Museums, Libraries and Archives:

The Hunt Museum, Limerick, and the wartime and dealing activities of John and Gertrude Hunt


On 11 December 2008 the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Paris issued the press release set out in full below and a 165 page Shadow Report regarding the Hunt Museum in Limerick and the activities of its founders, John and Gertrude Hunt.  The Shadow Report is available here.   

The Shadow Report was submitted to Brian Cowen, the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister), and contained further information relating to the Hunt Museum, Limerick, specifically with reference to the wartime activities of John and Gertrude Hunt and their relationships with Nazi art dealers.  In its press release, the Wiesenthal Centre called for the reopening of the Hunt enquiry, and the broadening of its investigative terms of reference.

The background in brief is that on January 26th, 2004 Dr. Shimon Samuels, of the European Office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Paris sent an open letter to Mary McAleese, President of the Republic of Ireland, requesting that she retract the "Irish Museum of the Year Award" which had recently been given to the Hunt Museum in Limerick. In the letter, which was also made public in a press release, Dr. Samuels alleged that Mr. and Mrs. John Hunt, both deceased, whose collections form the core of the museum, had been suspected of being German spies in 1940, that they had had "close personal ties with the head of the Irish Nazi Party (NSDP-AO)" and that they had done business with "notorious dealers in art looted by the Nazis," the implication being that objects in the Hunt Museum might have been confiscated from Holocaust victims. Dr. Samuels asked that "the entire holdings of the Museum as also all items sold by the Hunts to other collections" be placed on the Internet so that claims could be made, and that the Irish government "enunciate a new transparency in regard to its own wartime neutrality by sponsoring a full and independent investigation into the role of John and Gertrude Hunt.

On February 20th, Virginia Teehan, director of the museum, declared that the Museum had begun a process of investigation based on "best international museum practice as outlined in various international declarations, including the UNESCO-endorsed International Council of Museums code of ethics".

An expert panel or 'Review Group' was appointed to investigate the allegations. This panel comprised Mr Justice Donal Barrington, former High Court and Supreme Court judge, Ms Anne Webber, Co-Chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, and Mr Hugh Tait, former Deputy Keeper, Department of Medieval and Later Antiquities at the British Museum. (See Museum press release of 20 February 2004

The Review Group met several times to consider the issues and draft terms of reference. It was to be funded by the Museum itself, but was strongly of the view that in carrying out the necessary investigations, the Group must be independently funded. Unless that were the case, its credibility would be at issue. It therefore submitted its resignation.

A new Evaluation Group was eventually formed, this time funded by the Irish government and administered by the Royal Irish Academy.

The full background to this issue can be found at where a copy of Lynn Nicholas's September 2007 'Report on the Final Report to the Royal Irish Academy by the Hunt Museum Evaluation Group, June 2006', referred to below, is available.


66 rue Laugier - 75017 Paris

Tel. +33-147237637 - Fax: +33-147208401




Wiesenthal Centre Submits to Irish Prime Minister a Shadow Report on Nazi-Related Controversy Surrounding Hunt Museum Founders and Collection as Grounds for Reopening the Enquiry


Paris, 11 December 2008

(Centenary month of Simon Wiesenthal's birth) 


In a letter to the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Brian Cowen,T.D., the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's Director for International Relations, Dr Shimon Samuels, called for the reopening of the Hunt enquiry, and the broadening of its investigative terms of reference, based upon the Centre's 165-page study: "The Hunt Museum Controversy – A Shadow Report".


Referring to the response of the Irish authorities to the call by the Wiesenthal Centre in January 2004 for the establishment of an independent investigation into allegations of Nazi associations of John and Gertrude Hunt – particularly in the context of their alleged relations with dealers in Nazi looted art  - the letter noted "It is our view that the narrow terms of reference under which the Hunt Museum Evaluation Group operated contributed in no small measure to four years of hyperbole, and often gratuitous acrimony, in much of the Irish press."


The letter continued, "Though lack of provenance was only part of the Wiesenthal Centre's concern, our intervention resulted in the compilation of an online database and archive of the Hunt Collection. Although grateful for these measures, we consider that the State-funded enquiry missed the opportunity to provide historical context for the Collection, by avoiding investigation into the dealing activities of the Hunts."


The Centre pointed to its exclusion "from playing an active role in the investigation that its own appeal had launched", explaining that "as we considered the terms of reference to be inappropriately restrictive, the Centre could not endorse the limited parameters of the Hunt Museum Evaluation Group investigation. We therefore held our data as a control factor to gauge the exhaustiveness of the official research process."


