Unit 5: Art and Remembrance
Chapter 2: David Olère: Drawings and Paintings
Olère bore testimony as the only witness present in the haunting documentary sketches and paintings. A recent book, Witness: Images of Auschwitz, combines Olère’s artwork with texts by his son, Alexandre Oler. Olère’s work is one of the most important representations of the atrocities of the Holocaust.
Art as testimony
David Olère offers a personal testimony of the atrocity of the Holocaust. His painful sketches and drawings call us in witness to the inhumanity etched in our minds through the images of the crematoriums. Olère bore his testimony as the only witness present in the haunting documentary sketches and paintings. You and I, as contemporary witnesses, face ourselves and others while bearing the pain of the burden of history. For further information on David Olère, see The Eyes of a Witness, published by The Beate Klarsfeld Foundation in Paris in 1989. The book contains a three-page summary of David Olère’s life and one hundred pages of his artwork. All of the text appears in both English and French. Olère’s pencil sketches and colour paintings capture the everyday events in the concentration camps during the Holocaust. There are also portraits of some of the Nazi soldiers and layouts of the crematoriums. A more recent book, Witness: Images of Auschwitz, combines Olère’s artwork with texts by his son, Alexandre Oler. Olère’s artistry is truly one of the most important representations of the atrocities of the Holocaust.
Artifact 1 › Destruction of the Jewish People / Destruction du peuple juif
The fire consumes Torahs, phylacteries, and a tallis, as well as various Christian religious articles.
Artifact 2 › David Olère Burying the Remains of Children / David Olère enfouissant des restes d’enfants
Olère’s first assignment at Auschwitz was as a grave digger of bunker 2. His prisoner number, 106144, is seen both on his shirt and as a tattoo on his left arm. That number appears in many of Olère’s artworks, sometimes forming a part of his signature.
Artifact 3 › Their Last Steps / Leurs derniers pas
Three Muselmänner support each other as they falter toward the gas chamber. Muselmann was the camp term for those whose physical and mental exhaustion made them candidates for “selection.”
Artifact 4 › My First Dialogue / Mon premier dialogue
Subtitle: “They also are responsible for the war?” “Yes, that’s war.”
Artifact 5 › The Oven Room / La salle des fours
A freight elevator in the background brought bodies up from the basement-gassing chamber of crematorium III at Birkenau. The wet trough at the right facilitated the dragging of bodies to the ovens.
Credits: David Olère: L’Oeil du Témoin/The Eyes of a Witness. New York: The Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, 1989 David Olère Drawings & Paintings
Reading the Image
Pick one or two of David Olère’s works. Look for photographs of the Holocaust that you think are similar to the artwork. Answer these questions for the photos and the artwork:
Selecting a caption
Using readings from class (Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, and other diaries & memoirs) find quotes from your readings that you could use as captions for some of Olère’s work.
Narrowing my focus
Block off parts of one of the artworks. What details would you zoom in on and why? How does looking at the details change your view of the picture as a whole?
Compare the foreground, middle ground, and background of a piece. What kinds of sequencing and transitions did Olère use? What point was he making by such placement?
View the artworks by Olère in the image gallery to answer the following questions.
A. Consider the drawing “Their Last Steps.”
B. In “Admission in Mauthausen” there is a strong contrast in the way Olère depicted the prisoners and their captors.
C. Study David Olère’s “Burying the Remains of Children.” One of the most painful jobs assigned to Olère at Auschwitz must have been the burial of murdered children.
D. In the woodcut, “Destruction of the Jewish People,” Olère presents us with a literal image of the destruction by fire which gives meaning to the term “Holocaust.”
What does Six Million Look Like?
In 1998, a group of eighth graders in Whitwell, Tennessee set out to collect six million paper clips. The goal of the project was to help the young people of this rural town understand what diversity means. By examining what happened to the Jewish people, the educators hoped to demonstrate to these students what intolerance can produce in society. The Holocaust memorial created by the mostly white and Protestant students, is a World War II-era German railcar, welded to a small piece of railroad track in front of Whitwell Middle School. On display are millions of paper clips, each one honouring a victim of hatred and murder by the Nazis. The project is celebrated in a documentary entitled Six Million Paper Clips: The Making of a Children’s Holocaust Memorial.
In 2014, a 1,250-page book was published that consists of only one word. In the book: And Every Single One Was Someone, the word “Jew” appears in tiny type, printed six million times. The author, Phil Chernofsky, a former teacher, claims, “That’s how the Nazis viewed their victims, these are not people, they are just a mass we have to exterminate.” By arranging the words side by side, line upon line helps us contemplate the humanity, the commonality, the diversity and the humanity of each Jewish person who was exterminated. Point to any one of the words and you might wonder: Who was this person? Where did that person live and work? Who did that person love?
Though no names appear in Chernofsky’s book, there has been a strong effort to uncover and document the names of the victims. As pointed out in a New York Times article about the book, the Holocaust Memorial and Museum, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, has (to date) collected the names of 4.3 million Jewish victims. These identities are memorialized in a Memorial entitled “Book of Names” at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Memorials such as Book of Names, Six Million Paper Clips, and And Every Single One was Someone, serve as examples that give a realitistic perspective to the unbelievable numbers of those who died in the Holocaust.
Source: New York Times
Considering Jewish literature
Memorializing as an act of honour
Every effort has been made to gain permission from copyright holders to reproduce borrowed material. The publishers apologize for any errors and will be pleased to rectify them in subsequent reprints and website programming
Other chapters on Art and Remembrance: