David Olere

The Gold - Foundrymen in the Birkenau camp, Paul Katz and Francziszek Telek; Executed in Late 1944
The Gold - Foundrymen in the Birkenau camp, Paul Katz and Francziszek Telek; Executed in Late 1944

David Olere [Warsaw 1902 -  Paris 1985]

David Olere was among the Sonderkommando “special crew” workers in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, mainly assigned to Crematorium III. The Sonderkommando worked at clearing out the gas chambers of bodies and then incinerating them. Upon the arrival of a new transport of inmates, the previous workers were exterminated. Olere was one of the rare Sonderkommando who survived.

Olere had been arrested in Paris by the French police on 20 February 1943. On March 3 he was sent to the Auschwitz camp in a transport of a thousand Jews, and was one of 119 not sent for immediate extermination. On 19 January 1945 he was sent on a “death march” to the Mauthausen camp and from there to the camps Melk and Ebensee, where he was put to work at hard labor until the camp’s liberation by the American army on 6 May 1945. His family, who had remained in Warsaw, all perished.

In pre-WWII Paris, David Olere had been a painter and graphic artist. His talents as an illustrator and his command of languages, German among them, saved his life. In 1945 and 1946, from a sense of moral obligation, he made some 70 drawings documenting what he had experienced and seen. These are of great testimonial value, as what occurred in the gas chambers and crematoria was not directly documented. He was the sole witness, forced to take part in the act of extermination. In several of the drawings he appears as a participant-witness. The majority of this series is held in the Art Collection of the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum.

His talents as a recognized illustrator of posters for the film industry aided him in depicting and providing visual testimony after the fact, but also were an obstacle. The drama that infuses the drawings is considered excessive by those who find it difficult to comprehend the exceptional events depicted.

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