WASHINGTON (May. 24)
Ending over a month of speculation, the White House has announced that New Jersey business executive Miles Lerman would become chair of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, and Rutgers University Professor Ruth Mandel would become vice chair.
In a statement Friday evening, President Clinton said that Lerman and Mandel were “charged with keeping the flame of memory alive.
“I have faith in their ability to do so,” the president said.
Lerman and Mandel replace Baltimore builder Harvey Meyerhoff and San Francisco executive William Lowenberg, respectively.
In a controversial move just weeks before the museum’s April 26 opening, the White House asked Meyerhoff and Lowenberg to resign from their posts.
They were asked to stay on for the museum’s opening, however.
Both Meyerhoff and Lowenberg were presidential appointees named by previous Republican administrations.
In other personnel matters at the museum, the director, Jeshajahu Weinberg, who had previously said he wished to leave his position, decided recently to stay on for an indefinite period of time.
A search for a new director was suspended when Meyerhoff and Lowenberg were asked to step down.
NEW CHAIR IS HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR
The council’s new chair and vice chair are already members of the council, a body appointed by the president which served as a development arm of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum before it opened, and now functions as its board of trustees.
Lerman is a Holocaust survivor who was appointed to the council by former President Jimmy Carter.
He runs an import-export business in Vineland, N.J., and has served as national vice chairman of the State of Israel Bonds.
During his service on the council, Lerman has been a key player in the process of obtaining Holocaust-related artifacts and documents from a variety of European countries.
Mandel is director of the Center for the American Woman and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers.
She is an expert on women and leadership, focusing on women politicians, and was appointed to the council by former President George Bush.
“Building the museum has been the central focus of my life for thirteen years,” Lerman said in an interview Monday. “I am grateful to the president for having the confidence in my ability to lead the effort at this stage.”
Lerman acknowledged he is assuming the chairmanship at a “very challenging stage,” just as the museum has opened to “world acclaim.”
The museum’s mandate, Lerman said, was to make the horrors of the Holocaust relevant to people today.
“Our hope is to touch the soul of the visitor,” he said, so that each one asks, “What is my responsibility to society today?”
The museum, he said, will serve as a repository of artifacts, and a meeting place for Holocaust scholars “for centuries to come.
“We felt it was extremely important that we tell” the story of the Holocaust “in an undeniable manner,” and the artifacts he helped bring to the museum, he said, will contribute to that goal.
“All the exhibits are authentic, and documented,” he said. “We are denying the deniers the ability to fiddle around with history.”
Lerman said that under his chairmanship, the council would formulate policies but would let the professional museum staff implement them.
He said he hoped to “return stability to the organization,” which has been the subject of reports and rumors concerning infighting among various factions about what the museum’s mandate was to be.
But he pledged that any major disputes would not be “hidden” from public scrutiny.
Lerman said he was “very pleased” with the selection of Mandel as vice chair, and noted that they “augmented” each other’s skills.
He also praised his predecessors, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and Meyerhoff.
In a separate interview Monday, Mandel, who was born in Vienna, spoke of her family’s attempt to flee occupied Europe on the ill-fated ship St. Louis, which was turned back as it approached Cuba with its cargo of refugees.
Mandel, an infant at the time, and her parents, were “very lucky,” she said. They ended up in England, and, after the war, moved to the United States.
Her father’s family, however, who remained in Poland, were all shot, except for one cousin who managed to flee to Palestine.
“The opportunity to serve as vice chair,” she said in a written statement, “is a very great honor and one that has deep, special meaning for me.”