Bau Józef

Józef Bau - Personal data
Date of birth: 18th June 1920
Place of birth: Kraków
Date of death: 26th May 2002
Place of death:

Joseph Bau – (18 June 1920, Kraków – 26 May 2002, Tel Aviv) – Graphic artist, painter, writer, poet, Holocaust survivor.

He was born in Kraków to the family of Abraham (Adolf) Bau[1.1]. (born 1877 in Siedliska, died 1943 in Płaszów) and Cila [1.2](Cipra, Cecilia) née Diamand (born 1897 in Stanisławów, died 1945 in Bergen Belsen). Joseph was the eldest of three brothers. He was born in 1923. Marcel survived the Holocaust and emigrated to the United States; the youngest, Ignacy[1.3], born in 1930, died in the Kraków ghetto in 1943. The Bau family resided at 10 Kremerowska Street in Kraków. They were secularised and assimilated – they spoke Polish at home. Abraham (Adolf) and Cila (Cecilia) ran a hat shop at 16 Szewska Street[1.4].

According to his daughters' accounts, Joseph began his education at St Barbara's School. He was the only Jew in his class. From an early age, he showed artistic talent: he drew and built sets for school plays. As an 11-year-old, he received a prize in a poetry competition. He continued his education at Dr Chaim Hilfstein's Private Co-educational Gymnasium on Brzozowa Street in Kraków's Kazimierz district. After graduating from high school, in 1938, he took up studies at the State Institute of Visual Arts in Kraków. He chose printing as his specialisation. As part of the classes taught there, he learnt Schwabacher, which proved to be an invaluable skill in later years. 

In 1940, Joseph Bau was expelled from the university because of his Jewish background. He continued his studies during secret classes taught by prof. Witold Chomicz until March 1941.

At the time, Bau had to leave Kraków due to Hans Frank's decree on making Kraków "a city free of Jews". Since Joseph and Marcel failed to get permission to stay in the city (Kennkarte), the brothers left for the nearby village of Olsza, where they remained until March 1941, when the Germans organised a ghetto in Krakow's Podgórze district. The brothers arrived in the closed quarter illegally, thanks to the efforts of their parents. The whole family settled at 1 Zgoda Square.

In the ghetto, Joseph Bau started working as a graphic artist. He prepared a sign written in Schwabacher which read "Functional Graphics" and placed it in the window of the flat. He was soon approached by the German police with orders for draft maps and documents. Joseph also created fake identity cards for many Jews, often saving their lives. When his daughters asked him years later why he did not use his skills for his own benefit, he replied: "So that I could continue to help others...".

After the liquidation of the Kraków ghetto in March 1943, Joseph, his brother Marcel and their parents were sent to the Nazi German camp in Płaszów. He continued to use his talents in the camp – working as a draftsman and electrician. "After hours" he drew anti-Nazi drawings and wrote poems, which he hid in his bag.

In the Płaszów camp, Joseph Bau met his future wife – Rebecca of the Tennenbaums He described this in his book Dear God, Have You Ever Gone Hungry? containing his memories and reflections from the Second World War:

"Once, when I was working at the 'Bauleitung', I was standing in front of the office and making sun prints. I pointed the plan laid out on light-sensitive paper, enclosed in a large frame, towards the overcast sky, but the sun was in no rush to look at it from between the clouds. I fidgeted nervously – never before had I looked forward to the sun as much as I did that day, never before had the sun been so important to me. I didn't know how to explain to the German 'Baulaiter', who was a great specialist in murder but had no idea at all about construction... how to explain to him that without the sun, these 'important' plans could not be copied. At that historic moment, a clerk in a striped dress came out of the office, stopped in front of the frame seeking the ultra-red rays and asked: 'What are you doing?'. 'Ma'am... ' I replied to her '...I am waiting for the sun, but it doesn't want to see me, perhaps you will kindly take its place?' – this is how I met my wife Rebecca."[1.5]

Shortly afterwards, the lovers were married at the camp. The ceremony took place in the women's section of the Płaszów camp and was presided over by the groom's mother. The bride and groom's rings were made from a silver spoon, which Joseph bought for "four loaves of bread"[1.6]. These events inspired Steven Spielberg to include a similar scene in the film Schindler's List.

In the summer of 1944, when the liquidation of the Płaszów camp began, Joseph Bau was on the list of people sent to the subcamp of the Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp in Brünnlitz. During the last months of the war, he was an employee of Oskar Schindler's factory, which had been relocated from Kraków. At the same time, Rebecca was sent to the Auschwitz camp.

After the war, the couple reunited in Opava in the Czech Republic. They returned to Kraków. On 14 February 1946, they made their marriage official, and the following year their first daughter was born – Halina (Hadasa).

In 1946, Bau resumed his studies at the Higher School of Visual Arts in Kraków. After its merger with the Academy of Fine Arts, he studied, among others, with Tadeusz Kantor.

In September 1950, after Joseph graduated, the Bau family emigrated to Israel, where a second daughter was born – Clila. Joseph was involved in the production of animated films and opening credits for Israeli films. He also wrote books: Zimne pozdrowienie (1971), Okrągły trójkąt (1976), Dear God, Have You Ever Gone Hungry? (1982), Przymierze słów (1987).

He died on 26 May 2002 in Tel Aviv.

After their father's death, the daughters found out about Joseph Bau's cooperation with Mossad in the preparation of false documents for special agents[1.7].

At 9 Berdichevsky Street in Tel Aviv, there is a museum dedicated to Joseph Bau organised by his daughters in the artist's original studio[1.8].

 Piotr Ostrowski

The article is based, inter alia, on an account given by the daughters of Joseph and Rebecca Bau – Hadasa Bau and Clila Bau – as part of the Polish Roots in Israel project.

Polish Roots in Israel: Hadasa and Zlila Bau about their father Joseph Bau in Kraków 

Polish Roots in Israel: Hadasa and Zlila Bau about their mother Rebecca Bau in Kraków 



Personal data forms of people to be displaced from Kraków – Archive of the Jewish Historical Institute, File No. 218/34/9A/8.
Personal data forms of people to be displaced from Kraków – Archive of the Jewish Historical Institute, File No.  218/34/8/27.
Bau J., Dear God, Have You Ever Gone Hungry?: Memoirs, Kraków 2006.
Bednarek M., Gawron E., Jeżowski G., Zbroja B., Zimmerer K., Kraków czas okupacji 1939-1945, Kraków 2010.
Księga adresowa miasta Krakowa i województwa krakowskiego z informatorem m. st. Warszawy, wojew. kieleckiego i śląskiego. Rocznik 1933/1934 [Address book of the city of Kraków and the Kraków Voivodeship with a guidebook of the city of Warsaw, the Kielce and Silesian voivodeships. For years 1933/1934, [online], [Accessed 14 February 2023]
Owoc T. People from Schindler's list. Joseph Bau, Kraków 2012.
The Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names, Abraham Adolf Bau [online], [Accessed 14 February 2023].
The Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names, Cila Cipra Bau [online] [Accessed 14 February 2023].
USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, Yoseph B’au [online] [Accessed 16 February 2023].




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