We are honoured to host a virtual exhibition of Saadia Bahat, a well-known Israeli sculptor with deep Lithuanian roots, a Holocaust survivor and simply one of the nicest people you could ever meet. Like all stories of Holocaust survivors, the story of Saadia Bahat is undoubtedly heartbreaking, yet it is also inspiring and teaches a lesson of how strong a person can be and how after having been through so much in life one can still create wonderful things.
The Early Years: a promising childhood in Alytus
Saadia Bahat was born in 1928 in Alytus, where he spent the first eleven years of his life. Factually, this is a very short period of time compared to all those other years he has spent in his new homeland, Israel. However, as the artist admits, these eleven years were and, perhaps, still are very important. “ […] this is almost the entire part of my life which I spent with my parents and family. I believe that those are the most important days when my character and personality were shaped”, says the artist in his speech “My Alytus”.
Saadia grew up in a very respectable family. His father, Mendel Bokšickis , was an ardent patriot of Lithuania and Alytus. Besides being a reputable lawyer who knew 10 languages, Mendel Bokšickis was also the founder and commander of the volunteer firefighting brigade in Alytus, and he was the one who invented underground water reservoirs, for which he became internationally acknowledged. In addition, he was a member of the city council for years and founded the Alytus police station which he even commanded for a while. Saadia’s mother, Sheine (Jenia) Kronzon-Bokšickienė, was a housewife, a very active member of the community and the Zionist women’s movement. She was all about the aesthetic side of the family’s life. Sheine enjoyed handiwork, was an excellent baker and a great cake decorator – she was well-known for her cakes in Alytus. As Saadia Bahat recollects, there were often different events hosted at their house, such as meetings of the town’s intellectuals and even dances. Sheine had her roots in Kalvarija, thus relatives from there would often come for a visit. Other relatives of the family lived right next to the Bokšickiai family and occupied a large part of Vilnius Street. It was a very big and loving family – growing up in such an environment was a real blessing.
In 1939 the family decided to move to Vilnius, for Mendel Bokšickis knew there would be a great demand for Lithuanian lawyers. The family lived on Pylimo Street 22. Saadia started attending Petras Vileišis school and even succeeded to study at the Vytautas Magnus Gymnasium for one year. However, with the beginning of World War II, everything fell apart.
Like all the Jews of Vilnius, the Bokšickiai family was forced into the Vilna Ghetto, where Mendel Bokšickis was murdered shortly after. Saadia, his mother and his sister Lila were left to pull through on their own. Surviving was a struggle: the Nazis killings, the constant malnourishment and lack of food… Yet the family managed to live. In September of 1943, before the liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto, Saadia was deported to Estonia. His mother and sister tried to go after him, but Lila was stopped by the police, while Sheine was allowed to lead him for 50 more meters. It was the last time Saadia saw his mother – she was sent to Paneriai.
In Estonia Saadia survived through five labour camps where he had to toil from dawn until dusk. He was one of the few who did not starve to death. In fact, it was art which saved him then: in one of the labour camps, someone approached him holding a beautiful carved wand and asked whether he could make another one, since the Germans needed it. Saadia said that he could try. Using a pocket knife, he carved a very similar wand, and then another one. For each wand he received half a loaf of bread, which prevented him from starving as much as other prisoners.
After Estonia, out of tens of thousands of Jews Saadia was among those who were sent to the Stutthof concentration camp. There, he and six more young boys were the only ones out of 514 people who were not forced into the Birkenau gas chambers. By a twist of fate, Saadia met his uncle who was sent to Stutthof from a Latvian camp. He then managed to exchange names and prisoner numbers, and under a false identity was sent to Danzig together with his uncle. It was their last destination as prisoners, because what followed was the liberation by the Russians.
After the liberation, Saadia and his uncle decided to go back to Lithuania. However, no one was allowed to board the train without a quarantine inspection, which would take weeks. Meanwhile, his uncle managed to send a letter to Kaunas and receive bad news – his wife and children were murdered at the Kaunas ghetto. Knowing there was no immediate family to come back to, they decided to head to Israel (then Palestine) where Saadia had another uncle and aunt.
Israel: a possibility to begin a new chapter
Saadia came to Palestine in February of 1946. He went to a school of agriculture and life seemed to be full of hope again. However, in less than two years the Israeli War of Independence broke out and once again Saadia’s life was endangered: the elite infantry in which he fought lost 23% of its fighters, yet once more Saadia pulled through and was among the survivors. After the war he helped to found a new Kibbutz and in a while decided to realize his dream of becoming an engineer. As the artist admits, he chose engineering over an art school because he felt it was his duty to contribute to the establishment of the new state as much as possible – it was a duty not only to his country, but also to his future children and grandchildren.
Saadia Bahat as a Palmach soldier during the Israeli War of Independence. 1948.
In 1955 Saadia married his wife Judy, and in 1956 received a degree in Mechanical Engineering. The following 37 years he worked as a research and development engineer and supervised some big projects. Along the way he became a happy father of 3 children and later a grandfather of 7 grandchildren.
Saadia Bahat’s Art
During his engineering career, Saadia would occasionally work on sculptures, but it was merely a hobby. On his 65th birthday and upon retirement, he took up the art of sculpture on a more serious level. Saadia started gaining his knowledge from books, later he took private courses in Haifa and then studied contemporary American art at Stanford University. Saadia’s acquaintance with art started with classical, figurative and primitive art. However, after reading countless books and visiting numerous museums across Europe and the USA, his artistic interest started to change – impressionism and expressionism became the approaches he was drawn to. Vincent van Gogh was his icon for years. Later the artist took interest in Amedeo Modigliani’s works, but eventually his interest advanced towards abstract art.
