Unique exhibition "David Olère. The One Who Survived Crematorium III" from 30 October at the Auschwitz Memorial


“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 will be exhibited from 30 October at the Auschwitz Memorial.

"Crematorium III in action" (collection of Ghetto Fighters House)
"Crematorium III in...
"Gassing" (collection of Auschwitz Memorial)
"My First Dialogue" (collection of Yad Vashem)
"My First Dialogue"...
"Unable to work" (collection of Memorial de la Shoah)
"Unable to work"...

It will be 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.

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.

The curators of this unique international exhibition of the work of David Olère at the Auschwitz Memorial are: Agnieszka Sieradzka, art historian at the Museum Collections, the artist’s grandson Marc Oler and Serge Klarsfeld, the vice-President of Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah, who published a catalogue of Olère’s works in France.

‘Olère was one of the few surviving Sonderkommando prisoners who agreed to share their experiences with the world. He is the only witness who documented this unimaginable cruelty in the form of paintings and drawings. This unique collection of works is, therefore, the only iconographic source of those events, performed from the perspective of a first-hand witness,’ said Agnieszka Sieradzka.

‘At the exhibition, we will see the subsequent stages of the extermination process, from the moment of arrival at the unloading platform and selection to gassing and cremation of bodies, that were recorded just after the war in documentary drawings, and later in huge, screaming canvases, bearing the imprint of the artist’s painful experience,’ she added.

“Some will find in several paintings a pre-war placard technique, others will see a frightening desire to scream out their personal experiences, and yet others will notice a frightening warning, recalling to mind the words of another Sonderkommando prisoner Załmen Gradowski: ...we have a dark premonition because we know!” - the Auschwitz Museum Director, Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński wrote in the introduction to the catalogue that will accompany the exhibition.

Serge Klarsfeld wrote there: “David Olère did not sketch for pleasure, but because of the intrinsic need to give testimony on behalf of those who did not survive. He is often present in his paintings as a witness, and the spectre of his face painfully observes the inhumane scenes, which he cannot erase from his almost photographic memory”.

In addition to the very moving works of Olère, the catalogue will contain 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 from 30 October 2018 until March 2019.

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