While interned by the Nazis in Belgium and Bavaria during World War II, the little-known Surinamese artist Josef Nassy (1904–76) created a series of paintings and drawings documenting his experiences and those of other black prisoners. Nassy’s artworks uniquely register the presence of Caribbean, African, and African American prisoners in the Nazi camp system. While the Nassy Collection at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum cannot render transparent a wartime experience that has gone largely unrecorded, it illustrates how shifting from a textual to a visual lens can enable an unremembered history to enter our field of vision, thereby generating an alternative wartime narrative. After tracing Nassy’s family history in Suriname and the conditions of his European incarceration, this essay discusses two paintings that demonstrate the significance of visual art in the context of black civilian internment—for both the artist-prisoner and the researcher.
Making History Visible: Caribbean Artist Josef Nassy’s Visual Diary of Nazi Internment
Sarah Phillips Casteel is a professor of English at Carleton University, where she is cross-appointed to the Institute of African Studies. She is the author of Calypso Jews: Jewishness in the Caribbean Literary Imagination (2016) and the coeditor, with Heidi Kaufman, of Caribbean Jewish Crossings: Literary History and Creative Practice (2019). She is currently writing a study of literary and visual representations of black victims of Nazi persecution.
Sarah Phillips Casteel; Making History Visible: Caribbean Artist Josef Nassy’s Visual Diary of Nazi Internment. Small Axe 1 March 2021; 25 (1 (64)): 28–46. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/07990537-8912768
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