Nazi allegations put regional art collection under spotlight

Wollongong Art Gallery is working with Sydney Jewish Museum to take a 'considered and sensitive approach' after a donor was identified as a Nazi.

A recent investigation into Bronius ‘Bob’ Šredersas (1910-1982) has identified the late Wollongong Art Gallery donor as a former intelligence officer with the Nazi security service.

The Lithuanian immigrant and Wollongong resident bequeathed around 100 artworks by prominent Australian artists, including Grace Cossington-Smith, Arthur Streeton, Pro Hart and Margret Preston, to the Gallery collection in 1977.

A room at the Council-owned gallery, containing both the art collection in question and a plaque honouring Šredersas, is currently named in his honour.

According to Guardian Australia, former Wollongong councilor Michael Samaras revealed documents that suggested Šredersas was involved with the intelligence service of the Waffen-SS – known as the Sicherheitsdienst – during the German occupation of Lithuania in WWII.

A subsequent investigation by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and the Sydney Jewish Museum has confirmed the allegations.

Wollongong City Council has promised to respond to the revelation in a way that is ‘caring, sensitive and culturally appropriate’.

Read: What happens to art caught in war’s crossfire?

Bob Šredersas, photographed in front of ‘Courtyard at Bertangles, Picardy’ (1919) by AH Fullwood, Image courtesy of Wollongong City Gallery.

It is understood Šredersas concealed his identity after moving to Australia in 1950.

In an interview with The Australian, Samaras said: ‘[The Wollongong City Council] should have a public process that leads to removing the plaque, changing the name, and interpreting it properly … This has to be about education and understanding if it’s going to have any sort of positive contribution.’

Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery told the ABC: ‘An agreement [was reached] between the Jewish Museum and the Council at this stage to meet, look at the content, and discuss how we represent the collection therein after.

‘We have got to have that get together and then it will it be an ongoing effort on the part of both to represent that collection in a way that’s respectful,’ he said.

Wollongong City Council released a statement on 20 June about the fallout from the discovery, which is reproduced below in full:

Wollongong City Council confirms that we received a copy of the report from the Sydney Jewish Museum’s Resident Historian, Emeritus Professor Konrad Kwiet, who has been investigating the Nazi allegations made against Bronius ‘Bob’ Srederas, late on Friday 18 June 2022.

We are currently reviewing the report and the recommendations within it in order to ensure the most appropriate action is taken as a result of the findings.

We will make further comments about our next steps once we have had the opportunity to consider all the information within the report and consulted with key stakeholders including the Sydney Jewish Museum later this week.

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We take very seriously the role and responsibility we have as caretaker of Wollongong Art Gallery on behalf of our community. We remain mindful of how this sensitive subject matter can impact upon our community, including those who are Jewish.

Our focus continues to be on a considered and sensitive approach, working in partnership with the Sydney Jewish Museum.

Wollongong Art Gallery Statement – June 2022

A related statement has been published on Wollongong Art Gallery’s website and a copy of the same statement has been installed at the entrance to The Sredersas Gallery, The Australian reports.

An update from Wollongong Council

After meeting with the Sydney Jewish Museum today (Wednesday 22 June), Wollongong City Council released an additional statement via their website.

In the statement, Wollongong City Council General Manager Greg Doyle said: ‘The comprehensive research undertaken by Professor Kwiet for this report is invaluable.

‘The history of our gallery, and the city’s relationship with Šredersas will change from this knowledge.

‘We will respond to this in a way that is caring, sensitive and culturally appropriate to all involved. Just how we will do that will now be Council’s immediate focus, and we will keep our community updated as we move through this process,’ Doyle said.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. Most recently she took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne.