Information from the net;
Shmuel Bak began his artistic career as a "vunderkind" of the Vilna
Ghetto, attracting the support and admiration of such cultural
luminaries as Avrom Sutzkever, Shmerke Kaczerginski, and Herman Kruk.
In 1941 both of Bak's grandfathers were taken to the Ponar forest
where they were shot, together with other Jews. On the following Yom
Kippur holiday, both his grandmothers were also taken to that forest
and executed. Bak's father was shot by the Nazis a few days before the
liberation of the Vilna ghetto. Bak and his mother managed to survive
the liquidation of the ghettos and the labor camps by hiding
successfully during the German occupation. Since surviving those
perilous years, he's become a world renowned painter who has had over
200 solo exhibitions throughout the world.
Samuel Bak, Painter. b. 1933, Vilna. Immigrated 1948. Studies:
Bezalel, Jerusalem; Beaux Arts, Paris. 1959-1966 Lived in Italy where
he developed his style. Prize: 1956 America-Israel Cultural
Foundation. From 1993 living in U.S.A.
Samuel Bak was born in 1933 in Vilna, Poland and was recognized from
an early age as possessing extraordinary artistic talent. As Vilna
came under German occupation in 1941, Bak and his family moved into
the Vilna ghetto, and later to a labor camp, from which he was
smuggled and given refuge in a monastery. At the end of the war, his
mother and he were the only members of his extensive family still
Bak has spent his life dealing 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. He has created a visual language to remind the world of
its most desperate moments.
Samuel Bak's lecture, delivered at the International Colloquy about
the Holocaust and the Arts, which took place at the European
Parliament in Strasbourg in October 2002.
SPEAKING ABOUT THE UNSPEAKABLE
Allow me to introduce myself: my name is Samuel Bak, I am a painter.
"Speaking about the unspeakable" is the title of a documentary film on
my art that was recently produced in the US. I have rightly given
today's talk the same name. It will concern a number of paintings that
I have selected from a large body of my work. All are a response to
the miracle of my survival. More precisely, these paintings are a
visual statement born of an ever-growing need to deal with my
experience of having come through the horrors of the Holocaust, and of
having done it by age eleven. The images that you will see have
matured over a long span of time. Was this indelible experience the
sole inspiration for these canvases? I can't say. The creative process
is a matter of such complexity that conscious intentions often eclipse
subconscious needs. This question must remain open.
I was born in Vilna in 1933, in a city that then belonged to Poland.
It is now Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. A place so famous for its
institutions of learning that it was called the Jerusalem of
Lithuania. The members of my family were mostly secular, but were
proud of their Jewish identity. The year 1939 ( Nazi occupation of the
Vilna area; 1941) shattered what had been for me a child's happy
paradise. Irrevocably, I was marked by traumatizing experiences --
brutal changes of regime, Nazi occupation, ghetto, murderous
"aktionen," labor camps, moments of great despair, escapes, and
periods of hiding in unthinkable places. I lost many of my beloved
ones, but my mother and I pulled through. She provided me with a
shield of so much love and care that it must have saved my psyche.
When in 1944 the Soviets liberated us, we were two among two hundred
of Vilna's survivors -- from a community that had counted 70 or 80
thousand. This was not the end of our personal struggle, for there
followed a dangerous escape from the Soviets and a long period of
waiting in the DP camps in Germany. I was fifteen when we arrived to
the newly established state of Israel in 1948, which was then battling
for its independence. On and off, I spent there some fifteen years of
During most of my last four decades, I have been indeed a wandering
Jew. I have lived and worked in Tel Aviv, Paris, Rome, and Lausanne,
and I presently reside in the US, in Boston. I have become a man who
is at home everywhere and nowhere, an artist whose real roots are in
the ground of his art. As I said earlier, and it may sound trite, I
know that what I have been painting comes from a compulsive need to
give meaning to the miraculous fact of my survival. It tries to
appease a sad sense of bewilderment. It comes from the fear that in a
world of unparalleled upheavals, things are never what they seem. My
work reveals a reality observed through the eyes of a child who had
suddenly aged. Some might call it elaboration of Trauma; I hope that
my art is more than that.
I feel that we live in a world polluted by triviality. The Holocaust
is a portentous subject. Artists who have chosen to deal with matters
of importance, who are questioning the existential dimensions of life,
death, good and evil, turn to the experience of the Shoah and believe
that their images will stir emotions and stimulate reflection. Visual
statements can be stronger than words. But the rhetoric of painting
has its limitations. Visual Arts are mostly physical, they require
places and spaces, and they can bear only so much moral weight.
Besides, certain experiences demand verbal expression.
For that reason I decided to complement my painterly output with a
verbal one. The result is a memoir entitled "Painted in Words."
Enthusiastically prefaced by Amos Oz it was published in 2001 by
Indiana University Press. My book is now part of a tuition program
that trains American teachers to bring to their students the lesson of
the Holocaust. Its vast array of implications is analyzed via a
careful examination of literature, films, and the visual arts. As you
can see, the aim of my writing, the desire to bring a decimated world
back to life, at times with pain, sometimes with irony, and
unmistakably with humor, was very close to what I try to achieve
through my paintings.
For more information and for the paintings;