“Art of the Survivors” Exhibit Re-frames Remembrance

By Melissa Gorelick

When Joseph Bau, a young Polish artist and newly arrived prisoner, was made a draftsman at the Plaszow Concentration Camp, he realized that art would save his life. The camp’s Nazi leaders put him to work drafting signs and letters for the party. However, Mr. Bau had other plans for his ingenuity. From a potato, he fashioned a stamp with which to forge his fellow inmates’ escape papers. With brushes and paints, he created playing cards that he secretly distributed to keep spirits up. Sketch by secret sketch, he also began to document life at the camp, stashing these records away in the secret compartments of his work cases.

Today, Mr. Bau’s raw impressions of the Holocaust represent some of the only art to have survived concentration camp life. His work joins that of David Friedman, whose portraits of inmates were the only artwork to survive Auschwitz, Henny de Brito and Hanka Kornfeld-Marder, in the exhibit “Art of the Suvivors” displayed at the United Nations Headquarters. Between 27 January and 22 February, visitors to the UN can view a wide range of Holocaust art, including Bau’s books and playing cards, Friedman’s portraits, and the work perhaps least acknowledged – that of survivors coming to terms with the horrors of their experiences.