“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 opened on Tuesday, October 30, at the Auschwitz Memorial.
It is the largest Olère exhibition to date, showing almost the artist’s entire body of work related to his experiences in the camp. In addition to 19 paintings from the Auschwitz Museum Collections, the exhibition offers 64 works on loan from Yad Vashem and Lohamei haGetaot in Israel, as well as from Mémorial de la Shoah in France.
David Olère was born in 1902 in Warsaw. He studied at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, and upon completion of his studies there at the age of 16, moved to Danzig and later to Berlin, where he exhibited woodcuts at museums and art houses.
In 1921 he was hired by Ernst Lubitsch at the Europäische Film Allianz to work as a set builder for the film Das Weib des Pharao. He moved to Paris in 1923 and settled down in Montparnasse, where he designed costumes and publicity posters for Paramount Pictures. In 1930, Olère married Juliette Ventura who gave birth to his son, Alexandre.
When war broke out, Olère was drafted into the infantry regiment at Lons-le-Saunier. On February 20, 1943, he was arrested as a Jew by the French police and jailed in the Drancy camp. On March 2, he was deported to Auschwitz, where he was tattooed with the number 106144. Throughout his entire stay at the camp, he worked in the Sonderkommando, part of the operation of the gas chambers and crematoria.
On January 19, 1945, Olère was marched from Auschwitz back to Germany, where on May 6, 1945, he was liberated by the American army.
Olère began to draw at Auschwitz during the last days of the camp, when the SS became less attentive. His work has exceptional documentary value: there are no photos of what happened in the gas chambers and crematoria, and Olère was the only artist to have worked there and survive. He was also the first witness to draw plans and cross-sections to explain how the crematoria operated.
Olère felt compelled to capture Auschwitz artistically to illustrate the fate of all those that did not survive. He sometimes depicts himself in his paintings as a ghostly face in the background. He exhibited his work at the State Museum of Les Invalides and the Grand Palais in Paris, at the Jewish Museum in New York City, at the Berkeley Museum, and in Chicago.
He retired in 1962, and died in 1985. His widow and son have continued to inform the world about Auschwitz using his artwork.
In addition to Olère’s moving works, the exhibition offers fragments of the accounts of Sonderkommando members.
The exhibition “David Olère. The One Who Survived Crematorium III” is showing in Block 21 at the former Auschwitz I camp site, through March 2019.