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 Posted Saturday, May 8, 1999

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July 4, 1998

Hitler painting pulled from Gerald Ford Museum exhibit

Associated Press-- GRAND RAPIDS -- The Gerald R. Ford Museum has pulled a painting by Adolf Hitler from an historical exhibit after protests from Jewish groups.
    The watercolor was among hundreds of artifacts, including Harry S. Truman's World War I uniform and Kaiser Wilhelm's naval coat and cape, gathered for the landmark exhibit, "The Great War: World War I and the American Century."
    The exhibit opens this weekend.
    "To us, it was one more artifact of historical significance, like the Kaiser's cape and Truman's uniform," said a museum spokesman, who asked not to be identified.
    "The irony is we were trying to tell a story that laid out explicitly that because the world wanted to forget the lessons of World War I, it made World War II inevitable.
    "We don't want this to overshadow the exhibit. This exhibit is too big, too important to let that happen. It's the best thing we've ever done. The bottom line is we can tell that story without the painting."
    Jewish groups saw it differently. An Internet website set up by the Jewish Defense League urged readers to write or call the Ford Museum, send a donation to the Jewish Defense League and "help JDL take our message directly to President Ford. We are planning a massive demonstration in front of his home in Rancho Mirage, California, on July 4th, the day the exhibit is to open."
    Ford Museum Director Richard Norton Smith was unaware of the Internet message but dropped the painting Wednesday after receiving a call from another organization, the Anti Defamation League.
    Donald Cohen, director of the Michigan regional office of the Anti Defamation League, said he did not ask Smith to pull the painting but was happy with his decision.
    Cohen said he called Smith Wednesday to express his concern that the painting could offend members of the Jewish community as well as Dutch, Danish and others who sheltered Jews during World War II.
    "We never asked for them to pull the painting from the exhibit, but I'm glad they made that decision," Cohen said. "My concern is it takes the important message of Hitler's impact on the world off point.
    "I was concerned that it was more of a curiosity and people would come out and say, 'Oh, Hitler was an artist,' and that Hitler's larger impact on World War II and the rest of the world would be lost."
    Rabbi Albert Lewis, of Temple Emanuel in Grand Rapids, said he is "totally in favor of having it (the painting) pulled."
    "It's not the painting as such," said Lewis, a member of the Anti Defamation League board. "It's lending more credibility to Hitler himself. My feeling is that of all the objects that could be shown of significance regarding World War I, this is truly an insignificant piece."
    Hitler painted the small watercolor after the first World War, in which he was a corporal. The painting, showing a German village heavily damaged by shelling, was seized after World War II and was lent to the Ford Museum by the U.S. Army Center of Military History in Washington.

Copyright 1998, The Detroit News

If you write to a newspaper don't forget: 1. keep it short; 2. add your mail address and a daytime telephone number; they will not print it otherwise.

A reader wrote to the Museum to protest:

I AM writing to express my regret that you bowed to pressure and removed Hitler's painting. The purpose of museums, to my way of thinking, is to offer items for public display/perusal -- it is up to the individual to draw his/her own conclusions. Museums are depositories of much material that, were it not for the opportunity thus offered, would never be available to the general public.

This opportunity should not in any way be curtailed by the political or religious beliefs of a minority, or even of a majority. In a world of diminishing civil rights, America must fight to retain the academic and intellectual freedoms that have made us great. Though it may be difficult to stand up to the tactics employed by those who seek to limit access to anything they find offensive, a stand must be made.

The free exchange of ideas and thoughts in the street, the classroom, the library, and the museum cannot become a "politically correct" issue.
   Respectfully, Fara Moore

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