David Olère

Grade Levels: 6 through 12


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  1. Pick one or two of David Olère's works. Look for photographs on the Web site that you think are similar to the artwork. Answer these questions for the photo and the artwork: Which piece has more of an impact? What kind of an impact does it have? Why? What do you think is the difference between the photographer's point of view and Olère's? Do both pictures have a theme? How successfully does each carry out the theme? What is the central focus of each? What kind of details add to the understanding/appreciation of what the photographer and the artist are trying to convey? What similarities and differences do you see between the photo and the artwork?
  2. Using readings from class (Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, other diaries & memoirs) find quotes from your readings that you could use as captions for some of Olère's work.
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. View the artwork by Olère in the image gallery to answer the following questions.

    1. Consider the drawing "Their Last Steps."
      • What grim building dominates the landscape?
      • Does the shape of that building form a symbol that you might not expect a Jewish artist to include in a painting? What is it? Can you find examples of other twentieth century Jewish artists who have used this symbol to represent the suffering of the Jewish people?
      • What adjectives describe the physical condition of these men?
      • How has the artist suggested their loyalty to one another?

    2. In "Admission in Mauthausen" there is a strong contrast in the way Olère depicted the prisoners and their captors.
      • List several ways in which this particular picture emphasizes that contrast. Consider the way the figures are grouped. Consider the men's posture.
      • Does it change your feelings about the image to realize that this is a roll call in the wintertime?

    3. In "David Olère Punished in the Bunker," the artist uses something like an x-ray technique to show us the cramped quarters in which prison inmates were often forced to spend long periods of time.
      • What detail tells you this is a self-portrait?
      • Even though we can see through the walls of the bunker here, we cannot see into the prisoner's mind. He seems quite passive, almost like a sleeping man or a corpse. What do you suppose his thoughts are?
      • Try to express some of the things that might be going on in the heart of a man confined like this. Is he angry? Pessimistic? Confused? Is he thinking about the distant past or the events of the day that he has just lived through? Is he thinking about the future? Is he praying?

    4. Compare "For a Crust of Bread" and "David Olère Working in a Tunnel at Melk." Both show him doing work for the SS.
      • What general observations can you make about the conditions under which he worked?
      • In the Melk tunnel scene, does his expression seem to suggest anything about his state of mind?
      • In the office scene, he is decorating letters for the Nazis. The German words indicate that these are love letters, probably for the officers to mail home. Why is this a disturbing detail?

    5. Many of the prisoners at Auschwitz were the victims of cruel and unnecessary medical experiments like the one about to take place in "The Experimental Injection." There are six men here who each seem to have a very different reaction to the event. Think of them one by one and record your observations.
      • The guard appears to be snarling. Why?
      • Does the prisoner seem unusually still? Why or why not?
      • The artist has not shown us the face of the doctor. Does this create any particular impression for you of the doctor's personality or his feelings for the "patient"?
      • What symbol has the artist hidden in the folds of the doctor's coat?
      • Compare the three spectators. Describe how each reacts to what he sees.
      • Which of the three do you think has been in the camp the longest? How can you tell?

    6. Study "David Olère Burying the Remains of Children." One of the most painful jobs assigned to Olère at Auschwitz must have been the burial of murdered children.
      • Compare the figure of Olère in the foreground with that of the SS guard in the background. How do you think each man feels about the job he has been assigned to do?
      • The artist has placed the Nazi at the center of the painting, but his own self-portrait tends to hold our attention. Perhaps this is because of the gesture that he is making with his left hand. What kinds of emotions does an outstretched hand express?
      • Notice the unburied hand to the left of the shovel. It is a realistic detail, of course, but it may also be seen as a symbol. Like Olère's hand, it is outstretched; it reaches upward even in death. What sort of thoughts do you have as you think about this lifeless hand?

    7. 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."
      • Distinguish the two kinds of burning that are illustrated here.
      • What sort of variety is there among the objects that are being consumed in the foreground?
      • Name something that the Nazis were unable to destroy.

    Assessment: The quality of the student's work can be assessed by peer and/or teacher review.

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