Assemblyman Dov Hikind was not happy with the new Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition of Gertrude Stein’s art collection. Mr. Hikind, a leader in the Orthodox Jewish community, has been harping on the Met to modify the exhibit with a note explaining it “was owned and collected by fascist/Nazi-collaborator Gertrude Stein.” After teaming up with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to raise the issue at a meeting with museum officials this morning, Mr. Hikind said he was able to convince the Met to add a note about Stein’s relationship to the Nazis.
“Visitors have the right to know that this collection exists because Gertrude Stein sold her soul; that she lived in comfort, aiding the Nazi cause while her fellow Jews were being robbed, tortured and murdered,” Mr. Hikind said in a statement. “I am grateful to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for accepting the historical accountability of full disclosure. I also want to thank Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer for joining me in correcting this glaring omission.”
Harold Holzer, a spokesman for the Met, said the museum plans to add new text to the exhibit about Stein’s experiences during World War II. However, he’s not sure yet what exactly the new display will say.
“We don’t have the language yet, I’m not sure why hes saying it’s a done deal,” Mr. Holzer said. “We’re going to add something, and we’re writing it now, that makes it clear the collection survived through the Nazi occupation of Paris and nobody is actually certain how. And that’s the truth. … She was known to have been a friend of one of the most notorious collaborators and he almost certainly helped her.”
Historians have long debated the relationship Stein, who was Jewish, had with the Nazi regime. During World War II, she lived in Paris and enjoyed the protection of the Vichy regime that occupied France in collaboration with the Nazis. In 1943, Stein helped Vichy leader Marshal Phillipe Pétain translate thirty two of his speeches into English. In 1934, one year after Adolf Hitler took power in Germany, Stein penned a piece in the New York Times Magazine in which she suggested Hitler deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for persecuting Jews and political rivals.
“I say that Hitler ought to have the peace prize, because he is removing all the elements of contest and of struggle from Germany,” she wrote. “By driving out the Jews and the democratic and left element, he is driving out everything that conduces to activity. That means peace… By suppressing Jews… he was ending struggle in Germany.”
Though Stein’s piece praising Hitler has gained considerable attention over the years, there are some who say the remark was meant in an ironic sense. Mr. Hikind, however, makes no such apologies for Stein.
“It is a matter of fact that, among other things, Stein lobbied for a Nobel Peace Prize for Adolph Hitler and was only allowed to remain in France and continue collecting art because she aided the Vichy government in its collaboration with the Nazis,” Mr. Hikind said in one of his many press releases about the exhibit.
The museum has said they initially included no mention of Ms. Stein’s politics because the exhibit was focused on her art collection, most of which was assembled prior to World War II.
“Originally, we said, and I think it was a reasonable statement and remains a reasonable statement, that this is about the art, it’s about how the art was colleccted and that happened, with the overwhelming majority of these pictures, prior to 1930,” Mr. Holzer said.
Mr. Holzer said the museum decided to make a change after many people, not just Mr. Hikind, asked why the exhibit didn’t explain how Stein’s collection survived the Nazis, who infamously stole art collections from other Jews across Europe.
“We’re not going to out her as a Nazi, everybody knows about this stuff,” Mr. Holzer said. “This is not meant to be a political exhibition, but it’s certainly not meant to hurt anybody.”