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David Olère


David Olère was born in Warsaw on January 19, 1902, where he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts. At the age of sixteen he moved to Danzig (Gdansk) and Berlin and in these cities he exhibited wood cuts that he had made. From 1921-1922 in Germany Olère continued working as an artist - painting, sculpting and designing sets and posters for the Europäische Film Allianz film company, with the famous director Ernst Lubitz. In 1923 he moved to Paris, which in the first decades of the century was a Mecca for art. Like many artists of the time, he lived in the Montparnasse district. He became integrated into the French film industry, creating sets, costumes and posters, mainly for films by the Paramount studio. After his marriage to Juliette Ventura in 1930, he moved to the Parisian suburb of Noisy-le-Grand, where his only son Alexandre was born.

Upon the outbreak of World War II Olère was drafted into Battalion 134 of the French infantry, and after the defeat of France he returned to Paris. During the war there were many roundups for Jews living in France and on February 20, 1943 David Olère was arrested and sent to Drancy camp, on the outskirts of Paris. The camp was known as "the waiting room to Auschwitz", after the destination to which most of the internees were sent. In fact, just two weeks later, on March 2 1943, Olère was sent to Auschwitz on Transport 49, which numbered about one thousand Jews.

In Auschwitz the camp administrators became aware of his many talents - fluency in several languages: Polish, Russian, Yiddish, French, English and German, as well as his artistic ability - and he was required to write letters to their families in elegant calligraphy, decorated with pretty illustrations. He was given another job, a cruel and horrifying one, to serve in the Sonderkommando working in the gas chambers and crematoria. There he was able to witness the cruel acts of the Germans such as the gassings, the collecting of gold teeth, and the sexual abuse under the pretext of medical examination.

When the camp was evacuated on January 19, 1945, he took part in the Death March. He was sent to Mauthausen camp, and worked in the mines of Melk camp, on the banks of the Danube. On April 7, 1945 he was sent to forced labor in Ebensee camp.

On May 6, 1945 he was liberated by the Allied forces, and returned home to France. From his liberation on he drew and painted the dreadful sights he witnessed while interned in the different camps. Later on his works, which document the gas chambers in Auschwitz, were used as legal evidence. The historian Robert Jan van Pelt, who used him as an expert witness for the defense in the Irving-Lipstadt trial (London, 2000) utilized Olère's works as evidence of the existence of the gas chambers in Auschwitz.

Dr. Pnina Rosenberg


Janette Blatter and Sybil Milton, Art of the Holocaust, Rutledge Press, New York, 1981

Mary S. Costanza, The Living Witness, The Free Press, New York, 1982

Serge Klarsfeld, David Ol?re: The Eyes of a Witness - A Printer in the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz, The Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, New York, 1989

Miriam Novitch et. al., Spiritual Resistance: Art from Concentration Camps 1940-1945 - A Selection of Drawings and Paintings from the Collection of Kibbutz Lohamei Haghetaot, Israel, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981

David Olere & Alexandre Oler, Witness: Images of Auschwitz, The Summit Publishing Group, Texas, 1998

Pnina Rosenberg. David Olere: Witness - Images of Auschwitz. Ghetto Fighters' House Museum, 1998