Fayetteville man one of seven removed from commission aimed at preserving Holocaust-related sites – Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Posted By on January 30, 2022

The White House this month ousted seven members from a commission that preserves Holocaust-related sites, telling them they could either resign or be terminated.

The overhaul of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of Americas Heritage Abroad occurred with International Holocaust Remembrance Day just days away and came hours before the start of the Sabbath.

The list of ousted appointees included a Fayetteville man, John Horne, who had joined the independent federal commission in September 2019 after serving as a deputy assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff to then-Vice President Mike Pence.

The commissions nonpolitical. The members were surprised and shocked by the dismissals, Horne said.

Many of the commissioners are Jewish; some lost family members in the Holocaust.

Given the short notice, and its proximity to the Jewish day of rest, the members had little time to come up with a response, he noted.

The president selects the 21 commissioners. Seven are appointed after consultation with the speaker of the House and seven after consultation with the president pro tempore of the Senate.

Past administrations had allowed commissioners to serve out the remainder of their commission terms, he added.

The commissioners were due to complete their terms in late February, Horne said.

Since President Joe Biden took office, similar purges have occurred on other boards or commissions, including the Commission of Fine Arts, where four of seven President Donald Trump appointees were removed.

Justin Shubow, who was removed as chairman in May, said he was shocked and dismayed that he and three colleagues had been targeted.

Removing board members from these types of independent executive agencies breaks longstanding tradition, critics say.

In the Commissions 110-year history, no commissioner has ever been removed by a president, let alone the commissions chairman, he said.

My fear is that future administrations will treat these positions like political appointments. Theyre just going to change with every new administration, Shubow told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Members of the National Capital Planning Commission and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation were booted in February, just days after Bidens swearing in.

The Biden administration is conducting a thorough review of several councils, commissions, and advisory boards. As a part of that review, we may remove individuals whose continued membership on the board would not serve the public interest, a White House spokesman told the Washington Post at the time.

Horne, commission chairman Paul Packer, and other members appointed by former President Trump learned they were being removed via an emailed letter from Gautam Raghavan, deputy director of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel.

On behalf of President Biden, I am writing to request your resignation as a Member of the United States Commission for the Preservation of Americas Heritage Abroad, the Jan. 14 letter to Horne stated. Please submit your resignation to me by the close of business today.

Should we not receive your resignation, your position with the Commission will be terminated effective 6:00 p.m. tonight. Thank you, it said.

A White House official confirmed that a similar letter had been sent to all seven appointees who are being replaced.

Horne sent a letter back, telling Raghavan he was honored to be appointed by President Donald J. Trump and that he intended to serve out the remainder of his term.

It is profoundly disappointing that President Biden would reject the practice of prior presidents, of both parties, and therefore deprive his Administration the diversity of opinions that Presidential Boards and Commissions were created to provide, Horne wrote.

Packer also responded, reminding Raghavan that he was mere weeks away from completing his term.

It is incomprehensible why you would act this way, Packer wrote.

For the past 4 plus years, I have dutifully and professionally served this country. I have traveled the world proudly working to fulfill this Commissions essential mission: to protect and preserve historic sites of significance to Americans and their ancestors, Packer wrote, adding, This is NOT a partisan issue. It serves all Americans.

David Friedman, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, told the Jerusalem Post that Packers early ouster was unprecedented, mean-spirited and decidedly not in the interests of the United States.

The White House, while acknowledging the ousters, did not offer an explanation for the commissioners removal.

Commissioners terms last three years, though they can continue serving until their successor is chosen. When a vacancy occurs midway through, the appointee serves the remainder of the term.

Packer has been replaced as chairman by Star Jones, a lawyer and former co-host of ABCs The View. Jones was tapped earlier this month to serve as a judge and host on Foxs Divorce Court.

In 1985, Congress passed legislation creating the commission to encourage the preservation and protection of the cemeteries, monuments, and historic buildings associated with the foreign heritage of United States citizens.

The law instructed the 21-member commission to identify and list these properties in central and eastern Europe, particularly those cemeteries, monuments, and buildings which are in danger of deterioration or destruction.

Under the Nazis, most of the Jewish population there was systematically murdered.

The Holocaust annihilated much of Europes Jewish population, killing most Jews and forcing others to flee. In many countries, none were left to continue to care for the communal properties that represented a historic culture in the area and have importance within the Jewish religion. (Burial places are sacred in Judaism), the commission states on its website.

The destruction, desecration, and deterioration of properties under the Nazis persisted under subsequent Communist regimes. Additionally, Cold War tensions hindered access by Americans who wanted to ensure preservation of the sites, it states.

The commission was created to help safeguard these and other significant properties.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of the new regimes were eager to partner with the United States on the work.

These days, the commission primarily obtains assurances regarding the protection and preservation of cultural property by negotiating formal, bilateral agreements between the United States and foreign governments, its website states.

These joint efforts focus on communal properties of groups that were victims of genocide during World War II and are no longer able to protect and preserve properties without assistance, it adds.

Agreements now exist between the U.S. and at least 26 countries.

In addition to memorializing mass grave sites and helping to restore synagogues and cemeteries, commissioners also helped erect a plaque in Budapest honoring Pope John XXIII. Monsignor Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, as he was known during World War II, issued false papers to save the lives of Jews from Hungary, Croatia, Slovakia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and France.

In 2019, the commission helped place a plaque at the Flossenburg concentration camp in Germany, honoring Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor, theologian and Nazi foe who was executed there.

Horne, who is a Methodist, first visited one of the death camps in the 1980s when he was attending language school in Munich.

Since then, he has returned repeatedly to Holocaust sites, sometimes with government officials, occasionally with Jewish groups.

Ive been there so many times. Every time is moving, Horne said.

You dont want to forget something like this so you dont repeat it, he said.

In January 2005, he traveled with then-Vice President Dick Cheney to Auschwitz to commemorate the 16th anniversary of its liberation. In February 2019, he returned to the camp again, this time with Pence.

Commissioners arent paid for their work.

Under the law, the commission may accept, use, and dispose of gifts or donations of money or property in furtherance of their mission. Most of the projects are paid for by American donors. In some instances, commissioners have used their own funds to complete a project, Horne said.

Packer provided great leadership throughout his tenure, Horne said.

Hes one of the most distinguished chairs in the commissions history, Horne said. Hes worked well with, obviously, the Trump administration, with the Biden administration, with the State Department. Hes traveled the globe to ensure that these sites were preserved for history.

In an interview, Packer portrayed the removals as senseless.

We had five weeks left on our terms from President Trump, he said.

It was the most bipartisan commission out there dealing with the most bipartisan issue: Holocaust memorial, Holocaust remembrance and honoring those who actually helped [save Jewish lives] during the Holocaust, he said.

Taking something that is the most bipartisan issue, not only to Jews but to all Americans, and making it a partisan issue is what was so shocking to me, he added.

Packer also expressed appreciation for Hornes service on the commission.

He didnt do a good job; he did a great job, Packer said. From day one, even before he joined the commission, Johns whole heart was in that.

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Fayetteville man one of seven removed from commission aimed at preserving Holocaust-related sites - Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

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