Berlin Jewish Museum Appoints New Director After Previous Head Left Under Cloud

Peter Schäfer stepped down last June after several incidents, including inviting an Iranian delegation to discuss a possible exhibit on Iranian Jewish culture

File photo: The Jewish Museum by U.S. architect Daniel Liebeskind photographed in Berlin, May 11, 2010.
Markus Schreiber/AP

The Jewish Museum of Berlin has appointed a new director, six months after the previous director stepped down under pressure over controversial decisions.

Hetty Berg, 58, this week was named director of the Foundation Board of the Jewish Museum Berlin.  She will take over the management of the museum on April 1, 2020.

Peter Schäfer stepped down last June, more than a year before his scheduled retirement, after several incidents including inviting an Iranian delegation to discuss a possible exhibit on Iranian Jewish culture.

The museum also came under fire for hosting anti-Zionist scholar Judith Butler and mounting an exhibit about Jerusalem that some said favored a Palestinian narrative.

The last straw was a tweet by the head of museum’s public relations that appeared to support the boycott movement against Israel.

In announcing Berg’s appointment, Minister of State for Culture Monika Grütters, who chairs the museum board, said
Berg had “successfully demonstrated her leadership strength in complex organizations.”

Director of the Jewish Museum in Berlin Peter Schäfer poses for a photo outside the Jewish Museum in Berlin, August 21, 2014
Wolfgang Kumm / AFP

The museum received $16.5 million from Germany’s cultural ministry.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany said as far as it knows, Berg is Jewish, but emphasized that it is her qualifications that matter, not her religion.

Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in German said he hoped she would “continue the tradition of sophisticated exhibitions … and at the same time bring empathy for the Jewish community in Germany and Israel,” and offered the hope that “with her at the helm, the house will again enter calmer waters.”

Berg was born in The Hague, Holland. In 1989 she was appointed curator and cultural historian at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam; and in 2002 became manager and chief curator of the city’s Jewish Cultural Quarter museum complex. She lives with French photographer Frédéric Brenner.