Holocaust center in Greensburg honors survivor who became artist

| Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Artist Samuel Bak said after more than 60 years, he remains eternally grateful for the courage of a nun, priest and others at a Benedictine convent who helped save him and his mother from the Holocaust.

“This readiness of people to do good at such a price, and in a time of so much evil, is something that has remained with me,” he said.

At the 25th annual Kristallnacht Remembrance Service Tuesday night at Seton Hill, Bak received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the university.

The service hosted by the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education commemorates the events of the “Night of Broken Glass” on Nov. 9-10, 1938, in which state-organized riots in Germany and Austria saw synagogues burned, Jewish homes and businesses vandalized and many killed. Kristallnacht is regarded as the start of the Holocaust.

Bak said services such as the one at Seton Hill foster a collective memory informed by personal memories, Bak said.

“It has to spark something and contribute to the knowledge of history, and history is what the collective memory is, after all,” he said.

Bak, born in Vilna, Lithuania, in 1933, had the first exhibition of his drawings at age 9 while living in the Vilna ghetto. Six thousand Jews were forced into the ghetto when it was formed in a neighborhood that previously was home to 70,000 Jews.

By reflecting on the themes in Bak's art, future generations can learn from the past, said Sister of Charity Gemma DelDuca, co-director of the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education in Israel, who introduced Bak at the service.

“Artist Samuel Bak takes it upon himself to bear witness to the things that happened in those times, so that human beings today and those of tomorrow are spared a similar destiny on earth,” she said.

After surviving the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews across Europe were killed by the Nazis, Bak emigrated to Israel in 1948 and studied art in Jerusalem and Paris.

After a 50-year career, Bak and his artwork have been the subject of articles, scholarly works, two documentaries and 15 books. He published his own memoir, “Painted in Words,” in 2001.

After Bak accepted the degree, statements were given by Pittsburgh-area Holocaust survivors and eight candles were lit — six to represent the Jews who were killed, the seventh representing those who risked their lives to save their neighbors and the eighth for those who suffered for “the crime of being different.”

The center at Seton Hill will host an exhibition of 20 pieces by Bak through Nov. 15 at Harlan Gallery on campus called “Illuminations: The Art of Samuel Bak.”

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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