer place to live.  He devoted his efforts and resources not only to combating crime in the streets but also in the suites, taking on white collar crooks with same kind of gusto that he employed in going after the mob.  He extended the reach of his office far beyond the island of Manhattan, and legions of his former Assistant DA's have occupied judges' chambers and law firm offices around the country for decades.  
I first met Morgenthau when he interviewed me for the Museum director position in the fall of 2000, and I quickly realized that getting to know him and work with him would be the most rewarding part of my job.  Over the past eight and a half years, I have spoken to him every week (sometimes every day) and meet with him regularly.  From the very beginning, I learned that the Boss has what I have called "exquisite instincts" -- he senses the solution to  a problem or the right path to take and is confident in these instinctive judgments.  I also learned that one will underestimate him at their peril.  In a recent interview in Jewish Week, Leslie Crocker Schneider, who challenged Morgenthau in the last election -- and was trounced -- intimates that he is no longer entirely with it.  She could not be more wrong.  I was at a meeting with him on the day the article appeared, and he was as sharp as ever.
I will admit that, when I learned that he was not running again, I was a bit concerned. But upon reflection, and after speaking with him, I feel much better.  I know that he is in good health and completely at ease with his decision and I know that he will continue to work hard for the Museum.  My colleagues and I wish him the very best and look forward to working with him for many years to come.