Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Irish Jewish body wants Hunt museum probe

The director of Dublin’s Irish Jewish Museum has responded to criticisms by President Mary McAleese of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre by urging further investigations to resolve a row over the Hunt Museum collection.

Raphael Siev praised McAleese for bringing the matter of the Hunt collection into the public arena, but said there were still ‘‘questions to be answered’’ about the history of the collection, which was donated to the Limerick museum by the late art dealers John and Gertrude Hunt.

‘‘There is this gap and I feel it is necessary to carry out further investigations in relation to all aspects of the collection,” said Siev. ‘‘It may be possible to have a clear and unambiguous declaration from both the Jewish and non-Jewish recognised authorities.”

Last week, McAleese said allegations by the centre that the Hunts and their collection were associated with Nazis had diminished the name of Simon Wiesenthal. She said the Hunt family’s donation had been met with ‘‘mean-spiritedness, such lack of generosity, such base and unfounded allegations’’.

But Siev said the issue was about the collection. ‘‘I believe we have been sidetracked by the claims and the issues relating to the Hunts and their family. It is a straightforward and simple issue. Did any part of the collection contain items which formerly belonged to the Jewish people and institutions? That is the real issue as I see it.

‘‘I think that all institutions with works of art in their collection or on their premises, which were obtained or received after 1945, have a moral duty to establish the provenance or the history of these items in the years 1933 to 1945.”

He called for an itemisation of every item in the collection, including any that had been dispensed with. ‘‘Everything that has been there from the time of the late John and Gertrude Hunt - everything, has to be classified,” he insisted.

An independent report has already found that there was no proof that the Hunts were Nazis or involved in ‘‘any kind of espionage, or that they were traffickers in looted art’’.

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre was founded in 1977 as a ‘‘museum focusing on racism in America and the history of the Holocaust’’. The Paris Centre is headed by Dr Shimon Samuels, who made the initial claims about the Hunts in 2004.

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