On 12 August, Samuel Bak is born, in Vilna, to an educated, cultured middle-class family.
On 24 June, the Germans occupy Vilna and order the Jews to don the yellow Jewish Badge. Bak, aged 8, is charged with preparing badges for his parents and extended family.
On 6 September, the deportation of Jews to the Vilna Ghetto is initiated. Samuel’s father is sent to a labor camp while the child and his mother flee the ghetto to the home of Janina Rushkevich, his grandfather’s sister who had been baptized in her youth. Janina finds shelter for the family in the city’s Benedictine convent, where the nun Marija Mikulska takes the child under her wing and supplies him with paint and paper.
When the Germans suspect the convent of collaborating with Soviet forces, they place it under military jurisdiction. The Bak family is forced to flee again, returning to the Vilna Ghetto.
In March, the poets Avrom Sutzkever and Szmerke Kaczerginski invite the nine-year-old Bak to participate in an exhibition organized in the ghetto. Sensing that their end is near, the poets decide to deposit the Pinkas, the official record of the Jewish community, into the hands of Bak in the hope that they both survive. Paper is a precious commodity and the white pages of the Pinkas beckon the young artist: he uses them to satisfy his craving to draw. Over the next two years, Samuel fills the page margins and empty pages of the Pinkas.
Bak’s father is sent to the forced labor camp HKP 562, named after a unit of the Wehrmacht’s Engineering Corps (Heeres Kraftfahr Park). Samuel and his mother are sent to the camp later, upon the liquidation of the ghetto, on 24 September.
On 27 March, a children’s Aktion takes place in the camp in which 250 children are sent to their death. Bak’s mother takes advantage of the confusion in the camp to flee while Samuel hides under a bed in the living quarters of one of the camp buildings. A few days later, his father smuggles him out of the camp in a sack of sawdust. Outside, by a pre-arranged signal, he links up with a woman waving his mother’s scarf. Janina Rushkevitch saved the family again, sending her maid with the mother’s scarf to fetch the child. Samuel and his mother are forced to look for shelter. Again, they make their way to the Benedictine convent, where they find shelter for 11 months, until liberation.
On 2-3 July, forced laborers rounded up at the city’s camps, among them his father, are shot to death in Ponary, ten days before Vilna’s liberation.
After liberation, Bak takes art lessons with Prof. Serafinovicz. As pre-war Polish citizens, the family has the right to return to Poland and so move to Lodz. Bak begins to study with Prof. Richtarski.
After a short time in Berlin, Samuel and his mother arrive at the Landsberg Displaced Persons Camp. They are greeted by survivor Natan Markowsky, who holds a senior position in the camp’s administration, and will later become Samuel’s stepfather.
Bak is sent to Munich to study with Prof. Blocherer. He frequents the city’s museums and becomes familiar with German expressionism.
David Ben-Gurion visits Bad Reichenhall, where an exhibition of the art of the child prodigy, Samuel Bak, is organized in his honor. Bak’s art is published in the Hebrew newspaper, Davar HaShavuah, and the Yiddish Forverts in New York.
Aged fifteen, Samuel arrives in Israel aboard the “Pan York”, carrying with him many artworks from the Landsberg DP camp.
Prior to military service, he studies for one year at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design.
1953 – 1956
Military service in the I.D.F.
Meets Peter Frye, then one of Israel’s most prominent theater directors, who prompts him to design backdrops and costumes.
Moves to Paris and enrolls at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
Moves to Rome. That summer he has a one-man show at the Robert Schneider Gallery in Rome and exhibits at the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh.
1964 Exhibits at the Venice Biennale.
1966 – 1974
Returns to Israel.
1974 – 1977
Lives and works in New York.
1977 – 1980
Lives and works in Israel.
1980 – 1984
Lives and works in Paris.
1984 – 1993
Lives and works in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Settles in Boston, Massachusetts and is represented by the Pucker Gallery.
It is only in 2001 that Bak returns to Vilna for the first time. During the following years he often visits his hometown.
Many exhibitions of his artwork are held in leading museums and galleries both in the United States and Europe.