The Man Who Defeated Hitler With 'Love, Kisses and a Wedding'

A tribute to an extraordinary couple whose marriage helped them survive the camps.

On the flyleaf of his book “Dear God, Have You Ever Gone Hungry?” Joseph Bau wrote a dedication to his wife Rebecca: “Although times were hard then, only thanks to you was I able to draw and write… We married in great secrecy inside the camp, and now almost the entire world knows about it.”

This week marks the 70th anniversary of their wedding, which was held on February 13, 1944 in the Plaszow Concentration Camp near Krakow. The wedding was commemorated in Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust film “Schindler’s List,” but Bau provided a more reliable description in his book. He writes how one day he bought a silver spoon in exchange for four portions of bread. For another four portions of bread, the silversmith in the watchmakers’ workshop agreed to make two rings from the spoon, to be used as wedding rings. And in the evening a very small wedding was organized, without guests, without music, without fancy food and all the rest.

From there Joseph Bau went with his new wife to her barracks, in the women’s camp, in order to celebrate their wedding night. But there was no real celebration there. He was forced to disguise himself as a woman and trembled with fear when the Germans checked the barracks in search of men. In the end he managed to escape.

In Plaszow he worked as a graphic artist and a draftsman. His craft helped him save his life and the lives of hundreds of Jews, for whom he forged papers. Later he joined the group of Jews under the protection of German industrialist Oskar Schindler, whose now-famous efforts to save Jews earned him the title "Righteous Gentile."

Bau, Rebecca and their 3-year-old daughter immigrated to Israel in 1950. Once here, they had another daughter. Bau built a successful career as a designer, graphic artist and animator. He opened a graphics studio and a studio for animated films, where he created commercials, films and the titles for many films, including “Kazablan,” “Sallah Shabati and “Shmona Be’ikvot Ehad.” In addition, thanks to his technical talents he also worked for the Mossad.

This week, 70 years after the wedding in the camp, 40 years after the death of Oskar Schindler (to be commemorated in April), and 20 years after the film “Schindler’s List” was first screened in Israel, there will be a number of events open to the public. On Thursday at 6 PM at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque there will be a symbolic wedding of 18 couples. Some of Bau’s films will be shown and some of his work will be on display. On Friday morning the Polish ambassador will visit Bau’s grave in the Nahalat Yitzhak cemetery.

At the events they will tell the story of the Baus’ forbidden love affair, which began when the camp commander Amon Goeth ordered Bau to prepare a “sun print” map of Plaszow (a reproduction of a drawing made with light-sensitive paper and the heat of the sun). It was minus 20 degrees Centigrade outside and there was no sign of the sun.

“Suddenly a beautiful girl in a striped outfit came out, and asked him what he was doing,” said his daughter, Hadassah. “Father answered, ‘I’m waiting for the reluctant sun to come out. Could you, perhaps, take its place?’”

Behind the dry terms “the women’s camp” and “the men’s camp,” it seems, there was life. In addition to murder, hunger and fear, there was also romance, according to Bau. Despite the horror, life continued and love was forced to go underground.

“Father, who fought for love, didn’t agree to let the Germans take it away from him,” said Hadassah. “Just because men and women weren’t allowed to be together, just because they took his property and almost took his life as well, he refused to give up love.” His relationship with his wife was “supreme happiness, like light,” she said. “Every day when he came home he hugged and kissed her, saying to her: ‘Look how we defeated Hitler with all his army, his tanks and his evil - with love, kisses and a wedding.’”

Courtesy Bau family
Courtesy