An international Jewish organisation has criticised the Government for failing to respond to a report on alleged links between the founders of the Hunt Museum in Limerick and Nazi sympathisers.
The Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Paris accused the Government of “total discourtesy” for failing to even acknowledge the report, which was sent to the Taoiseach last December.
The Department of Arts, while acknowledging Government departments erred in not responding to the centre, says there is nothing new in the report about the late John and Gertrude Hunt and no reason to believe any of the 2,000 items in the collections of the Hunt Museum, which they founded, had been looted by the Nazis.
However, the director of the centre, Dr Shimon Samuels, said that by consigning the report “to oblivion” Ireland showed it was in “a state of denial” over the past activities of Nazi sympathisers in the country. He said he planned to embarrass Ireland over the issue at international conferences and in the US media.
The report by museum consultant Erin Gibbons detailed business relationships between the Hunts and Nazi sympathisers and traffickers of looted art. It claimed investigations by the Irish authorities up to now were inadequate and called for further research.
Supporters of the couple have pointed out that the author of the latest report, Ms Gibbons, was the person who started the controversy in 2004.
“The report contains not one single piece of evidence to support the assertion that the museum contains any looted art objects,” said Brian O’Connell, director of Shannon Heritage. “No evidence has ever been produced by Dr Samuels that the Hunts had any connection of any kind with any Nazi in the pre-war period, apart from contact in the normal course of his business as an art dealer with the director of the National Museum of Ireland, Adolf Mahr.”
An earlier report by Dr Lynn Nicholas, a world authority on Nazi-looted art, cleared the Hunts of involvement in Nazi-era spying and trafficking in looted art.
Dr Samuels said Ireland was the one neutral country in Europe that had not faced up to the challenges of the past. The fall of the Berlin Wall had led to the discovery of fresh information in archives throughout Europe which shed light on the period, he said. “That process was never confronted in Ireland and so you haven’t had the healthy catharsis of other countries which have refreshed their view of history from this time.”
The official dealing with the matter in the Department of Arts acknowledged a mistake had been made in not acknowledging receipt. He insisted there was “nothing new or specific” in Ms Gibbons’s report.
The department has funded research into the provenance of the items in the museum, which have been catalogued online. “We’re satisfied with the research that has been carried out. No link has been found between any item in the museum and any list of stolen Nazi or Holocaust items,” the official said.
Dr Nicholas told The Irish Times she stood by her report.