Auschwitz exhibits Jewish ex-prisoner’s depictions of the camp

David Olere’s paintings recall his experiences as member of the Sonderkommando, a unit that assisted in the operation of the crematoria and gas chambers

A drawing by David Olere (YouTube)
A drawing by David Olere (YouTube)

AFP — The Auschwitz museum unveiled Tuesday its largest-ever exhibition of the art of David Olere, a survivor of the 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 (Olere), we wouldn’t know what was going on inside the crematoria,” Serge Klarsfeld, president of Sons and Daughters of Jewish deportees of France, told AFP at the opening.

“We wouldn’t even know what the gas chambers looked like,” he said 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 added, referring to the murder of 11 Jewish people in the US city on Saturday.

A drawing by David Olere (YouTube)

Titled “David Olère. The One Who Survived Crematorium III,” the exhibition comprises 19 paintings from the museum’s own collection and over 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.

A drawing by David Olere. (YouTube)

There 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 from France to Auschwitz in 1943, he was forced to work in the camp’s so-called Sonderkommando, a special unit that assisted in the operation of the crematoria and gas chambers.

‘Disturbing’ ideologies

In January 1945, Olere was among Auschwitz prisoners evacuated by the Nazis to the Third Reich where he was liberated by American troops in May 1945.

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,” said Agnieszka Sieradzka, an art historian in charge of the museum’s collection.

A drawing by David Olere (Youtube)

Olere’s grandson expressed hope the exhibition would serve as a warning.

“Currently there is a very disturbing rise of nationalism and populism in Europe,” Marc Olere told AFP at the unveiling.

“I hope that 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 (younger generation).”

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.

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