Holocaust Museum Taps Reich, Ending Search for New Director

The search is over. After nearly two months of careful consideration, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has tapped Holocaust expert Walter Reich to take the reins as the institution’s second director.

Pending approval by the museum’s full board, Reich is expected to take over sometime next month.

Members of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, which acts as the museum’s board, said they were pleased with Reich’s nomination.

“Walter Reich is a person of tremendous integrity, intellectual scope and tremendous vision,” council member Menachem Rosensaft said in a telephone interview.

Reich, 51, is an author and essayist who has written on various topics, including the Holocaust, Israel and the psychology of terrorism.

He is also a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington-based think tank.

As a psychiatrist at the National Institute Of Mental Health, Reich organized an effort by psychiatrists and psychologists to advise the museum’s council on how to present the Holocaust most effectively.

He was born in hiding in Poland and spent his early years in a displaced person’s camp in Berlin before coming to the United States when he was 3 years old.

Reich’s background as the child of Holocaust survivors gives him special insight into the museum, Rosensaft said.

“He is ideally suited to take the museum from its creative stages into the 21st century,” he said, adding that he “had every reason to believe” Reich will be approved.

Reich himself was more cautious.

“It would be a tremendous honor to contribute to that institution in any way I can, should be board allow me to do so,” Reich said in a telephone interview.

Reich said he sees the central mission of the museum to memorialize the Holocaust and its victims. Stemming from that memorial, he said, “is he opportunity to learn from the Holocaust in a way that protects and ennobles our human civilization.”

Reich is the board’s second nominee for the position, which has been vacant since Jeshajahu Weinberg retired last month.

The museum’s original pick, Cornell University Professor Steven Katz, stepped down in March after a Washington Post article revealed that Cornell had imposed disciplinary measures on him for misrepresenting his accomplishments and improperly taking a job while on paid leave from the university.

Rosensaft said a “through” background check was done on Reich. And even though he would not comment on whether the investigation was a result of the Katz debacle, Rosensaft did say he thought a background check was “appropriate.”

The museum’s director is “an important position and the leadership wanted to have absolute confirmation of what we knew regarding Reich’s integrity and qualifications for the position,” he said.

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