Is an Anti-Semite Overseeing the Holocaust Museum?
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Other Historians Weigh In
Some of Chodakiewicz's fellow historians contend that his views make him a terrible and inexplicable choice to serve on the museum board, known formally as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Council. And some do accuse him of anti-Semitism or, at the least, a dislike of Jews.
"The guy is an ideologist of the radical right," says Jan T. Gross, a Princeton University history professor and the Polish-born author of two acclaimed books about the Poles' murder of Jews during and after World War II — books that sparked a political firestorm in Poland because they suggested a high level of Catholic anti-Semitism. "I don't have any doubts that he's anti-Semitic."
University of Toronto Polish history professor Piotr Wróbel is less blunt. Chodakiewicz, he says, "has spent almost 30 years in the states — he would never use a phrase or adjective that would clearly identify him as an anti-Semite." But, he adds, "There is no doubt whatsoever that he doesn't like the Jews."
Chodakiewicz flatly denies these criticisms. The allegation that he is an anti-Semite is "baseless," Chodakiewicz adds in an E-mail interview. "Through empirical research I strengthen the truth about the horror of the Jewish extermination. Further, I propagate knowledge of the Holocaust here and in Poland. I teach a seminar on 'Genocide and Genocide Prevention' and the work of the [Holocaust Museum] is very helpful, if not indispensable, for me. I agreed to serve on the Council because I believed that it was important to have a Christian conservative of Polish ancestry on its board."
In fact, Chodakiewicz says, he's working in a key area of scholarship. "There have not been enough studies on the Christian predicament — indeed Christian suffering and death on a mass scale — during the contemporaneous period. To research, analyze and raise consciousness about such things is not to denigrate the suffering and genocide of the Jews." It's estimated that at least 2 million non-Jewish Poles, nearly all of them Catholics, were killed under the Nazi occupation. The Nazis' plan for Poland, according to the Holocaust Museum website, was to reduce the population to a huge labor pool serving the German master race.
Gross, however, says that Chodakiewicz's membership on the board, which has 68 members (55 of them presidential appointees) and approves the museum's annual budget, is "scandalous." Other historians felt the same way when he was appointed, but thought it fruitless to make an issue of, he adds.
"Surprised? I was shocked," says Wróbel, who was born and raised in Poland.
A museum spokesman, Andrew Hollinger, declined to say if officials received complaints about Chodakiewicz's appointment.
Chodakiewicz counters that he was appointed after a review by a selection committee, "who, after a thorough review of my academic accomplishments, considered me to be qualified for the position."
Presidential appointees such as Chodakiewicz are vetted by the White House, not the museum. "The museum has no say," says Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta who was famously sued by Holocaust denier and Third Reich "historian" David Irving for allegedly ruining his reputation in a 1994 book. (Lipstadt prevailed in that 2000 libel case.) Lipstadt should know: She was appointed by President Bill Clinton to two terms on the museum board.
Marek Chodakiewicz, 47, was born in Warsaw but moved to the United States in 1982 and became a U.S. citizen. He earned master's and doctoral degrees from Columbia University and taught two years at the University of Virginia. Today, he is academic dean and a history professor at the Institute of World Politics, a boutique graduate school for future and current diplomats, intelligence officers and defense specialists. Its faculty has a "center-right to neo-con or very hard-core conservative" bent, says Gordon Adams, professor of international relations at American University's School of International Service. On his Facebook page, Chodakiewicz says he is a fan of Ron Paul — the libertarian Republican congressman from Texas for whom he voted for president in 2008 — and the late shah of Iran. He admires the Digital Network Army, an anti-gay marriage "traditional values" group.