Samuel Bak

Samuel Bak Vilna, Poland 1933 – Samuel Bak was born on August 2, 1933 in Vilna (or Vilnius), Poland. A few years later the area was incorporated into the independent republic of Lithuania. He was eight when the Germans invaded in 1941 and established a ghetto for the Jewish population. At first he and his parents hid in a local monastery; when the Germans grew suspicious, they escaped to the ghetto. Bak began painting while still a child, and prompted by the well-known Yiddish poet Abraham Sutzkever held his first exhibition (in the Vilna ghetto) in 1942 at the age of nine. From the ghetto the family was sent to a labor camp on the outskirts of the city. His mother escaped and took refuge with a distant relative who had converted to Christianity and was living undetected in Vilna. Then Bak’s father managed to save his son by dropping him in a sack out of a ground floor window of the warehouse where he was working; he was met by a maid and brought to the house where his mother was hiding. His father was shot by the Germans in July 1944, a few days before Soviet troops liberated the city. His four grandparents had earlier been executed at the killing site outside Vilna called Ponary. After the war, the young Bak continued painting at the Displaced Person camp in Landsberg, Germany (1945 – 1948), where he also studied painting in Munich. In 1948, he and his mother immigrated to Israel, where he studied for a year at the Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem. After fulfilling his military service, he spent three years (1956 – 1959) at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He then moved to Rome (1959 – 1966), returned to Israel (1966 – 1974), and lived for a time (1974 – 1977) in New York City. There followed years in Israel and Paris, then a long stay (1984 – 1993) in Switzerland. Since 1993 Bak has lived and worked outside Boston, in Weston, Massachusetts. Samuel Bak’s paintings have been exhibited in museums and galleries and hang in public collections in England, the United States, Israel, Germany and Switzerland. Many recent works may be viewed at the Pucker Gallery in Boston. (Professor Lawrence Langer) Bak continues to deal with the artistic expression of the destruction and dehumanization which make up his childhood memories. He speaks about what are deemed to be the unspeakable atrocities of the Holocaust, though he hesitates to limit the boundaries of his art to the post-Holocaust genre. He creates a visual language to remind the world of its most desperate moments. Bak feels the necessity to remember and take it upon himself to bear witness to the things that happened in those times, so that human beings today and those of tomorrow, if it were only possible, are spared a similar destiny on earth. So he has chosen the way of creating images of a seeming reality, imbuing them with a multitude of layers, from clear and unknown symbols to the most private and intimate feelings of a world that has its own apparent logic. Bak hopes that the complexity of his paintings might go beyond  his private story and beyond the vicissitudes that mark the Jewish people and their fate.