Wiesenthal Drops "Nazi" Allegations Against Art Museum
- Wiesenthal Center slammed for claims of Nazi loot in Irish museum
By The Associated Press
An Irish museum was formally cleared Friday of claims that its
founders were Nazi spies who bought art works from dealers trafficking
in items stolen from Jews.
The report from U.S. expert Lynn Nicholas, published by the Royal
Irish Academy following two investigations over three years, called
the Simon Wiesenthal Center's allegations "unprofessional in the extreme."
Nicholas found no evidence that the late John and Gertrude Hunt -
founders of one of Ireland's best-loved museums, the Hunt Museum in
Limerick - did anything wrong. She did call for further research of
the museum's pieces, most of which are undocumented.
Nicholas, Washington-based author of The Rape of Europa and other
works examining the World War II art world, harshly criticized the
Wiesenthal Center, the world's major Nazi-hunting pressure group, for
making personally abusive claims based on threadbare evidence.
"It is, of course, important to recover and return items unlawfully
taken during World War II, but it is equally obligatory, in the
pursuit of justice, to protect people and institutions from unproven
allegations," Nicholas said.
Nicholas said the Wiesenthal Center's primary documentary basis for
its allegation was an Irish army intelligence file on Gertrude Hunt,
who was German. Such files - kept on more than 500 German nationals
during the war - are open to the public in a Dublin archive.
She said the center's Paris-based director of international liaison,
Shimon Samuels, was irresponsible not to have acknowledged from the
start this was his source.
Samuels in 2004 claimed - in a public letter to Irish President Mary
McAleese and a string of Irish media interviews - that the Hunts were
suspected Nazi spies and buyers of Holocaust victims' art. He declined
to reveal his source.
Nicholas said the file included three letters from April 1944 to
November 1946 to the Hunts from Alexander von Frey, a Swiss-based
dealer who did purchase Nazi loot. She said the letters show the two
parties spoke, but contain no evidence the Hunts purchased a single
art work from anybody, much less one with links to the Holocaust.
"The fact that dealers once knew and dealt with each other is not
sufficient basis for assuming that they shared political ideas or
participated in looting," her report said.
"It is impossible to understand why the Wiesenthal Center did not
reveal its documentation immediately," it said. "The decision to
challenge the Irish authorities in a sort of blackmail game was
unprofessional in the extreme."
Samuels rejected the charge of blackmail, calling it "almost
defamatory." He also complained that his organization had been
completely excluded from the investigation process, and cast doubt on
"This does not to me give a clean bill of health to the Hunt Museum,"
Samuels said of the report after reading The AP's story. "I do not
feel the research has been exhaustive or complete, basically due to
the fact that we were denied access to the archive and to the entire
The findings came too late for the Hunts' son and major museum
booster, John Jr., who struggled to clear his parents' name but died
less than a year after the allegations, aged 47.
"This is one of the most tragic elements to this story," said the
museum director, Virginia Teehan. She said the Wiesenthal Center's
allegations "caused great pain to John. ... It's very regrettable that
he didn't live to see this report today."
Teehan led an effort in 2005 to display all of the museum's pieces on
a Web site and has invited viewers to report any suspicions that they
could have been stolen from Jewish families during the war.
She said the site has had more than a quarter-million visitors and
there's been no query about any item contained in the collection.
Teehan said the Wiesenthal Center should apologize. "They have
insulted the memory of John and Gertrude Hunt very deeply. One would
expect they would be honorable in this regard, she said."
Samuels said he would not be issuing an apology and that, as far as he
was concerned, "the show is not over."
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