One of highest honours Manitoba bestows upon individuals has been posthumously stripped from the disgraced former director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
Premier Wab Kinew on Wednesday revoked the Order of the Buffalo Hunt from Ferdinand Eckhardt, who received it in 1982. He died in 1995.
Kinew drew a line through Eckhardt’s signature in the ledger of recipients to the award, established in 1957 to recognize individuals who have demonstrated outstanding skills in the areas of leadership, service and community commitment.
Eckhardt’s honour was granted “for outstanding service in the field of the arts in Manitoba.”
The decision comes one day after CBC News asked the province if it intended to take action in light of recent allegations and research that shows Eckhardt was a Nazi supporter while living in Germany in the 1930s.
“This is a person who, to speak very frankly, pledged an oath of allegiance to Hitler and he has no place being honoured in the public sphere here in Manitoba. Once our team realized he had been in receipt of this honour, we took immediate action to revoke it,” Kinew said on Wednesday.
“The reason why I struck the name rather than grabbing the white out or a black marker, is because in a situation like this I think we have to show the utmost respect and reverence for Holocaust survivors and for everyone who is impacted by this terrible human tragedy.”
It’s important to “let the stain remain” rather than eliminate it, so people learn from the past, Kinew said
“Yes, there was a time this person was allowed to come to Canada and was celebrated in the past, and then there was a time where a reckoning took place and that injustice was corrected,” he said.
“So it’s my hope that future generations of Manitobans will know that this person was not deserving of being honoured in public here in Manitoba.”
The Winnipeg Art Gallery said in a statement on its website last month that it is dropping Eckhardt’s name from its main entrance hall, website and all other gallery materials.
The University of Manitoba and University of Winnipeg both have facilities named in honour of Eckhardt’s wife, Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté. The U of M also granted Eckhardt an honorary degree in 1971.
Both universities have said they are conducting reviews to determine next steps.
The U of M has already started covering the Eckhardt name on any signs or spaces until it decides what to do permanently.
The Order of the Buffalo Hunt is awarded at the discretion of the premier, not through an order in council, so it is less formal, a provincial spokesperson said. Therefore, the process to revoke it is much simpler as well.
In addition to the ledger at the Manitoba legislative building, the list of recipients exists as a record on the Manitoba Historical Society’s website.
“We are waiting for the society’s webmaster to update the page,” the provincial spokesperson said.
“It will show a similar strike through of the name and a note it was revoked by Premier Kinew.”
In addition to dropping Eckhardt’s name, the Winnipeg Art Gallery is conducting research into the origins of materials donated by Eckhardt and the Eckhardt-Gramatté Foundation to ensure none of it was confiscated during the Nazi regime.
If that is discovered, “all efforts would be made to return it to the rightful owners or their heirs,” the statement says.
Eckhardt was born in Vienna in 1902 and conscripted into the German army, where he served from 1942 to 1944. He became an art historian and developed a division of art education for the Austrian government before moving to Canada in 1953 to become WAG director — a role he held until 1974.
His wife, Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté, who came to Winnipeg with him, became one of Canada’s leading music composers.
Eckhardt’s connection to and support of Nazi Germany was reported in an article by Conrad Sweatman that was published in The Walrus last November.
“Eckhardt’s public endorsements of Nazism include signing an oath of allegiance to Hitler and producing several polemics in far-right and Nazified journals in the early 1930s, urging, among other things, that Germany’s cultural arena align itself with the goals of the Nazi state,” the article says.
“Eckhardt went to work for one of the most notorious players in Hitler’s war machine, IG Farben, the same company that built the Auschwitz concentration camp and manufactured Zyklon B, used in the gas chambers,” Sweatman wrote.