November 13, 2009

The Morgenthaus

The Morgenthaus: Henry Sr., Henry Jr., Joan, Henry III, Robert

We held our press preview this morning for our newest special exhibition, The Morgenthaus: A Legacy of Service, which opens to the public on Monday, November 16th  Visit our Exhibition Website to discover more about this remarkable family and their contribution.

Here are my remarks from this morning's event:

I welcome you this morning to the Museum and to a preview of our newest special exhibition, The Morgenthaus: A Legacy of Service.  Let me note at the outset that it is not a normal occurrence for a Museum to mount an exhibition that explores the life and family of its chairman.  Indeed, I would imagine that it is a unique.  But then, the Morgenthau family is unique – unique in its impact on history, unique in its example of service, and unique in the opportunity it offers to explore import themes and events of world, American, and Jewish history. 

Like most exhibitions and good ideas, the origins of this one are difficult to pinpoint with precision.  It really began as at least two exhibition ideas.  We had wanted to address the question of the Armenian Genocide, and we had wanted to address the question of the American response to the Holocaust.  Examining the history of the Morgenthau family has allowed us to do both and much more. 

January 1, 2010, will be almost the first day in nearly a century that a Morgenthau has not gotten up, shaken off sleep, knotted his tie, and set off to do the people’s work.  This nearly unbroken, century-long, chain of public service reveals much about this family, and our exhibition shows how its individual members reacted at times of crisis to find within themselves deep reservoirs of strength and commitment to the public good.  Indeed, one historian comments that there may well have been something in the Morgenthau DNA that equipped them to respond the way they did. 

Now I don’t know much about DNA, but I do something about the DA, the Honorable Robert M. Morgenthau, who is with us this morning.  Normally one might think that there could be significant risk for a Museum director to prepare an exhibition about his boss’s family and his boss.  One could worry that a mistake could mean their job, and when the boss is the DA, one could be thinking handcuffs and jail time.  Not with Bob Morgenthau, whose absolute fidelity to the purest principles of independence and fairness extends to his service to this Museum. Work on this exhibition began a long time ago, long before we knew that the Boss would not be running for his tenth term. He and his siblings were extremely generous with their memories and their possessions, which have provided rich material for this exhibition.

This morning is the first time Bob Morgenthau will have a chance to see the exhibition, and we hope that he, like you, will find it balanced and accurate and educational and enriching. While, I am certain that he will likely learn no new facts about himself or his family, he will see important artifacts for the first time and will see the lives of his grandfather and father, and indeed his own career, placed in a context that draws from them a fascinating, profound, and powerful story of legacy and service.

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