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Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


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  • Artist Statement
  • Joseph Bau

    ............ "My art is what it is. It is just what comes out of me.

    I feel it's something that I need to do, to get it out of my system ..................

    We don't have a full story about each painting, but I have some information about the artist and some general information about the paintings that will make sense to tell you and try to put it all together. The following is from conversations that we had with the artist and his daughters, who did the translating.

    "Many survivors who paint, try to deal with what they went through only after many years. First they paint subjects from everyday life and only after many years when they feel that they are ready to start to paint about the: horrors, do they paint about the past. With me the opposite happened, first I painted characters that were before the holocaust and that were murdered there and in the last years I started painting humorous paintings. This shows my personal victory over the nazis who wanted to kill the people and their spirits. I can paint the saddest characters and the funniest ones. I can cause people to cry and to laugh at the same time."

    ...from looking at his paintings we can learn that one of the most important things in his life is a couple. He has many paintings of couples. Maybe the couple is Joseph and his wife Rebecca. The characters don't have to look like the real people, what's important is the feeling that he felt that day. For Joseph, his wife was more important to him than himself and this can be seen in the painting where the woman is taller than the man. He is very romantic. He is a big feminist, he never let his wife do the dishes or wash the floors. He always said ... "that this is a job for a man"... And you can see it in the black & white painting – "The King At Home." Also in the painting – "A Woman In A Lifeguard Post", Joseph wants to say that even a woman can do this job as good as a man.

    He also painted a few paintings with birds. He thinks that birds should also be free and not in cages, just like people shouldn't be held prisoners.

    One personal note that is reflected in the following story, is that Joseph Bau is a vegetarian. Joseph's daughter told me ..."that whenever my father sees a cockroach, a bug or a moth at home he never kills it. He manages somehow to take it with a newspaper and throw it outside. He is a very humane person that could never harm anybody and has respect for all life." …

    There are some paintings he has completed, of people he sees on the street that remind him of the people he saw before the holocaust that were murdered by the nazi's, like the "Water Carrier", "The Porter", "A Cello Player" and "The Accordion and Flute Players." He always says that some people he sees now remind him of people he knew before. So when he paints them now, in his creative mind it is like all these people that Hitler killed have come back to life.

    The painting "Bon Appetite", A Man Eating Razor Blades, was inspired from eating falafel, a traditional Israeli food sold on the street. He put a lot of spicy sauce on it and it was so sharp that he felt that it cut through him like razor blades.

    "The Bread" this is the first Hebrew word he found that brought him to the conclusion that the Hebrew language is very logical and that the same root is used for bread and fight meaning that you must fight in order to get bread. After that he found 400 more words which were published in a book where each word is accompanied by a painting.

    "Learning Barbering" before the man will be able to cut a man's hair he must practice on a broom. He paints many people at work. For instance, the man cleaning the glasses is an optician who himself can't see very well.

    Whenever there is a number on a camp uniform in one of the paintings of the holocaust, it is his own number

    "The Jewish Woman" shows how a mother looked like with the kerchief on her head.

    "Germans Dragging A Jew" and "50 Lashes" both portray acts the Germans inflicted on the artist.

    "Bread For Eight" - You can put the beside the poem from page 165 "The Great Hunger"

    ... "one day the Germans told them that they would get an increased portion to their bread and they were sure that they would receive more bread. As it turned out what they got were two more people to the same loaf this was the "increase". (Read on page 140, in the middle.)

    "Dividing The Bread" There was a whole ritual of dividing the bread. (See page 140 The Bread Distribution...)

    "Entrance Through The Gate, Exit Through The Chimney" this was a joke told in the camp. This illustration was used for the cover of the book.

    "Soup" this was a moment everyone waited for to eat. The Germans fed them the worst kind of soup that was made of nettle picked in the fields. Nowadays we know that nettle is a strong herb and contains many of the vitamins and minerals a person needs, at the time the Germans and Jews didn't know this and many times the Germans told them: "We think that you are stealing food from the kitchen. According to our calculations you were supposed to die a long time ago and you still live." They also gave them beet soup, the beets that they fed their cows. In their eyes this was the worst, but today we know that beet is a very healthy vegetable.

    There are also a few paintings of Oscar Shindler but again, not all or them look exactly like him. It is more from his feelings. The man in the hat in the gold frame reminds Joseph of him as well as the water color "A Portrait."

    The interesting thing is that recently Joseph Bau paints only humorous subjects. In a way we hope that he has made peace with himself and what happened. And finally, perhaps he can see the joy and humor in every day subjects.

    A story that was told to me was that when a nazi was aiming a gun at Joseph's father in front of him Joseph Bau yelled to the nazi, "Kill me too. I don't want to live anymore". So the nazi shot his father and wanted to shoot Joseph as well. But at this second Isaac Stern, the accountant who helped Oscar Shindler, hugged Joseph, covered his eyes and whispered in his ear: "If he kills you there will be just another dead Jew but you are special because you are the only artist and writer here ... You should live and later tell the world your story!" So Joseph listened to him, when the war ended he painted many paintings about all the things that happened there.

    "Eternal City" Joseph uses perspective very well and this can be seen in this painting.

    "Good Neighbors" - on the one hand it looks like people that tell what happened to them during the holocaust and on the other hand it looks like neighbors who are concerned about Joseph when he didn't feel well.

    He saw them somewhere and then drew them from his imagination. His creative and imaginative mind makes these memories of people into comical individuals. He tries to draw funny characters but sometimes from his subconscious he paints sad ones, the faces of people he remembers from the holocaust.