blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2023  Vol. 21  No.3
an online journal of literature and the arts
Josef Čapek

Josef Čapek (1887–1945) was a noted Czech painter, illustrator, writer, and book cover designer. He collaborated on many projects with his brother Karel Čapek and is credited by Karel with introducing to the world the word “robot” to describe an artificial laborer in the play R.U.R. Karel had been named by the Gestapo as “public enemy number two” before his death in 1938; so too Josef drew the attention of the Gestapo for his political stance and for caricatures published in Lidové noviny, a newspaper where he was, for eighteen years, an editor and critic. In September of 1939 he was arrested by the Gestapo and transferred first to Dachau, then to Buchenwald. There for two and half years, he was assigned to a calligraphic workshop where he painted family trees of SS officers. He was moved to Sachsenhausen in June of 1942 and there both translated and wrote poetry. His final move in February of 1945 was to Bergen-Belsen in the midst of a typhoid epidemic. He is said to have died shortly before the liberation of the camp, but his body—sought by his widow Jarmila Čapková who traveled to Bergen-Belsen after the war—was never located.  end