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Halina Olomucki drawing of emaciated women prisoners crowded in a barrack

Object | Accession Number: 1989.331.6

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    Halina Olomucki drawing of emaciated women prisoners crowded in a barrack

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    Brief Narrative
    Colored drawing of a bunk crowded with ill and despairing women created by Halina Olszewski (later Olomucki) in Warsaw in 1945, just after the war. It is based upon her experiences as an inmate of the notorious Block 10 in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp from July 1943 to January 1945. Nazi Germany occupied Poland in September 1939, and, in fall 1940, Halina, her mother Margarit-Hadassa, and siblings were relocated to the ghetto. Halina did forced labor, but she felt her real job was to record the misery and suffering of ghetto residents. Halina smuggled many drawings to a non-Jewish friend outside the ghetto. In May 1943, she and her mother were deported to Majdanek where her mother was killed on arrival. In July, Halina was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she continued to create art in secret. 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 was sent by death march to Ravensbrück and Neustadt-Glewe, where she was liberated on May 2, 1945. She returned to Warsaw but found no surviving family members.
    Artwork Title
    Le camp les litieres dans le bloc, Germany 1945
    Alternate Title
    The camp of litters in the block, Germany 1945
    creation:  1945
    creation: Warsaw (Poland)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
    front, bottom right corner, pencil : H.O. / HALiNA / 1945
    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
    Sketch in ink on paper of several ill and emaciated women crowded into small, wooden bunks. On top are 4 hunched figures with anguished expressions and yellow limbs, wearing headscarves and loose, blue striped dresses. Two skeletal figures lie on the bunk below, facing outward with their heads on their hands and knees pulled to their stomachs. Although the figures are indistinct and somewhat abstract, the composition expresses a strong feeling of misery and despair. There is a red, black, and blue swirled border and the drawing is covered with scratches. It is signed and dated. The paper has torn edges and is adhered to glassine and black paper.
    overall: Height: 15.875 inches (40.323 cm) | Width: 13.625 inches (34.608 cm)
    pictorial area: Height: 10.000 inches (25.4 cm) | Width: 8.000 inches (20.32 cm)
    overall : paper, ink, colored pencil
    on backing, center, blue and green crayon : 3. / 3

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    Restrictions on use. Copyright status unknown.

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The drawing was acquired by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1989.
    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:
    2023-05-30 16:07:34
    This page:

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