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Wollongong art donor revealed as Nazi collaborator

Deborah Stone
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Published: 24 June 2022

Last updated: 5 March 2024

DEBORAH STONE: Wollongong City Council will review how it displays art donated by Bob Sredersas after a Sydney Jewish Museum investigation revealed he was a Nazi collaborator

Bronius Sredersas was a collaborator who worked for the Nazi machine in occupied Lithuania, applied to join the SS, and lied on his refugee application to Australia.

But in Wollongong, where he lived after his migration to Australia in 1950, he became Bob Sredersas, a quiet steel worker who spent his time gardening, fishing, and collecting art.

In 1977 he donated a valuable collection to the City of Wollongong, which became a founding donation to the Wollongong Art Gallery. Today the gallery has a collection of 140 works of art in his name – paintings, sculptures, pieces of china, and miniatures, among them works by prominent Australian artists including Hans Heyson, Rupert Bunny, Norman Lindsay, and Margaret Preston.

The council even commissioned an installation project to “celebrate the significant and generous gift” describing it as “the impetus for the establishment of Wollongong Art Gallery”. It was launched with a fanfare of artists talks and events, including Lithuanian music, dancing, and food.

A brochure produced by Wollongong Art Gallery honouring Sredersas
A brochure produced by Wollongong Art Gallery honouring Sredersas

The celebration is particularly ironic when one learns that Sredersas left Lithuania in 1940 to claim German citizenship and returned as a functionary of the Nazi regime, serving as Kriminalbeamter (detective)in the Saugumas (Lithuanian Criminal Police) from 1941 to 1943.

Sredersas’ history has come to light after concerns were raised by a Wollongong City Councillor and the council commissioned Sydney Jewish Museum Historian Emeritus Professor Konrad Kwiet to investigate.

The report was received by the Council late last week and released to The Jewish Independent by the Council yesterday. Its implications were discussed at a meeting on Wednesday between Wollongong City Council and the Sydney Jewish Museum.

Professor Kwiet told The Jewish Independent that the Council was receptive to the report and committed to creating a narrative that acknowledged the history of their donor.

Wollongong City Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Bradbery said the Council would work with the Sydney Jewish Museum to consider how Sredersas’ history, his donation and legacy would be represented into the future, including exploring an ongoing partnership for education opportunities.

A Council spokesperson said none of the artworks donated by Sredersas was currently on display and the Gallery was displaying a temporary sign advising that Sredersas's wartime activities were under investigation.

The Council is considering signage within the Gallery, and educational opportunities to "build knowledge and understanding within our community about the Holocaust, the Nazi era and Sredersas’ past".

“Sredersas was a cog in the Nazi machinery of mass destruction. He might not have committed murder, but his war-time position within the SS and police apparatus made him complicit to the Holocaust"

Emeritus Professor Konrad Kwiet

Professor Kwiet said the investigation had clearly shown Sredersas had links to the Nazi regime.

“He was a collaborator. I can’t say what he actually did. There’s no evidence yet that he was in a position of shooting or gassing Jews, but he was definitely complicit in the crimes of the German government against the Jews.”

Professor Kwiet said Sredersas had been employed by the criminal branch of the Lithuanian intelligence service, which was responsible for dealing with ordinary crime, not with racial or political activities.

The report found that Sredersas, who was also known by the German name Schroeders, could be classified as a Nazi collaborator, although the term technically does not apply to him because he used his German ethnicity to become a German citizen during the war. A collaborator is usually defined as someone co-operating with an occupying regime.

He could also be characterised as one of “Hitler’s Willing Executioners,” a phrase coined by Daniel Goldhagen to describe ordinary Germans who embraced Nazism because of a deep "eliminationist antisemitism".

“Sredersas was a cog in the Nazi machinery of mass destruction. He might not have committed murder, but his war-time position within the SS and police apparatus made him complicit to the Holocaust and others hideous crimes perpetrated,” the report found.

Professor Kwiet said after his time in the intelligence services Sredersas applied to join the Waffen-SS as a soldier, the combat branch of the SS, although he had not been able to establish yet whether Sredersas ever served as a soldier. 

The falsified employment record Sredersas gave Australian authorities (sydney Jewish Museum)
The falsified employment record Sredersas gave Australian authorities (sydney Jewish Museum)

When they war ended Sredersas left Germany, falsified his records and spent five years posing as a Displaced Person, enabling him to come to Australia as a refugee. His identity document was very likely forged, and he falsified his employment during the war.

“He was very good at lying. If you look at his DP record, he tells lie after lie. He was a farmer. He was a seaman. He was unemployed. Nothing about his job, nothing about his work for the intelligence services,” Professor Kwiet said.

Photo: Bronius Sredersas's Lithuanian identification document believed to be forged (Sydney Jewish Museum)

About the author

Deborah Stone

Deborah Stone is Editor-in-Chief of TJI. She has more than 30 years experience as a journalist and editor, including as a reporter and feature writer on The Age and The Sunday Age, as Editor of the Australian Jewish News and as Editor of ArtsHub.

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