Free Dina’s Art

ICOM in Action
April 16, 2009, 7:06 am
Filed under: Active Decency | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Very shortly after my latest  note to ICOM  (April 11/09), I have received a frank and transparent reply that relieves many doubts for me.

I was  (understandably, I hope) beginning to wonder if  I wasn’t  just being loaded onto another P-R merry-go-round and invited to listen to the nice music while spinning in circles and going nowhere.  Such a doubtful outlook is the predictable result of having endured more than one complimentary corporate carousel ride in the past.

It is important to realize that each of us can make a difference in getting Dina Babbitt’s possessions returned to her, and in having her Human Rights respected once and for all, after 36 years. It is equally important to remember that as pretty as circles may be, circles aren’t progress.

At this point, it appears that the most constructive thing I can do, is to continue making the facts of this matter known as widely as possible across thinking human society. I am counting on the humanity of ordinary people to trump the arbitrary decisions of the highly respected doctors of this world.

I have trouble trusting those who would save us from their own definitions of our human frailty, (from Josef Mengele right up to the present day), by taking charge of our Human Rights for us, by keeping our Human Rights safely out of our hands,  and perhaps displaying them in a museum somewhere to demonstrate how evil the denial of Human Rights actually is.

In that cynical mindset, I fear that Dina Babbitt could end up  having not merely “fallen through the cracks ” in someone’s arbitrary logic, but having been willfully  stuffed through those cracks. And that would be bad.

With this jaundiced view of the whole procedure, I was inspired to ask for  further assurance in hopes of learning that ICOM was doing something active and specific.

The following reply was quickly dispatched. I am reproducing it in full to avoid misinterpretation. It satisfies me on every level and leaves me leery on only one, perhaps unavoidable, point – the question of time.

More on that later. What follows, is the most recent letter I have received from the lady who works for ICOM. I emphasize that this lady works for ICOM because this letter (and presumably our previous correspondence) is not an official statement of anything from the International Council of Museums.


Date:    14 April 2009 (23:00 pm 14/4/09-Aust)
To:       Mr Tim Thibeault (Canada)
From:   Chair, ICOM Ethics Committee (Bernice Murphy)
Re:       Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Vs claim of Mrs Dinah Gottliebová–Babbitt

Dear Mr Thibeault,

I write to acknowledge your email message received last Saturday (11 April 2009).

The situation at this moment remains as I reported in my last response (of 1 April):

I have raised queries as to whether there is any new action or further significant information to be added to our knowledge of this case. I will report back to my colleagues on the Ethics Committee when I gain a response, so that they may be informed as to whether they believe there is cause for any further consideration or action on ICOM’s behalf.

On 27 March I took two actions:

(a)     I wrote (anew) to a respected museum colleague within our ICOM networks in Europe, who previously gathered reports for the Ethics Committee on this case, and coordinated a careful sifting of many details gained from various sources as to what seemed to be the most significant factual issues concerning this saddening dispute arising from such tragic circumstances of history.

(b)     I informed my colleagues on ICOM’s Ethics Committee that I was again raising an inquiry about this case – as to whether any circumstances had changed since my earlier inquiries of 2007.

I now await news from museum colleagues in Europe (which could take some weeks to receive).  I will then report back to the Ethics Committee as to what emerges, and seek their views at that point.

Only after that time would I be in a position to provide some further comment from the Ethics Committee on behalf of ICOM.


Bernice Murphy

cc. Secretariat of ICOM


This letter suggests action and specificity enough to encourage me to wait a few weeks more.

The scariest part of this letter though, is the phrase “…which could take some weeks.”  I worry a bit about the time factor here  and would have been more reassured by a specific time frame. However, past experience with the ICOM Ethics Committee reassures me that the time requirement here is valid. When I first contacted them, it took less than a day for this site’s statistics to show hits from around the globe, one for each country represented on the Ethics Committee.

I further believe that ICOM is not about to rush into anything based on my opinion. (We are best educated when we educate ourselves.) In that sense, I am gratified that the committee is indeed educating itself and will, I trust, look at this issue from a Human Rights standpoint as well.

Finally, I would like to stress that nothing in the ICOM correspondence I have reproduced here, should be construed to be an official statement from ICOM itself. I have some doubts about the fairness of publishing these letters and do so only so that interested readers will not be subjected to my personal bias in interpreting them. When the ICOM Ethics Committee has gathered, and looked at, the facts, I’m sure they will do what is right.

Until then, this whole line of correspondence has been for me, just one disgruntled villager asking someone who works in the castle, at which castle door the assembled mob should gather with it’s torches and pitchforks.

For a while at least, I can be patient.


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