A number of expressionless faces blindfolded, bandaged, many eyeless, some with hats of the 1930s, glasses, masks, bullet-ridden helmets, comprise three fourths of the canvas.  Anything but a group portrait, these totally disconnected faces staring straight ahead are all on different planes. None are connecting with another. Remnants of crematorium smoke stacks and a burned city are the only visible detail in the upper fourth of the canvas, from which a series of tired male refugees, painted in a much smaller scale, appear to be walking down into the portrait.


Bak seems to attempt to reconstruct his personal generational family portrait from fragments of memory. Several figures from his family’s colorful history, soldiers who have come directly from the Yom Kippur War, and the boy with a cap. based on that famous photo of the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto, can be indentified and also continually reappear in his paintings. Thankfully Bak’s own words break the  silence and  speechlessness for us viewers: “Surrounded by all this struggle and disintegration, confronted with a civilization that seems to have rejected the knowledge of its past afflicted people gathers into this huge Family portrait. They look at us inquiringly, asking to be remembered.”  (p. 189)

Sharp contrasts in painterly style and expressive emotion would be Picasso's Guernica, though similar techniques such as provocative symbolism, fragments of figures, decomposition of objects and figures are utilized; or Sugimoto's Nisei Babies in Concentration Camp, where featureless babies are grouped behind a military policeman standing guard in a "relocation camp."


Painted in 1974, the year after the Israeli Yom Kippur War: “My memory, stirred by the recent Israeli conflict, began to supply visual material from a more distant war.” (p. 178)

Primary Source

Samuel Bak Between Worlds: Paintings and Drawings from 1946 to 2001 (Boston: Pucker Art Publications, 2002) pp. 178-181.