Renowned Artist Samuel Bak to be Recognized with Honorary Degree at Kristallnacht Remembrance Service
For the 25th consecutive year, The National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education (NCCHE) at Seton Hill University will host the interfaith Kristallnacht Remembrance Service on Tuesday, November 6, at 6 p.m. in Seton Hill University’s Saint Joseph Chapel, located in the Administration Building on the University’s hilltop campus in Greensburg, Pa. Artist Samuel Bak will be recognized and presented with a Doctor of Fine Arts degree at the service.
Born in Vilna, Lithuania, in 1933, Bak had the first exhibition of his drawings at the age of nine in the Vilna ghetto. Having survived its destruction, he emigrated in 1948 to Israel. He studied at the Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem and at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Subsequently he lived and worked in Rome, Tel Aviv, New York and Lausanne. In an artistic career spanning more than 50 years, Bak has had numerous exhibitions in major museums, galleries, and universities throughout Europe, Israel and the United States. Since 1993 he has resided with his wife, Josée, in the Boston area. Bak has been the subject of numerous articles, scholarly works and 15 books, most notable a monograph entitled “Between Worlds.” In 2001 he published his touching memoir, “Painted in Words,” which has been translated into several languages. He has also been the subject of two documentary films and was the recipient of the 2002 German Herkomer Cultural Prize.
“Israeli author Amos Oz noted that Samuel Bak is ‘one of the greatest painters of the twentieth century’ and goes beyond erecting a ‘memorial to the Shoah, which means annihilation in Hebrew and the slaughtered Jewish people…above all he presents a personal, a unique world,’” said Sister Gemma Del Duca, S.C., Ph.D., founder and co-director in Israel of Seton Hill’s National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education. “We at Seton Hill University feel privileged to confer on this extraordinary artist and Holocaust survivor an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree. In this 25th anniversary year of the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education, at our Kristallnacht Interfaith Service of Remembrance, Samuel Bak will be with us in person, and that will be a special occasion. But his art filled with sense of terror, twisted time, even theological protest painted in vivid colors and shapes will continue to be a part of our vision of the Shoah. His work challenges and inspires us to continue through the arts our work of Holocaust education.”
Much of Bak’s art is influenced by his experiences of surviving the Holocaust as a child in Vilna. Bak said, “I certainly do not make illustrations of things that happened. I do it in a symbolic way, in a way which only gives a sense of a world that was shattered…”
“Samuel Bak tells the story of the dehumanization of the Holocaust through images of distant landscapes and desolate villages, through subjects transposed from the painful photographs of actual victims and through striking symbolic and visual metaphors, recounting humanity’s most desperate moments,” said JoAnne Boyle, president.
The NCCHE is hosting an exhibit featuring 20 original pieces of work by Bak, "Illuminations: The Art of Samuel Bak,” through November 15. The themes of Bak’s work include questions of identity, responsibility, the challenges of justice and the difficulties of rebuilding what was destroyed.
Carol Brode, director, Harlan Gallery, commented, “In Bak’s own words, ‘…the world of the inhuman human condition, turned out to be the ongoing subject of my paintings.’ These issues pose difficult questions to the viewer for which there are no easy answers, but also encourage us to engage in active dialogue and contemplation, gain insight and ultimately work towards creating a better world.”
The artist and his wife, Josée, together with Sue and Bernie Pucker, donated the paintings for exhibition at the Brookline, Mass. Headquarters of Facing History and Ourselves. The collection, which is intended to be shared across North America as part of an important educational resource for work with educators and students, is on loan to Seton Hill University.
Also participating in the Kristallnacht Remembrance Service are Holocaust survivors Shulamit Bastacky, Francine Gelernter, Solange Lebovitz, Fritz Ottenheimer and Sam and Goldie Weinreb, all of Pittsburgh, Pa.
The Kristallnacht Remembrance Service is open to the public. Guest parking will be available in the employee parking lot; a shuttle will provide transportation to the Administration Building. For more information on the Kristallnacht Remembrance Service, please call the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education at 724-830-1033.
More than 70 years ago, on November 9 and 10, 1938, the Nazis burned synagogues, looted Jewish homes and businesses and murdered individuals throughout Germany, Austria and other Nazi controlled areas in a pogrom known as Kristallnacht, “the night of broken glass.” The allusion is to the broken glass that littered the ground from the shattered windows of Jewish-owned businesses. This organized night of violence resulted in the deaths of 91 Jews, physical brutality toward many individuals, arrest of 30,000 Jewish males and the desecration or destruction of 267 synagogues.
Seton Hill University’s National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education (NCCHE) was established on the campus of Seton Hill University in 1987. Seton Hill initiated this national Catholic movement toward Holocaust studies in response to the urging of Pope John Paul II to recognize the significance of the Shoah, the Holocaust, and to “promote the necessary historical and religious studies on this event which concerns the whole of humanity today” (Letter to Archbishop John L. May, 1987). The NCCHE has as its primary purpose the broad dissemination of scholarship on the root causes of anti-Semitism, its relation to the Holocaust and the implications from the Catholic perspective of both for today's world. Toward this end the Center is committed to equipping scholars, especially those at Catholic institutions, to enter into serious discussion on the causes of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust; shaping appropriate curricular responses at Catholic institutions and other educational sites; sustaining Seton Hill's Catholic Institute for Holocaust Studies in Israel through a cooperative program with Yad Vashem, the Isaac Jacob Institute for Religious Law and Hebrew University; encouraging scholarship and research through conferences, publications, workshops for educators, and similar activities; sponsoring local events on the Holocaust and related topics in the University and the community and enhancing Catholic-Jewish relations.