Painting by David Olère, a former prisoner, as a gift for the Museum
The Collections of the Auschwitz Memorial have been enriched with a gift of a painting by David Olère, a former Auschwitz prisoner and member of Sonderkommando. The painting was a part of the private collection of Serge Klarsfeld, vice president of Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah (Shoah Foundation), member of the International Auschwitz Council and Council of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation.
“I decided to donate this painting because of the upcoming 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The artist’s wife and son entrusted me with the mission of handing Olère’s works over to the museums. The Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial is one of the institutions that I chose”, said Klarsfeld.
The Auschwitz Museum possesses the world’s largest collection of art pieces made by Auschwitz prisoners during both the time when the camp existed and after its liberation. There are more than 4.5 thousand pieces there. The painting donated by Serge Klarsfeld is the first work of David Olère in the Museum’s collection.
David Olère was born on 19 January 1902 in Warsaw. He studied at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. In 1918 he left to Berlin, and then to Paris, where he settled down. He is considered to be a part of École de Paris. He worked for various film studios (as set, costume, and poster designer), e.g. for Paramount Pictures, Fox, and Gaumont.
On 20 February 1943, because of his Jewish origins, he was arrested by the French police and sent to the Drancy camp. After that, on 2 March, he was deported to the Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz, where he was marked with number 106 144. Over the whole period of imprisonment he worked in the Sonderkommando which was a group of prisoners forced by the Germans to operate the crematoria and gas chambers in Auschwitz.
The painting donated to the Museum is a very interesting self-portrait of the artist. Because he was also fluent in English, the Germans forced him to work as a translator at the camp. He listened to the BBC news for them. It is a scene of him being led by an armed guard to the SS offices that David Olère painted. In the background, you can see operating crematories and gas chambers II and III.
On 19 January 1945 Olère was evacuated from Auschwitz into the Third Reich. He was put in the Mauthausen sub-camps – Melk and Ebensee. He was liberated from the latter one on 6 May 1945. Having returned to Paris, he committed himself to transferring his imprisonment experiences into drawings and paintings.
In the catalogue of David Olère’s works that was published in France, Serge Klarsfeld wrote: “These works are of special documentary significance. There are no paintings depicting what was happening in gas chambers and crematories of Auschwitz. The memories of Olère, transferred into drawings and paintings, bear witness to this horrendous reality.”
“In his works you can see the stages of the extermination process: people in the undressing room, in the gas chamber, the scenes when the victims’ golden teeth were pulled out, scenes from the furnace room and of burying the bodies. In the works of Olère we can also see cruel medical experiments, torturing and killing prisoners by the SS-men, starvation, fear and despair that were a part of everyday life of the imprisoned”, said Agnieszka Sieradzka, the art historian working at the Museum Collections. “These are very illustrative works, and the fact that they are so literal might sometimes be shocking. But this is a very strong emphasis on the scope of this tragedy, and the human cruelty at the Auschwitz camp. The David Olère’s painting is a very important completion of our art collection”, emphasised Sieradzka.