Unique exhibition "David Olère. The One Who Survived Crematorium III"
“David Olère. The One Who Survived Crematorium III”- is the title of a unique monographic exhibition of the works of a former Sonderkommando prisoner in the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp, which is presented in the rooms on the first floor of Block 21 at the former Auschwitz I camp until March next year.
It is the largest exhibition so far, depicting the moving paintings and drawings of the artist, presenting almost the entire exceptional work related to the artist’s traumatic experiences in the camp. In addition to 19 paintings from the Auschwitz Museum Collections, the exhibition will display 64 works on loan from the Yad Vashem and Lohamei haGetaot in Israel, as well as the Mémorial de la Shoah from France.
While opening the exhibition, the director of the Auschwitz Museum, Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński noted that for the first time they managed to collect in one place the vast majority of David Olère’s works. "The exhibition does not only present events that occurred in the most secretive and secured space of Birkenau, but these paintings show the unspeakable trauma people experienced. They are also a kind of outcry to the entire world, and us for the future of this world to look different than its past," Cywiński emphasised.
The exhibition depicts subsequent stages of the extermination process, from the moment of arrival at the ramp and selection to killing in gas chambers and burning of bodies in the crematoriums, recorded just after the war in documentary drawings, and then in huge paintings. The works are accompanied by excerpts from the accounts and records of the Sonderkommando prisoners.
The curators of the exhibition of the works of David Olère at the Auschwitz Memorial are Agnieszka Sieradzka, art historian at the Museum Collections, the artist’s grandson Mac Oler and Serge Klarsfeld, vice-President of Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah, who published the catalogue of Olère’s works in France.
During the opening of the exhibition, Serge Klarsfeld pointed out the fact that no photos were taken inside the interior of the crematoriums. "None of the leaders of the final solution was eager to know what transpired at particular stages of the extermination when the SS men involved in the process exceeded all possible standards. Were it not for David Olère, camp number 106 144, his artistic and intellectual skills, which helped to recreate the events that transpired here we could not have visualised what the paroxysm of hatred against the Jews entailed; what selection meant," – Klarsfeld said.
"The enormous bright canvases bear the mark of his traumatic experience. In his paintings, we can see not only the extermination process but also his suffering caused by what he saw and experienced here. For many years, his work was misunderstood and underestimated. To date, it evokes conflicting emotions. However, upon looking deeper and closer at these canvases, we discover another historical fact this visual form; stages of the gruesome extermination process, which was carried out in the largest German Nazi extermination camp of Auschwitz," Agnieszka Sieradzka said during the opening of the exhibition.
"My grandfather, David Olère was an artist, painter and sculptor, but above all an important voice that spoke of peace and humanity. He survived the darkest experience of the extermination camp in Birkenau and was a firsthand witness of the tragedy and fall of humanity. He replicated his experiences and memories in his works. He wanted to show the world why such an event should never occur again. He wanted people to experience peace," said Marc Oler.
David Olère was born on 19 January 1902 in Warsaw. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. In 1918, he went to Berlin, and then later to Paris where he settled permanently. He belonged to the so-called School of Paris. He worked for various film studios (he created set designs, costumes and advertising posters), among others Paramount Pictures, Fox and Gaumont.
On 20 February 1943, because of his Jewish origin, he was arrested by the French police and placed in the Drancy camp. On 2 March, he was deported from here to the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz, where he was registered with the number 106 144. Throughout his entire stay at the camp, he worked in the Sonderkommando, a special work unit forced by the Germans to assist in the operation of the crematoriums and gas chambers.
On 19 January 1945, David Olère was evacuated from Auschwitz deep into the Third Reich. At first, he was sent to the Mauthausen camp and then to Melk, where he worked, among others, in the underground adit. On 7 April, he was transferred to Ebensee where he was liberated by the American army on 6 May 1945.
Shortly after the war a series of about 70 drawings was created, which in later years served as an inspiration for David Olère to produce shocking oil paintings. The very detailed record of subsequent stages of the extermination and scenes from the camp prisoners’ life is of exceptional documentary value. It contains plans of the crematoriums and gas chambers, as well as drawings depicting scenes taking place in these buildings.
In addition to the very moving works of Olère, the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition contains fragments of the accounts and records of Sonderkommando members.
The exhibition “David Olère. The One Who Survived Crematorium III” will be presented in Block 21 at the former Auschwitz I camp site until March 2019.
Collections, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum
Marc Oler – David Olère's grandson
Exhibitions, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum
Exhibitions, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum
Special thanks to:
Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel,
Ghetto Fighters' House in Israel,
and Mémorial de la Shoah in France
for loaning the works and allowing to publish the photographs in the catalogue