As a business student in the 1980s, Anastasia Contoguris took her first college class about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The professor, from Iraq, was strongly anti-Israel and gave her an incomplete in the class, she recalled.

“I was sent home because my [final] paper was pro-Israeli,” Contoguris said.

That rejection sparked a new passion for Contoguris – she switched majors and began to study Israeli history.

Thirty years later, Contoguris, who is Greek Orthodox, has channeled her support for Israel and her abhorrence of anti-Semitism into a series of bronze sculptures, on display for the first time in Toronto.

The display, which formally opens today, commemorates the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

“I found this as my way of expressing how I feel,” she said on Tuesday. “I needed to do this.”

The collection features 21 statues that depict the Holocaust and the Jewish Diaspora. The centerpiece of the display is two-meter long statue called “Israel in Shackles,” which depicts a man in handcuffs lying horizontal, covered in the Israeli flag.

Displaying her collection was not without difficulty.

She said that other galleries had agreed to display her collection with the exception of “Israel in Shackles.”

“Initially, the negative reaction is that ‘We can’t show the piece of Israel in shackles because of the flag,’” she said.

But she declined to separate her collection, so she has not displayed her sculptures until the Beth Torah Synagogue in Toronto invited her to participate as part of Holocaust Education Week.

Each sculpture took about six months to create.

After working in clay, Contoguris collaborated with a foundry in Greece to cast the work into bronze.

Contoguris said she was initially apprehensive about the reception of her artwork, especially because she is not Jewish.

“I was always afraid I would offend, being Christian myself,” she said. But, she said, “it’s been rewarding and amazing... it shows to me there are other people who feel like I do. I have managed to succeed in expressing the emotion.”

In particular, Contoguris emphasized that none of her statues display the dead.

“I don’t show anybody dead in any one of these,” she said. “The whole idea is exactly that although this horrible thing happened... the Jews survived and are thriving.”

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