(Listen to the interview by pressing the PLAY button above)
For many decades, Samuel Bak didn't want to come back to Vilnius. It is a city where his father, grandparents and even his best friend, a child at the time, were killed.
But eventually, through an initiative of local Lithuanians, he returned to a place that formed his childhood memories. Now Vilnius hosts the Samuel Bak Museum, for which the painter donated more than 50 of his works.
Bak told his life story in a memoir “Painted in Words” published in 2001 and translated into many languages, including Lithuanian. This interview is a rare opportunity to hear Samuel Bak speak not through his paintings but through his words.
Bakas left Vilnius in 1945 when he was 12 years old. He lived in Israel, Switzerland, Italy and France, and eventually settled in the U.S. where he has lived since 1993. As someone who remembers life in Lithuania before the war, during the war, and after the war, Bak calls himself a “disappearing species.” Only around 5% of Lithuanian Jews survived the Holocaust.
“It is my duty to help not to let such horrors happen again.”
“Holocaust was a laboratory which tells you that human beings can do the best and the worst. It is not because they are born very good or very evil – there's no such thing. But they are brought up in very different ways,” the painter says in the interview.
Bak took his shivering memories and put them into his art. His first exhibition was in Vilnius Ghetto when he was only nine years old – and he has never stopped painting since then.
As Pucker Gallery in Boston puts it, “Bak's art depicts a world destroyed, and yet provisionally pieced back together, preserving the memory of the twentieth-century ruination of Jewish life and culture by way of an artistic passion and precision that stubbornly announces the creativity of the human spirit.”
Listen to the whole conversation at this episode of NARA podcast.