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Firing of Berlin’s Jewish Museum director unleashes fury

June 27, 1997

BERLIN (AP) _ After a simmering dispute over control of the Jewish Museum, its fired director accused city leaders Friday of harboring ``deep hate″ toward the portrayal of Jewish history.

The fight centers on whether the Jewish Museum should be a division of the Berlin Museum, as the cash-strapped city wants, or an independent institution with its own budget and decision-making powers.

Amnon Barzel, director since 1994, said his firing Tuesday by a city museum board meant the fight for autonomy was lost.

``They are trying to eliminate the Jewish Museum,″ Barzel said.

The move, he added, showed that ``still in Berlin, 52 years after the Holocaust, there is a deep hate against showing of the Jewish history and its culture, integrated in the German society.″

The Jewish community board in Berlin also criticized the dismissal as reminiscent of ``the dark times″ of the Nazi era, and called on the Berlin city council to reverse it. Its leader later softened the statements.

City Culture Minister Peter Radunski could not be reached Friday, and his spokesman refused to comment on the reasons for Barzel’s dismissal.

Currently in temporary quarters, the Jewish Museum is to move into a $70 million extension to the Berlin Museum in 1999.

When ground was broken in 1993, Barzel said, museum and city officials agreed that the Jewish Museum would be independent.

But in 1995, the newly created City Museum Foundation board, established to oversee a merger of more than a dozen small museums in Berlin, decided to make the Jewish Museum a division.

Barzel said he supports having the institutions together physically, but does not want to lose control of his finances or be required to get approval for exhibitions.

At Radunski’s urging, the city council backed the foundation in April. This week, the foundation board _ headed by Radunski _ voted to fire Barzel, effective Sept. 30.

Radunski’s spokesman, Axel Wallrabenstein, said only that Barzel was fired for ``various reasons.″

But he said Radunski met Friday with the new head of the Jewish community board, Andreas Nachama. According to Wallrabenstein, Nachama continued to oppose the firing, but said the board did not mean to accuse the city government of anti-Semitism.

They planned to meet again to try to resolve the dispute, Wallrabenstein said.

Barzel, an Israeli citizen, said his firing violated his open-ended contract.

``I will go to court, I will work on political means and on public means,″ he said. ``I see a huge storm. You cannot fire me because of my ideas.″

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