Bau was trained as a graphic artist at the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, Poland. His education was interrupted by World War II and he was transferred to the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp in late 1941. Having a talent in gothic lettering, he was employed in the camp for making signs and maps for the Germans. While in Plaszow, Bau created a miniature - the size of his hand - illustrated book with his own poetry. He also forged documents and identity papers for people who managed to escape from the camp.
During his imprisonment, Bau fell in love with another inmate, Rebecca Tennenbaum. They were secretly married, despite prohibition by the Germans, in the women's barracks of Plaszow. The history was dramatized in Steven Spielberg's Academy Award-winning movie Schindler's List, where he was played by Rami Heuberger. Bau himself appeared in the film's epilogue placing a stone on Oskar Schindler's grave in Jerusalem, along with his wife Rebecca.
After Płaszów, Bau was transferred to Gross-Rosen concentration camp and then to Schindler's camp where he stayed until the end of the war. After liberation, Bau graduated from the University of Plastic Arts in Kraków. In 1950, he immigrated to Israel together with his wife and three-year-old daughter, Hadassah, where their other daughter, Clila, was born. He worked as a graphic artist at the Brandwein Institute in Haifa and for the government of Israel. Bau opened his own studio in 1956 in Tel Aviv, which is now a museum managed by daughters Hadassa and Clila. He was well known for creating graphic fonts and drawing titles for almost all Israeli movies in the 1960s and 70s. At the same time, he authored a number of Hebrew books and continued to write poetry.
The English version of Joseph Bau's memoir, Dear God, Have You Ever Gone Hungry?, first published in Hebrew and Polish, came out in June, 1998 and was published in several versions (in Chinese, among others).
Joseph Bau also creates his own animated films, for which he has been referred to in the press as the "Israeli Walt Disney." His paintings and drawings have been listed by Sotheby's as significant contributions to the art of the Holocaust and his works have been shown in galleries in New York, Baltimore, Chicago, and Minneapolis.
Joseph Bau's art is filtered through the prism of his own experiences. It reflects both the brutal reality of life during the war, as well as the joy and humour he observed in later years in Israel. Joseph Bau was nominated for the prestigious Israel Prize in 1998.
- Joseph Bau's Home Page (English)
- Giuseppe Sedia, Josef Bau: Israel’s Walt Disney and Mapmaker of Hell, in The Krakow Post, 7 September 2012.