Tribute—A Painted Tribute to Holocaust Survivors
Address: 15 Selwyn Street, Elsternwick, Victoria, Australia
Date: Opens Tuesday 22 March 2016—to Sunday 10 April 2016
Time: 10:00am to 4:00pm
To be shown this month at the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Elsternwick, Tribute is an homage to the stories of 20 survivors, most now aged in their 80s and 90s. This is the first time a series like this has been painted in Australia.
For artist Jeffrey Kelson there was a sense of urgency that led him to this project. When he met with his subjects and learned their stories, he wanted to pay tribute to their dignity and fortitude and the ways in which they were able to rebuild their lives in Australia.
Melbourne has the highest number of Holocaust survivors in Australia and Australia has the highest number of survivors per capita in the world outside of Israel.
Mr Kelson is Jewish. However his own family migrated to Australia before World War Two, so he was spared the deep trauma and loss that most Jewish migrants of his generation grew up with. In recent years, as a portrait teacher, he found many of his students were painting their parents and grandparents and that drew him to reflect on his own cultural background. He felt there was need to document survivors in paint before it was too late.
“My aim was to paint a sympathetic and personal portrait that honours each individual and reflects their life force. I was moved by the spirit of each person, despite the horror of what they had lived through. I’ve tried to describe the resilience and courage with which they went on to rebuild their lives.”
Among those painted is 86-year-old Henri Korn who survived part of the war as a Catholic altar boy.
Mr. Korn was born in Wuppertal, Germany in 1929. His parents had moved there from Poland and they assimilated so well that it was a shock to Henri when he was forced to leave his school because he was Jewish.
In Spring 1939 the family fled to Brussels and as the situation became difficult, Henri's parents organised for him and his sister to be hidden by a Christian woman. She was deeply anti-Semitic and convinced the siblings that being Jewish was not good, so they converted to Catholicism with the promise of redemption. While grateful for the shelter he received, Henri struggled for many years with identity issues as the result.
He has written two books about the experience, Saviour and My Past is My Future and he is currently working on a third.
For Jeffrey Kelson, the portraits are an important testimonial to his subjects’ experiences and the process of painting them was a transformative one. “The people I met have given me a gift,” he said. “Their survival and their lives since are a gift to us all.”