‘Without David Olere, we wouldn’t even know what the gas chambers looked like’
THE AUSCHWITZ museum on Tuesday unveiled its largest-ever exhibition of the art of David Olere, a survivor of a World War II Nazi death camp who detailed his experiences in the gas chambers on canvas after the conflict.
“His work is exceptional because, without him, we wouldn’t know what was going on inside the crematoria,” says Serge Klarsfeld, president of Sons and daughters of Jewish deportees of France.
Olere survived a World War II death camp, later transcribing his memories to canvas and paper. The works are currently on view at a memorial in Oswiecim, Poland. /AFP
“We wouldn’t even know what the gas chambers looked like,” he says at the site of the former death camp set up by Nazi Germany in the southern city of Oswiecim in then-occupied Poland.
“This exhibition comes a few days after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre. Anti-Semitism is still active, perhaps more than ever,” Klarsfeld adds, referring to the murder of 11 Jewish people in the US city on Saturday.
Titled “David Olere: The One Who Survived Crematorium III”, the exhibition features 19 paintings from the museum’s own collection and more than 60 other works loaned from Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, among others.
Born in 1902 in the Polish capital Warsaw to Jewish parents, Olere studied art there before moving to Berlin in 1918 and later settling in Paris.
He belonged to the so-called School of Paris, which included Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Amadeo Modigliani and Henri Matisse, and earned a living creating set designs, costumes and advertising posters for film studios including Paramount Pictures, Fox and Gaumont.
Deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz in 1943, he was forced to work in the camp’s so-called Sonderkommando, a unit that assisted in the operation of the crematoria and gas chambers.
In January 1945, Olere was among Auschwitz prisoners evacuated by the Nazis to the Third Reich, where he was liberated by American troops the following May.
Dozens of drawings and paintings he later created show the life and death of prisoners in raw and disturbing detail.
“This unique collection of works is the only iconographic source of those events, performed from the perspective of a first-hand witness,” says Agnieszka Sieradzka, an art historian in charge of the museum’s collection.
Olere’s grandson expresses hope the exhibition will serve as a warning.
“Currently there is a very disturbing rise of nationalism and |populism in Europe,” Marc Olere says.
“I hope this exhibition will help to inform the younger generation of the dangers of these kind of ideologies and that it will contribute to protect them.”
Olere died in Paris in 1985.
Auschwitz-Birkenau has become a symbol of Nazi Germany’s genocide of European Jews, with one million killed at the camp between 1940 and 1945.