Thou shalt not kill

Israel, New York, Paris, Lausanne, Boston 1970-1999

The sixth of the Ten Commandments given the Israelites on Mt. Sinai – “Thou shalt not kill” – has repeatedly been violated in human history, yet never as systematically or as cold-bloodedly as against the Jews in the Holocaust. In face of the genocide of the Jewish people, artist Samuel Bak ponders not only man’s wickedness and the injustice of murdering the innocent, but he also grapples with another fundamental query – God’s silence despite the commitment of the Covenant.

This question continued to distress the artist over the years, and, as a result, Mt. Sinai, in all its symbolism, appears in many works, especially of the 1970s. Unmistakably, the event does not inhere in the European landscape; the Jewish People had their beginnings in the desert vistas abutting the Land of Israel.

In 1999, Bak returned briefly to the subject of Mt. Sinai, but now with a new and interesting approach. This Mt. Sinai depicts neither tablets nor graves – it depicts the figure of a child, his arms raised in surrender, the child with arms uplifted as if they were nailed to a cross. This is the well-known icon of the Warsaw ghetto boy murdered in the death camp of Treblinka. Complete identification with him causes Bak to wonder about his own better fate, the fact that he, Samek Bak, survived. The child, Bak, continues to wonder when he will make up with the Creator, when he will hear an Apology, and when he will cease to doubt the Covenant.