Irish president blasts Wiesenthal art claims

AFP 25January 2008

DUBLIN (AFP)---Irish President Mary McAleese revived a row with a Jewish human rights group Tuesday over claims that one of the country's  leading museums contains looted Nazi art works.

During a visit to the Hunt Museum in Limerick, south-west Ireland this week, McAleese said accusations by the Simon Wiesenthal Center that its collection contained items associated with the Nazis had "diminished" Wiesenthal's name.

The government-funded Hunt Museum was set up to house the collection of art  enthusiasts and dealers John and Gertrude Hunt, which they donated to the state.

In January 2004 Wiesenthal centre official Shimon Samuels wrote to McAleese asking her to retract the Museum of the Year award given to the Hunt Museum "due to the suspicious provenance of its collection".
McAleese said Monday that, while she deeply respected the centre's founder Simon Wiesenthal -- a survivor of the Holocaust who spent the latter part of his life tracking down its perpetrators -- "I cannot say the same about the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who have diminished his name in the way in which they have dealt with this museum," she said.
"One expected more and one expected better. Certainly people like the Hunts were entitled to so much better," she said, lamenting that "their great generosity could have been met with such mean-spiritness, such lack of generosity, such base and unfounded allegations."
Based in Los Angeles-based and best known for helping bring former members of the Nazi Germany regime to justice, the Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of the world's largest international Jewish human rights organisations.  
State broadcaster RTE said Tuesday that Samuels had told them that the president's remarks were uncalled for.
"He said the provenance of the Hunt collection has not yet been proven, and that the Wiesenthal Center will publish its own report in the next three months," according to RTE.  
Hunt, who was born in London to Irish parents in 1900, died in 1976. His German-born wife died in 1995. Their collection included some 3,000 items. 
Samuels also subsequently wrote to Prime Minister Bertie Ahern saying that "Ireland is the only World War II neutral to have never confronted its dealings with Nazi Germany." 
Following an investigation of the museum collection, US expert Doctor Lynn Nicholas reported last year there was no proof that the Nazi allegations were true -- a verdict welcomed by McAleese which she said "laid the story to rest."
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