In a recent piece for Newsweek titled “Life Isn’t Beautiful,” Cynthia Ozick took aim at “fraudulent” Holocaust art, which, in her estimation, includes films such as Roberto Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful,” Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” and especially Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds,” which Ozick called “a defamation, a canard.”
But not all Holocaust art is a lie, she wrote. On Ozick’s list of truthful artists are such writers as Paul Celan, Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi, as well as a lesser-known painter, Samuel Bak, whom Ozick praises for his “astounding visionary surrealism.”
A survivor of the Vilna Ghetto and a Nazi labor camp, Bak has been painting colorful, hallucinatory paintings since the 1960s, when he broke with the prevailing, non-figurative art trends of the day. While much of his work has addressed the Holocaust in a symbolic way, many of his most recent paintings, which depict the famous ‘Warsaw Ghetto Boy,’ come closer to a more literal approach.