Artist Jeffrey Kelsey has documented Melbourne’s Holocaust survivors on canvas before, as he says, it is too late.
“They are ageing and they are not going to last much longer. Some of them are in their 90s,” Mr Kelsey said.
Melbourne had one of the largest populations of Holocaust survivors per capita outside Israel. About 3000 survivors are still living in Melbourne.
Mr Kelsey has painted 20 survivors.
“It was more than just painting. I wanted to find out who they really are,” he said.
“It’s one thing to know their story and survival but its another thing to find out how that person has got on since and how they have survived.
“People who have managed to survive the horrific things these people have had character traits that has enabled them to survive.”
Mr Kelsey said these survivors managed to lead successful lives.
“They migrated to a strange country, they established themselves, they had families,” he said.
“They had businesses and professions, and these are the people today I’ve painted.”
‘Educate the children not to live this hate’
One of Mr Kelsey’s subjects is Joseph De Haan, who is now 93 years old and still takes students on a personal tour of the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Elsternwick.
“I’m no spring chicken any longer. I appreciate life very much every day,” he said.
“What we do here is educate the children not to live this hate for one another.
“When you go through a time like the Holocaust, while I was not in any camps, I was saved by very brave Dutch Christians. I appreciate what life means.”
Another subject, 86-year-old Henri Korn, said coming to Australia allowed his family to start to live.
“We were stateless … we didn’t really worry where Australia was, as long as we were given a bed and freedom to work,” he said.
“We were helped by an Australian government that allowed us to come here, and we were told this is a free country.”
Mr Kelsey said the experience painting survivors had transformed him.
“These people have given me a gift. They are a gift to us all, but they’ve given me an enormous gift and the gift is I’ve learnt a lot,” he said.
“It’s been tremendous to meet such wonderful people.
“The Centre calls them treasures and they are treasures, they are treasures to us all.”
The exhibition opens at the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Elsternwick on March 22.