December 3, 2012

Vladka Meed

Vladka Meed at the Museum in 2007 (photo by Melanie Einzig)

Vladka Meed, a powerful voice for Holocaust memory and education died on November 21. 

Her obituary in the New York Times recounts the fascinating details of her life. She and her late husband, Ben, were strong supporters of the Museum and entrusted us with the responsibility of organizing and running the annual Yom Hashoah event in New York City, which they founded neary fifty years ago.  Vladka was a courageous woman of remarkable intellect and dedication, and her passsing leaves a a great void.  I shall miss her.

September 21, 2012


We marked the centennial of Raoul Wallenberg's birth in a program at the Museum this week. With our partners, the United NationsOutreach Programme and the Permanent Missions of Hungary and Sweden to the United Nations. Deputy Secretary of the United Nations Jan Eliasson (above) addressed the overflow audience, which included senior representatives of 33 nations.
The evening included a discussion with two Wallenberg experts, Professor Bengt Jangfeldt for Sweden, who has written the most recent biography of Wallenberg, and Kati Marton, who wrote her Wallenberg book three decades ago. It was a lively discussion which covered Wallenberg's heoric deeds, the open questions about his fate, and the potent legacy he left behind. 
Bengt Jangfeldt, KatiMarton, DGM

(Photos by Melanie Einzig)

July 5, 2012

Gitta Sereny

Photo: Don Honeyman

I learned recently of the death of Gitta Sereny, a great personality and a remarkable journalist and writer.  I first met Gitta Sereny in the mid-1980's, when she arrived at our office in the Justice Department with certain documents that, if genuine, would have described the use by US intelligence of the notorious war criminal, Odilio Globocnik.  

 It had long been thought that Globocnik had committed suicide at the end of the war to avoid internment and trial for his participation in the murder of Jews in his capacity as SS and Police Leader in Lublin and for his involvement in the liquidation of the Warsaw and Bialystok Ghettos.  The documents that Gitta presented to us related to the activity of the Army’s CIC and indicated that Globocnik had been recruited and used by the US in the postwar period.  Gitta had reason to question the authenticity of the documents, and we agreed to assist her in determining whether they were genuine because we knew that, if they turned out to be authentic (or if they were to be made public), we would be called on to investigate the circumstances that gave rise to them.

Without going into detail, we conducted, among other things, a forensic analysis of the documents, including a linguistic evaluation, done with the help of Prof. Murray Miron, who had consulted on the Son of Sam investigation.  At the same time, Gitta, in her inimical way, carried out creative and indefatigable research about Globocnik.  In the end, she was able to locate the British officer who arrested him and located a photograph of him after his death.  Knowing that the documents were forgeries, Gitta was spared embarrassment.  She went on to write up the story in The Guardian of the forgery and of her tracking down and confirming Globocnik’s fate.   

Gitta was grateful for our help, and, through the close contact we established during the Globocnik case, we became friends.  I tried to be of assistance to her over the years, especially when she was conducting research in the US concerning her own activities following the war, when she worked for UNRRA, in attempting to reunite children, who had been removed from their families, with their parents.

In 1994, Gitta wrote a cover story for The Independent on Sunday about the Berlin Document Center (BDC) and its transfer from US administration to the German government.  I was then the director of the BDC and experienced firsthand Gitta’s renowned skill as an interviewer and investigator.  She reported the story with the same kind of intensity that she devoted to her other efforts.  A focused and fearsome interviewer, she believed that she – and, it seemed, she alone -- could get at the truth.  Like a surgeon, she posed questions and follow-ups with precision -- cutting through layers of obscuring gristle to reach the heart of the matter.  She followed her deft questions with a piercing and searching look -- both a signal of kinship and a warning.  She employed this unrelenting and remarkably effective technique in all her work, including the classic book, Into that Darkness, in which she dissects the commandant of Treblinka, Franz Stangl, as well as in her biography of Albert Speer.

I was fortunate to have met Gitta Sereny and was richer for having known her.

June 14, 2012

Our Lady in Mystic

Early this week, we visited the Gerda III, our Danish Rescue boat, which is moored at Mystic Seaport.  A gift from the Danish Parliament, Gerda was a lighthouse tender that ferried Jews to Sweden during the rescue in 1943.  The conditions in New York Harbor (traffic, wake, etc.) make it impossible for us to have Gerda nearby as origniially planned.  We are grateful that she has such a comfortable home in Mystic.

June 7, 2012

Space Shuttle

Space Shuttle Enterprise Passes by the Museum (Photo: Frank Camporeale)

You never know what you will see outside our windows.... Yesterday, the space shuttle made its way up the Hudson River to its new home on board the USS Intrepid.

June 6, 2012

An Extraordinary Woman

DGM and Dr. Ruth (Photo: Tim Boxer)

Last night we (along with more than 200 guests) celerated Dr. Ruth Westheimer's 84th birthday at the Museum.  As part of the festivities, we had a screening (the US premier) of the Dr. Ruth episode from the BBC series, Extraordinary Women.  In case anyone had any question of her having earned inclusion in the series, Ruth's performance in the post-screening discussion with me on stage dispelled any doubt.

May 31, 2012

White House

President Obama in the East Room Following His Remarks

I was invited to a reception for American Jewish Heritage Month at the White House yesterday.  President Obama addressed a large crowd in the East Room with remarks centered on Grant's infamous Order Number 11, which banned Jews from the Territory of the Tennessee.  The order was quickly overridden by President Lincoln ("That's another reason why we like Lincoln," the President said), and Grant went on to make amends in his later treatment of Jews. Originals of the Order and related documents were on display.  All in all, a very exciting day!

March 29, 2012

Last Week...

An incredible week.....

Tuesday: At Columbia, Claude Lanzmann (with Charlie Rose) discussing his newly published (in English) memoir, The Patagonian Hare. As always, Lanzmann, charming and disarming, took the conversation in his direction.  I first met Claude in Paris in 1998 and have seen him often since then, in Paris, Stockholm, Washington, and New York. We hosted him for a week at the Museum in connection with the 20th anniversary of the release of Shoah.  I'm looking forward to reading this book.

Wednesday: Opening of Filming the Camps: From Hollywood to Nuremberg.

Attending the opening were the Robert M. Morgenthau, Jacques Fredj (Director of the Memorial de la Shoah), Eric de Rothschild (Chairman of the Memorial de la Shoah), and Bernhard Emsellem, a representative of the exhibition funder, the French national Railroad (SNCF). Photo by Melanie Einzig

  An excerpt from my remarks at the opening: 

Good Evening, ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the Museum on this earliest of Spring evenings and to the opening of this marvelous exhibition, Filming the Camps: John Ford, George Stevens, Samuel Fuller, from Hollywood to Nuremberg. Before I begin, I would like to offer our condolences to our French colleagues at the Memorial de la Shoah for the tragic loss experienced this past week in Toulouse. While a senseless, grotesque act of violence perpetrated against innocents is a trauma felt by all, it may touch those who dedicate themselves to teaching about and commemorating the history that is the subject of both our Museum and the Memorial de la Shoah with particular resonance. And so we send our thoughts and prayers.  

Our relationship with the Memorial is of longstanding. This exhibition marks the third project on which we have worked with this great institution. This relationship began in 2008 when we hosted the remarkable exhibition, Holocaust by Bullets, about the work of Father Patrick Desbois. It continued and became a kind of counter-intuitive, cross-Atlantic cooperation. Consider that several years ago, we, a Museum in NYC created an exhibition about, a French writer, Irene Nemirovsky, that debuted in America and then later traveled (in modified form) to France. Consider that our colleagues at the Memorial de la Shoah, an institution in Paris, created an exhibition about American filmmakers that debuted in France and then traveled here to America. 

When we speak of our British friends, it is often said that we are divided by our common language, which I understand to mean that we are so comfortable understanding each other’s language that we fail to interpret the differences that force us to look at the world in different ways. When we speak of our French colleagues, I think we can say that we are united by our different languages. We are forced by the challenge of our separate languages to interpret and translate and confront the wonderful differences that define the way we each look at the world and the way we each create exhibitions. We have learned from each other, and the result has been a productive partnership that I hope will continue long into the future.

It is no wonder, I suppose, that this exhibition, rooted, as it is, in the universal language of images should have been developed in France, where Hollywood and its products have been elevated and appreciated perhaps even more than in the United States. We owe the exhibition’s gifted curator Christian Delage our gratitude for building this exhibition with such care and for interpreting for us so deftly the impact and reach of the work of our fellow Americans.

Friday: Visit from the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, Dr. Mustafa Ceric

DGM and Grand Mufti of Bosnia (Photo by Caroline Earp)

We received a visit from the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, who presented us with a beautiful painting and a facsimile copy of the Sarjevo Hagaddah, the original of which had been saved twice in the past century by Muslems.  Dr. Ceric is a charasmatic leader who addressed the staff and engaged with me in a long conversation as we walked through the Garden of Stones, Voices of Liberty, and the core exhibition.

Dr. Ceric gave me the white flower you can see pinned to my lapel and pictured above.  It is a memorial token for those murdered at Srebrenica in 1995.  The eleven petals recall the date, July 11th, and the green center represents the rebirth of life.  These hand-crocheted flowers were made by the widows and mothers of the murdered men and boys. Both Dr. Ceric and his wife were demonstrably moved by the Garden of Stones.