CMC Professor Petropoulos to Resign as Holocaust Center Director

Claremont Independent 9 April 2008
By Elise Vieback

Dean to Faculty: Not the Result We Expected "A Few Months Ago"

Claremont McKenna College history professor Jonathan Petropoulos will resign as director of the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights effective summer 2008. Dean of Faculty Gregory Hess made the announcement to CMC professors at a meeting on April 8.  

The announcement comes amid controversy surrounding an effort by Petropoulos to restitute a Nazi-looted painting to its rightful owner in which his associate, a Munich art dealer, has been investigated for blackmail. The painting was looted in 1938 from the childhood home of Gisela Bermann-Fischer, now a resident of Zurich, shortly after she and her family escaped the Nazi Anschluss.

Sources say that Hess' statement, which will be released to Trustees on April 9, closely resembles a March 7 letter sent to Trustees and tenured and tenure-track faculty. The March 7 message reads, in part:

Last summer, published media reports contained assertions that Professor Jonathan Petropoulos had engaged in potentially questionable conduct relating to restitution of a painting that had been confiscated in Austria prior to World War II.

In response, the College undertook a thorough review and retained an outside law firm to assist in the four-month investigation. That process is now complete. Based on evidence examined here and abroad, the College has concluded that Professor Petropoulos adhered to applicable contractual and legal obligations in attempting to arrange return of the painting. In addition, the College concluded that Professor Petropoulos' account of his actions was accurate.

O'Melveny and Myers, LLP, a prominent Los Angeles law firm, compiled its findings from the investigation in a final report. Dean Hess and Vice President for Special Projects Jerome Garris told the CI in a March 6 interview that the report would not be released.

After reading the statement to CMC faculty at the meeting, Hess said that the outcome was not what the administration had expected "a few months ago."

Petropoulos, with associate director of the Holocaust Center Gary Gilbert, is scheduled to lead a small group of CMC students on a two-week trip to Israel in May 2008. The fall 2007 edition of HiGHeR Issues, the Center's newsletter, reported that 14 of 40 applicants were selected for the trip.

After departing on May 19, the group will tour Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv to explore Israeli "identity, culture…[and] collective memory" in the wake of the Holocaust.

Elise Viebeck is the Editor-in-Chief of the Claremont Independent and a sophomore at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. She may be reached at
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