ELL speaks to artist and holocaust survivor Moshe Galili ahead of his exhibition marking Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27.
History always goes in circles and what you can learn from history is that we never learn anything.”
It’s no surprise that 84-year-old artist and Holocaust survivor Moshe Galili is wary about the future. A child in occupied Budapest in the 1940’s, he knows all too well about the cost of losing one’s civil liberties.
“I had a special hiding place behind the wastepipes in the basement for when the Nazis came” he recalls. “It was about seven feet up the wall and behind the pipes there was just enough space for me to lie down without being seen.”
“When the anti-Jewish laws were introduced you couldn’t even own a bicycle or a radio. We had to wear the yellow stars, and were all moved into “star houses.”
“Soon, it was no longer just persecution, but a question of life and death. The Arrow Cross Party, the paramilitary organisation in Hungary at the time, killed Jews, Romas, deserters and anybody Socialist. Sometimes the guards would take someone from the star house and we would just find them later, outside the gate, dead.”
Despite the horrors he has seen, or rather because of them, Galili dedicated the rest of his life to creating expressive cautionary art, and a series of his paintings are to be displayed at the Brady Arts Centre, Spitalfields, to mark Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27.
He was “always the artist of the family” he tells me. He even used his skills to fake documentation papers during the Nazi occupation. And, after a number of turbulent years following the liberation of Hungary, he visited the art galleries of Italy and France and studied at the “Bazar Supérieure” art school in Paris.
“I noticed anti-Semitism in everyday life – from students, and in odd remarks made by people outside – so I did more and more work about the war,” Galili explains. “And in the ‘60s, when I moved to London to marry my wife Ruby, I felt even stronger anti-Semitism growing worldwide. I was shocked when famous historians started saying that the Holocaust was Zionist lies.”
Galili shows me one of his latest paintings. Its lurid pinks and limes are dizzying and it depicts a uniformed officer pulling corpses from graves beneath his feet. But the disturbing scene is a reaction to a current, rather than past, anti-Semitic threat.
“This is the New Hungarian Guard with their new symbol, a dismembered swastika” he explains. “I call it “The Hungarian Resurrection” to remind people about new situations of anti-Semitism. The neo-Nazi parties that are in Hungary now are the same paramilitary organisations, the same marching, the same ideas.”
“Many people may find my paintings difficult to look at,” he acknowledges. “But others just sit before them and meditate on them.”
Galili may have his doubts concerning the future, but in the execution of his paintings he vigorously contends the possibility of such horrors recurring again. They are, as he puts it, “a sort of mirror to look in”, and “a warning to the next generation.” History may often repeat itself, but as Galili also observes: “There is also always hope.”
‘Moshe: A Survivor’s Journey’ will be displayed at The Brady Centre from January 24 to February 4.