As much as the artist respects and acknowledges figurative art, at some point it stopped satisfying his artistic drive. As Saadia explains, figurative art is merely an interpretation of the surrounding environment – it could be compared to a musician performing a great composer’s piece, and while it can be a great performance, it is still an interpretation of something that had already existed. Saadia, on the other hand, was captivated by the idea of creating something new and unique. In defining his art, Saadia usually refers to Pablo Picasso’s words, who when once asked “What is that?” replied with “If I were able to explain it in words, I would not have even bothered to create it”. Likewise, Saadia Bahat does not create something he could easily explain. As the artist says, “My art comes from my inner vision. It could probably be defined as Individual Abstract Art”.
Speaking about his sources of inspiration, the artist refers to the shapes that appear in his imagination as well as the shapes of nature, their flow and movement or, on the contrary, their stability. As to other sources of inspiration, Saadia Bahat is largely influenced by the materials he is using, which are mainly stone, wood and metal. “I just love all of them”, he says. “The confrontation between the ‘character’ of the material and my own character and temperament is a very important factor in my creative process and its final results”. The main artistic excitement, as Saadia Bahat, says, come from turning a fantasy into something tangible, seeing how a piece of raw material receives a soul. The creative process is no less important to the artist: “I am enjoying the process of work as well. Even the noisy and dusty work with stone, handling big blocks and heavy tools, are part of my satisfaction. Hours behind the respiratory mask and ear plugs, partly shut off from the environment, have their own charm. […] After my long and awarding engineering career, the new one – of creating art, is a wonderful, additional blessing life lets me enjoy” (from Saadia Bahat’s speech “My Art”, May 2012).
It is a real honour and a great pleasure to present Saadia Bahat’s virtual exhibition here, on Northern Jerusalem’ website. The abstract sculptures, which are the products of the artist’s creative imagination, draw the spectators into a world of new realizations. The soft abstract forms as well as an excellently grasped spacial perception make it seem as though the sculptures are dancing in the air. Their completeness is appealing for the spectator’s perception, not a single patch on the sculptures was unattended by the artist. Stone, wood, metal – everything turns into clay in the artist’s hands, and the beauty of a simple rock is revealed. We hope that you enjoy viewing Saadia's works and get inspired by his story.
Awards and Exhibitions:
1996 Herman Struck Award by the city of Haifa, for “Stone&Fossils” sculpture.
1999 3rd prize at the International Stone Sculpture Symposium at Maalot.
2009 Herman Struck Award by the city of Haifa, for the "Marble Layers #2" sculpture.
2009 Premio alla Carriera, at "Imaginary Journeys" exhibition, Ferrara, Italy.
Large Scale Works:
1969 Sun Dial - Stainless st. mild st., 1.5m, Nes Ziona.
1977 "We shall remember them forever" - Concrete monument, 5m, Petach Tikva.
1979 "Strings" - Steel pipes, 4m, David Institute, Rafael.
1984 "Waves" - Stainless st. mild st., 1x2m, Stanford Univ., Ca. US.
1994 "Surprise in stone" - Atzmon Marble, 2m, Tzuriel. (Int. Stone Sculpture Symposium, Maalot).
1995 Memorial for the Dead Associates - Stainless steel, 2.5m, David Institute, Rafael.
1995 Memorial monument for Itzik Tzemach - Atzmon marble, 2.3m, Kibbutz Gaaton. small monument 0.8x1.3 m
1997 "Computer Whirl" - Assemblage of computer parts, 2.2m, Leshem Institute, Rafael.
1999 "The Strength and the Beauty of Stone" - Marble, 2.5m, Maalot. (Int. Symposium).
2000 "Semi Circles" - Hebron stone, 2.1 m, Netanya. (Sculptors' "Happening at the Seashore").
2001 "Shine" - Marmora marble, 2.2 m, "Manof" School.
2001 "Haifa Limassol - Twin Cities on a Common Sea" - Marmora marble, 2.65x1.5x.5 m, Limassol, Cyprus. (3rd Twin Cities Sculptors' Symposium).
2004 “Tziki” - Memorial monument to Zvi Bahat - Marmora marble, 1.6 m, Navy Garden, Haifa.
2005 Memorial monument for the WW2 Veterans - Basalt stone & Marmora marble, 1.4x1.7 m, Kiryat Bialik.
2005 "El Al" – Marmora marble. 1.6 m. "Rabin" high school. Kiryat Yam.
2006 "Sunrise – Sunset". Marmora marble. 2.3 m. Hakfar Hayarok institute.
2007 "Forward" – Marmora marble. 2.2 m. Netanya (International Stone Sculptors Symposium).
2008 Memorial for Yad Lebanim traffic circle. Marmora marble. 95x 165 cm. Kiryat Bialik.
1989 “Variations on the Theme of a Circle”, Beith Shagal, Artists’ Assoc., Haifa.
1995 "Combined Sculptures and Sculptures From the Rock Garden", G.O. Gallery, Haifa.
1998 "The Soul of the Material", Aba Hushi Cultural Center, Haifa.
1998 "1993 - 1998 Retrospective", Beith Shagal, Artists’ Assoc., Haifa.
1998 "Curator’s Selection", Ort Broide college, Carmiel (gallery shared with a painter).
2000 "Some Earlier and Entirely New Works", Cultural Center, Nesher.
2000 "The Addiction to Creativity", Beith Shagal, Artists' Assoc., Haifa.
2002 "As Clay In the Hands of the Artist", "Picasso" gallery, Castra Art Center, Haifa.
2002 "Continuation & Innovation", