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Halina Olomucki drawing of concentration camp inmate carrying a rock

Object | Accession Number: 1989.330.1 a-b

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    Brief Narrative
    Drawing of a female prisoner created in Birkenau concentration camp by Halina Olszewski, 24, (later Olomucki) where she was an inmate from July 1943-January 1945. It depicts an emaciated woman in a striped uniform carrying a rock. Concentration camp prisoners were often forced to carry heavy rocks back and forth for hours. After Nazi Germany occupied Poland in September 1939, Halina, her mother Margarit-Hadassa, and siblings were interned in Warsaw Ghetto. Hannah did forced labor, but she felt her real job was to record the misery and suffering of ghetto residents. Halina smuggled drawings to a non-Jewish friend outside the ghetto. In May 1943, she and her mother were sent to Majdanek where her mother was killed on arrival. Halina was selected for labor. In July, she was transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau. After she was put on an art detail, she hid pencil stubs and using any paper she could find, secretly drew pictures of camp life. Other prisoners asked her to draw them or their loved ones to preserve their memory and show the world what happened. She hid artwork in the camp, much of it recovered postwar. On January 18, 1945, Halina went by death march to Ravensbrück and Neustadt-Glewe, where she was liberated on May 2, 1945. She returned to Warsaw and found no surviving family members.
    Artwork Title
    Le travail dans le camp, Birkenau, 1943
    Alternate Title
    Work in the Camps, Birkenau, 1943
    creation:  1943
    depiction:  1942
    creation: Birkenau (Concentration camp); Birkenau (Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Halina Olomucki, in memory of her parents
    front, lower left and right corner, pencil : 1943 / H.O. / HALiNA
    Artist: Halina Olomucki
    Subject: Halina Olomucki
    Halina Olszewski (later Olomucki/Olomucka) was born on November 24, 1919, in Warsaw, Poland, to Andrzej and Margarit-Hadassa Olszewski. She had an older brother, Moniek, born in 1909, and two sisters. Her parents ran a newspaper distribution service. Her father died in 1924. The family was Jewish but not observant. Halina attended a Yiddish speaking elementary school, then a public gymnasium.

    Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany on September 1, 1939. German troops entered Warsaw on September 29. Halina and her family were relocated to the ghetto. Jews had to wear armbands with Judenstern, valuables were confiscated, and forced labor was required. Halina had drawn constantly from an early age and she continued to do this in the ghetto. She felt an urgent need to record daily life, even though, as she recalled: "I was in the same condition as every other person all around me. I saw them close to death but I never thought of myself close to death.... My job was simply to write down, to draw what was happening." Halina depicted the misery and suffering of life in the ghetto, where nearly 100,000 people died within the first fifteen months from disease and starvation. She also recorded events such as selections, deportations from the Umschlagplatz, or holding place, near the railroad station, and the destruction of Dr. Janos Korczak’s orphanage. While doing forced labor outside the ghetto, Halina smuggled drawings out to a Polish friend in the Aryan section, dropping small packages of drawings as her brigade walked by. On some occasion, Halina also smuggled in food for her family

    In May 1943, after three days of waiting in the Umschlagplatz without food or water, Halina and her mother were put into a crowded train car and taken to Majdanek concentration camp. Her mother was sent to be killed upon arrival. Halina survived four selections done to separate those to be gassed from those to be used as laborers. One day, a guard came into the barracks and asked if there was anyone who knew how to paint and Halina volunteered. The work was drawing slogans on the walls, for which she received coffee and several slices of bread. The camp administrators liked her work and found other art projects for her. In July 1943, Halina was transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau where she was tattooed with the number 48652. She was assigned to Block 10 whose residents were used for experimental medical atrocities. Halina was a slave laborer in an ammunition factory, and then was assigned to paint signs and slogans for the barracks. The slogans were about things like keeping clean and washing your hands, even though there was not even water to drink, much less wash, and living conditions were primitive and filthy. She also did sketches for the SS guards. She received increased rations of bread and cheese which she believed kept her alive. Halina hid pencil stubs and supplies from work, and secretly drew on any paper she could find, tissue and cigarette rolling paper, or scraps of discarded graph paper and reports. She had watercolors, but brushes had to be fashioned from cardboard strips. She made works based on her observations of the people and activities around her. Many prisoners implored her to draw their portraits believing that Halina was likely to survive. She hid her drawings in different spots around the camp, and in floors and walls near her bunk. She destroyed many works because of the constant fear of discovery. Halina was beaten often, and after the October 1944 revolt, spent days standing for exhaustive rolls calls and watched friends being murdered by guards. As Soviet forces neared, the camp was evacuated by death march on January 18, 1945, to Ravensbrück, and then to Neustadt-Glewe, where Halina was liberated by the Allies on May 2, 1945.

    Halina returned to Warsaw after the war ended in May. She found no surviving family members. She recovered drawings she had smuggled out of Warsaw Ghetto and later some works from Birkenau. From 1945-1947, she created artworks as her eyewitness testimony of all she had seen and experienced during the Shoah. In 1945, she married Boleslaw Olomucki, who became an architect, with training from the Art Academy in Łódź and Warsaw Polytechnic. Boleslaw, born in Łódź on November 10, 1921, had been interned in the ghetto in 1940. On August 27, 1944, he was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, then in October, transferred to Braunschweig/Neuengamme as slave labor. In March 1945, he was sent on a death march to Ravensbrück, then to Wobbelin where he was liberated. The couple moved to Łódź, where Halina studied at the Art Academy until 1950. The first exhibition of her artwork was in 1949 in Warsaw. She and Boleslaw had a daughter Miriam in 1951. In 1957, the family moved to Paris, France. Halina exhibited widely in Paris and London during the 1960s. In 1972, the family immigrated to Israel. Halina, 87, passed away on April 9, 2007, in Ashkelon, Israel.

    Physical Details

    Physical Description
    a: Drawing in pencil on paper, cut around the edges, adhered to cardboard depicting a full length, frontal view of a women from the ankles up. She looks exhausted, and has a long, narrow, emaciated face, dark anguished eyes, pursed lips, and long hair. She wears a dirty, ragged, loose striped shift, knee-length with long sleeves. She holds a large rock at waist height in clasped hands. She stands isolated in the foreground; sketched lines and shading suggest stone walls on each side and the ground and in the background is a tall wire fence with 2 searchlights. She is outlined with heavy black lines. It is signed and dated. Adhesive stains are visible in the corners.
    b: Drawing was originally adhered to cardboard, 11 by 8.375 inches with handwritten text on the back: 19-V in black ball point pen / 1.9 in blue ballpoint pen.
    overall: Height: 7.375 inches (18.733 cm) | Width: 5.375 inches (13.653 cm)
    Width: 5.000 inches (12.7 cm)
    overall : paper, graphite, cardboard, adhesive

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The drawing was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1989 by Halina Olomucki.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2023-05-26 10:03:12
    This page:

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