We learned today of the passing of a great Museum friend. Marilyn Henry, expert in Nazi-looted-art and a stalwart champion of Holocaust survivors and Holocaust restitution, passed away Tuesday night. She was the author of Confronting the Perpetrators: A History of the Claims Conference and spoke at the Museum of Jewish Heritage several times. Whether she was on stage at a public program or teaching at a symposium for educators, Marilyn was articulate, insightful, and unabashed in her opinions. It was impossible to hear her speak and not feel more knowledgeable after she concluded her remarks.
In addition to her academic pursuits, Marilyn was also a talented journalist, writing for both ArtNews and the Jerusalem Post. Betsy and I were fortunate enough to work with her regularly in that role because she was always so interested in what the Museum was doing. She wrote terrific pieces about Némirovsky, racial laws in conjunction with the Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow exhibition, the Morgenthau exhibition, and of course, the resolution of the long-litigated “Portrait of Wally” case. Whenever she was done working on a piece she was a regular staff cheerleader, telling anyone who would listen how helpful the staff had been. When Marilyn saw Betsy for the first time following her maternity leave, her first question was about Ginny.
Marilyn’s Jerusalem Post columns were well researched and thoughtfully written, but she wrote one in particular, in November 2010, that told you everything you needed to know about Marilyn. She used her column for one time, and one time only, to announce that she had an incurable illness and how she was choosing to live her life. A hospice advocate in her personal life and in her role as a rebbetzin, Marilyn chose to emphasize the quality of her life rather than the duration of it. In fact, when she wrote her column, she was not yet receiving hospice care, but the possibility was not in the too distant future. “I am not yet ‘ripe’ for this end-of-life care, but when I am, a nurse and social worker, supervised by a physician, will provide pain relief and counseling for me and my family, in our home, to help us live as normally as possible for as long as possible. This seems to be a peaceful way to meet the Grim Reaper, malach hamavet.” The entire column appears here.
Last night, surrounded by family and “an unbelievably loyal group of friends,” Marilyn did not die with dignity…a life lived with dignity came to an end.
Our deepest sympathies are with her husband, Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer, her family and her dear friends.