Art gallery investigates links to Holocaust
The Wollongong Art Gallery in New South Wales is grappling with shocking new revelations that a major donor with a gallery named after him may have been a Nazi collaborator before emigrating to Australia from Lithuania.
Bronius "Bob" Sredersas donated approximately 100 works by revered Australian artists to the gallery in 1976, just six years before he died.
Despite working as a steelworker at Port Kembla, he saved his money to meticulously collect valuable paintings.
However, after the gallery’s 40th birthday celebrations in 2018, which also celebrated the central role Sredersas played in its establishment, former councillor Michael Samaras noticed he was described as a policeman for the Lithuanian government's Department of Security.
The councillor found the findings suspicious and decided to investigate further.
"When all the publicity happened for the 40th anniversary of the gallery there was media, including on the ABC Illawarra webpage, about the fact that he was a policeman in Lithuania before the war," he said.
"And I just knew from general knowledge that a lot of the police from Lithuania ended up in what was called the Auxiliary Police Battalion, which actually did much of the killing in the Holocaust.”
"The Wollongong City Library local studies section has a whole three boxes of material on him so I got his birth certificate."
In uncovering these devastating claims, the Wollongong council, who owns the gallery, has been put on the back foot, with Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery receiving letters from the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies who have offered to help work with the council to investigate.
"That has to be dealt with in a way that does not hide the past, recognises the allegations if they are proven and how we deal with the Sredersas Collection and how that's represented or interpreted," Mr Bradbery said.
While the investigation is ongoing, Dr Efraim Zuroff, director of the Jewish human rights organisation the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, has suggested council remove the name of Bob Sredersas from the gallery in the meantime.
He said, "I think it's important that a decision is made to remove his name as it's basically a statement that we do not want to honour people who participate in the crimes of the Holocaust."
Image credits: Wollongong City Council