Holocaust survivor brings massive art collection to UNO


Megan Fabry

A painting by Samuel Bak. Image courtesy of University of Nebraska at Omaha.

World-renowned artist and Holocaust survivor Samuel Bak is showcasing his work in the Art Gallery at the Weber Fine Arts Building through Nov. 14.

Bak lived in the Vilna Ghetto in Poland and was sent to a forced labor camp in 1943. He was later smuggled out of the camp by his father and found shelter in a Benedictine convent until liberation in 1945.

From a young age, Bak’s artistic talents stood out. He first showcased his work when he was nine years old in the Vilna Ghetto. After the war ended, he enrolled in painting lessons at the Blocherer School in Munich and studied at the Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem. Since then, his pieces have been displayed in museums and galleries in Tel Aviv, New York, Paris and Rome.

Bak’s work weaves together personal history and Jewish history to explain his Holocaust experience. The 70 pieces on display include both paintings and drawings that form a narrative of the shattered, fragmented world filled with loss that he, and so many others, lived in during the Second World War.

Mark Celinscak, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Sam and Frances Fried Holocaust and Genocide Academy and the program chair that helped bring Bak’s work to the art gallery.

“It was a lot of work, but it has been enjoyable to work with such talented, insightful people,” Celinscak said. “It has also been wonderful to engage with so many students on the program. More than 1,400 middle and high school students have registered to tour the exhibition, not to mention many more UNO students and community members.”

Bak uses his art to tell stories and raise questions about human nature while encouraging those that view his art to work for a better world.

“His paintings bear testimony to the trauma of surviving,” Celinscak said. “And while clearly informed by his personal experiences, his work speaks to universal issues of life, loss, love and responsibility. Ultimately, the hauntingly beautiful, profoundly moving art of Samuel Bak inspires us all to be hopeful that we can make sense of the complex world we share.”