05 April 2011

Marilyn Henry—In Memoriam

Marilyn Henry
Source: Wikipedia
A memorial service to celebrate Marilyn Henry's life was held on April 3, 2011, at the Temple Israel Community Center Congregation Heichal Yisrael in Cliffside Park, NJ.   Her husband, Shammai Engelmayer, is the temple's rabbi.  However, he did not address the congregation during the entire memorial service.  His assistant, Rabbi Mark Kiel, did the honors.

The ceremony was moving and ironic all at once.  Moving because Marilyn was one special woman.  Persistent to the end, deeply self-aware of her own mortality, ethical beyond reproach, funny and vulnerable, all wrapped into one petite frame with piercing eyes and a jarring smile that could disarm the most aloof of us.  The most outspoken defender of Holocaust survivors and their families is now quiet.  The only member of the international press corps to have devoted part of her career as a journalist to the issue of plunder and the fate of art objects stolen or misappropriated between 1933 and 1945 is no longer with us.  She leaves behind a gaping hole, which may never be filled again, somewhat akin to the abyss left behind at the Department of State in 1961 when Ardelia Hall, the one-woman army who fought for restitution of looted works of art to their rightful owners resigned from the Federal Government, never to be replaced. So ended America's lukewarm commitment to restitution of looted art, 50 years ago. 

Those leaders and officials of Jewish organizations whom Marilyn had excoriated during her lifetime all the while reminding gently of their responsibilities towards survivors came to honor her.  And this is where the irony is fitting, although I am sure that Marilyn must have wondered what possessed her husband to organize such a memorial in her honor.  Saul Kagan, chairman of the Claims Conference spoke eloquently about his ties to Marilyn and the support that he gave her to write her history of the Claims Conference.  Gideon Taylor, former executive director of the Claims Conference, addressed the assembly of more than 100 people to show his respect for Marilyn.  So did Rabbi Andrew Baker of the American Jewish Committee.

Some of the congregants read letters of condolences from such luminaries as J. D. Bindernagel, who had served as director of the Office of Holocaust Affairs at the US Department of State, at the time of the Washington Holocaust Assets conference of December 1998.  He recounted how Marilyn had spotted him in a New York City street and hounded him with questions about his lack of support for the needs of Holocaust survivors.  I am sure that he felt stalked that day.  Howard Spiegler, of the law firm of Herrick Feinstein, also sent in a message in which he professed his respect for Marilyn's integrity, despite his disagreements with her.  Sir Martin Gilbert, the eminent British historian of the Holocaust, who had written a foreword to Marilyn's book on the Claims Conference, professed his deep sense of loss at Marilyn's passing.

In the audience: Greg Schneider, current executive director of the Claims Conference; Sam Norich, publisher of the Jewish Forward; Judge Judah Gribetz, Special Master of the Holocaust Victim Assets Litigation, the man responsible for the distribution of funds resulting from the Swiss bank settlement on heirless Jewish assets.  And Brigitte Sion, professor at NYU, who was also Marilyn's devoted translator.

Although everyone mourned Marilyn's passing and engaged in a farewell ceremony, I could only recount how much I missed her. See you later, Marilyn...

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