Josef Nassy was born in 1904 in Paramaribo, Suriname (the Dutch Guiana.) He was the seventh of nine children. His father Adolf was a prosperous businessman and member of Parliament. He was a descendant of Jews who fled Spain during the Inquisition, and spoke Yiddish, but was not religious. Josef was also of African descent. In 1919, Josef joined his father, in New York. He had taken art classes since a child, and now attended the Pratt Institute. He received a degree in industrial electrical engineering and worked in London and Paris installing movie theatre sound systems. In 1938, he attended the Academie des Beaux Arts in Brussels, Belgium, to study painting. Nassy was earning a living as a portrait artist when World War II began. In May 1940, Nazi Germany invaded and occupied Belgium. Josef was arrested in April 1942 as an enemy national, as he had an American passport. Nassy was held in Beverloo transit camp in Leopoldsburg, Belgium, before being transferred to Laufen internment camp and its subcamp Tittmoning. While imprisoned, Nassy was supplied with art materials by the International YMCA. He created more than 200 paintings and drawings chronicling the people and the appearance of the camp, with works featuring the barbed wire, watch towers, and prison bars. The United States Army liberated Laufen internment camp on May 5, 1945. Nassy passed away in 1976.