Samuels expressed gratification at "the position taken by the eminent American scholar of Nazi-looted art, Dr Lynn Nicholas, in the 'Conclusions and Recommendations' to her 'Report on the Final Report to the Royal Irish Academy by the Hunt Museum Evaluation Group, June, 2006', submitted on 8 August 2007. Therein, Dr Nicholas vindicates the Wiesenthal Centre's call for a full enquiry into the activities of John and Gertrude Hunt, stating: 'An examination of the Hunt Museum Collection was certainly justified both by its lack of provenance records and by the discovery of the Hunts' relationship with a dealer who is known to have trafficked in confiscated art.'"


The Centre stressed, " our concerns were correctly brought to the attention of Irish President Mary McAleese, following her prestigious award to the Hunt Museum in 2003”, continuing, "We also agree with Dr. Nicholas that the investigation conducted by the Hunt Museum Evaluation Group was incomplete and that much research remains to the undertaken before the matter is resolved.


The Shadow Report  was authored by Irish Museum consultant and archaeologist, Erin Gibbons, “whose detailed analysis of the Irish Military Archive file demonstrates the importance of the Hunts’ association with art traffickers , among them, the British based pro-Nazi, Prince Turka Galitzine, a member of the notorious anti-Semitic Right Club founded by Captain Archibald Ramsay. 


Ms. Gibbons provides documentary evidence of connections between the Hunts and Adolf Mahr, Head of the Nazi Party in Ireland, and then Director of the National Museum of Ireland, showing how Mahr and his network may have been of crucial importance to the Hunts in establishing themselves in Ireland.


It is understood that all Hunt family documentation relating to the Hunt collection was to be given to the Hunt Museum under a tax arrangement with the Irish authorities. Such access is important, especially in the light of Dr. Nicholas’ finding that ‘the private and professional lives of free-lance dealers such as the Hunts cannot really be separated.


Ms. Gibbons also advocates that further investigation be conducted to establish the circumstances by which John Hunt obtained Irish citizenship and an Irish passport, especially in the light of yet unconfirmed suspicions of espionage activities by the Hunts. This also raises the question whether the Hunts were involved as interior decorators at the Allied strategic trans-Atlantic flying-boat station at Foynes, Co. Limerick.


The Centre’s Shadow Report demonstrates that the Nicholas Report was erroneously interpreted by some Irish media as giving 'a clean bill of health' to John and Gertrude Hunt".


"On the contrary, we indicate that concerns about their activities are reasonably grounded and warrant proper and exhaustive investigation."


"Taoiseach (Prime Minister), we hereby submit the Shadow Report to your attention, with the conviction that it provides ample grounds for you to reopen the Hunt Museum enquiry and to broaden its terms of reference”


The letter concluded with a P.S.

“We wish to acknowledge the Interim Report of the Hunt Museum Provenance Research Project, sent to us in late November by the Museum's Director, Mrs Virginia Teehan, just as we were going to press.


We welcome this initiative. Just like the online database placed on the Museum's website, so too this provenance research of the past year vindicates the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's campaign. 


The Centre would be happy to cooperate with the further research plans outlined in the Provenance Research Project, if these were also to address the matters raised in this Shadow Report.    

On 1 January, the Czech Republic assumes the Presidency of the European Union. During 2009, a major international conference will be held in Prague on World War Two loot and restitution. This will register an evaluation of successes and failures over the last decade of moral initiatives and efforts to achieve historical transparency. 


We believe it would be fitting for what began at the inception of the Irish Presidency in 2004 to be presented, as exhaustively as possible, at the Czech Presidency conference. With goodwill, this would mark an important step toward closure for all parties to this controversy. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre is ready to work with the Hunt Museum researchers to that end.”


The Shadow Report has also been shared with Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); his Assistant Director-General for Education, Nicholas Burnett, who oversees a Holocaust teaching project; with Francesco Bandarin, Director of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee; with Julien Anfruns, Director General of the International Council of Museums, (ICOM)and with the Ambassadors of relevant member-states. It was also sent to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, the World Jewish Restitution Organization and other major Jewish and art loss organisations.  


For a full copy of the Shadow Report by email, please contact either or +33-

For further information, please contact Shimon Samuels at +33.609.77.01.58 or Ms Erin Gibbons at +353(0) 872.846.012




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