One Jewish family’s experience of the Holocaust will be told through a moving exhibition that opens in Dublin Castle on Monday evening.
Through the exhibition, Oliver Sears will tell the story of his family, who came from Lodz in Poland, through a series of documents, photographs and other objects.
Mr Sears is the founder of Holocaust Awareness Ireland and has lived here for most of his adult life after being raised in London. He owns an art gallery in Dublin.
He says the exhibition was important to illustrate the generational impact the Holocaust had on families, and in the context of anti-Semitism that still persists today.
Speaking to The Irish Times, he said anti-Semitism was like the “original sin” where racism was concerned.
“If governments were serious about it they could make anti-Semitism taboo . . . this phrase ‘casual racism’, I can assure you, if you are on the receiving end of it, it’s never casual, it’s personal.”
He is hopeful that through his exhibition, viewers will see how the lives of people just like them were turned upside down.
Mr Sears explains that the Office of Public Works invited him to present this exhibition in Dublin Castle.
He said this was important, as he believes Ireland, along with most European states, completely abandoned Jews in their hour of need amid the Holocaust. “It’s a shameful episode.”
In November 2020, Mr Sears had found a cache of photographs and documents relating to his family in the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.
By putting on an exhibition, Mr Sears says he can honour his family. “You can have massive gaps in your family, there are all these ghosts. There are people who you never knew, who you should have known. Then there are the living ghosts, who are badly traumatised, who weave in and out of your childhood, some of whom you are related to.”
When Mr Sears’s grandmother and mother came to England in 1947, his grandmother married a Polish Jewish dentist who was stranded in London during the war. He had lost every single member of his family, including his pregnant wife.
“He married my grandmother. He was the only grandfather I knew. I didn’t know he wasn’t my real grandfather until the day he died.”
The photos from before the war are the most moving to Mr Sears, as they show ordinary people, with hopes, dreams and aspirations, and that was all destroyed.
However, he feels the exhibition is an act of resistance in itself, as the Nazis’ goal was to eradicate Jewish people completely. “It says: ‘No. Where are you, with your thousand-year reich? We are still here.’”
The Objects of Love exhibition will be available to view in Dublin Castle’s Bedford Hall until February 13th.