Samuel Bak (born 12 August 1933 in Vilnius) is an American painter and writer who survived the Holocaust and immigrated to Israel in 1948. Since 1993, he has lived in the United States.
Samuel Bak was born in Vilnius, todays capital of Lithuania. In the interwar period Vilnus was ocupated by Poland. Bak was recognized from an early age as having an artistic talent. He describes his family as secular, but proud of their Jewish identity.
By 1939 when Bak was six years old, the war began and Vilnius was transferred from Poland to Lithuania. When Vilnius was occupied by the Germans on June 24, 1941, Bak and his family were forced to move into the ghetto. At the age of nine, he held his first exhibition inside the Ghetto. Bak and his mother sought refuge in a Benedictine convent where a Catholic nun named Maria Mikulska tried to help them. After returning to the ghetto, they were deported to a forced labour camp, but took shelter again in the convent where they remained in hiding until the end of the war.
By the end of the war, Samuel and his mother were the only members of his extensive family to survive. His father, Jonas, was shot by the Germans in July 1944, only a few days before Samuel's own liberation. As Bak described the situation, "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." Bak and his mother as pre-war Polish citizens were allowed to leave Soviet-occupied Vilnius and travel to central Poland, at first settling briefly in Lódz. They soon left Poland and traveled into the American occupied zone of Germany. From 1945 to 1948, he and his mother lived in Displaced Persons camps in Germany. He spent most of this period at the Landsberg am Lech DP camp in Germany. It was there he painted a self-portrait shortly before repudiating his Bar Mitzvah ceremony. Bak also studied painting in Munich during this period, and painted A Mother and Son, 1947, which evokes some of his dark memories of the Holocaust and escape from Soviet-occupied Poland.
In 1948, Bak and his mother immigrated to Israel. In 1952, he studied art at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. After serving in the Israel Defense Forces, he continued his studies in Paris (from 1956 at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts) and spent various periods of time in Rome, Paris, Switzerland and Israel before settling permanently in the United States.
In 2001, Bak returned to Vilnius for the first time and has since visited his hometown several times.
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