Irish Catholic artist finds the ‘Undeniable Truth’

By  Paul Mclellan, The Catholic Register
  • November 1, 2007

TORONTO - Yad Vashem is Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust and to those non-Jews called the “Righteous Among the Nations” who helped save Jews at great personal risk. As a follow-up to this year’s Holocaust Education Week, the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem will be hosting an exhibition of 33 works by the Catholic Irish artist Thomas Delohery. The show is titled “Undeniable Truth.”

While one might be skeptical about Delohery’s motivation in approaching the subject of the Holocaust, he is adamant that “the subject chose me as much as I thought I chose it.”

His 10-year-long project began while attending the University of Ulster in Belfast, when he was given 200 pounds by the university to go somewhere in Europe that would benefit and influence his work. He chose Poland to visit the camps, and describes his experience there as an epiphany.

“After walking down by the train tracks in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and looking back at the big gatehouse and seeing how tiny it was in the distance because of the size of the camp, my legs literally gave way under me, as I realized not just the scale of the camp but of what went on there,” he said.

When asked how his Catholic upbringing affected his work, he said: “I was quite religious at a young age. I loved serving Mass as an altar boy. I went to secondary school in Tulla, Co. Clare, . . . run by the Sisters of Mercy. You could say I had quite a strong Catholic upbringing.

“With all that said, I realized quite early on in my research of the Holocaust (which included many interviews with survivors), that the Catholic Church’s past in relation to the plight of the Jews of Europe was quite mixed and in some cases alarming. . . . To be honest, I never saw the Holocaust as just a Jewish thing. If I did, I don’t think I could work with the subject. Of course I know that the vast majority of the victims were Jewish. . . but there were other victims; political prisoners, members of the clergy, gypsies, homosexuals, etc. More than just people died in the Holocaust. I think a certain part of humanity did.”

Visitors should be warned; Delohery’s images are not for the weak of heart. They shock us from our complacency and expose us to the nature of evil in the world. They capture all the horror, the murder, starvation, beatings, gas chambers and ovens. They scream out “Why?” and bring to our mind the more recent horrors from the Balkans, Rwanda and Darfur.

But though his pictures appear stark, intrusive and disturbing, they are not didactic or preachy. They do not ask “Where was God?” as is the case with much post-Holocaust art and literature. Rather, Delohery evokes in the viewer an intimate connection to the dignity of the victim and instils in us the vision of their individual sufferings.

Perhaps by saving the memory of these victims, Delohery is showing us the way to redeem that “part of humanity” that died in the Holocaust. For the Talmud, Judaism’s most revered book after the Torah, states that “To save one life is as if you have saved the world.”

Moreover, Delohery has risked much in the dedication of his art to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust — his career, the respect of his peers and literally 10 years of his life’s work. By accepting these perils, Delohery has achieved a proud legacy. He has also earned the right to be called one of the “Righteous Among the Nations.”

The show opens Nov. 13 from 6:30-9:30 p.m. at the Toronto Centre for the Arts — Piano Lounge, 5040 Yonge St. (Please RSVP 416-785-1333). The exhibit will resume from Nov. 16-20, 2007, 9:30 a.m . - 4:30 p.m. at the the North York Civic Centre, 5100 Yonge St., The North Grounds (Main Floor, Foyer —- North). More of Delohery’s work can be seen at http://tinyurl.com/247zhp.

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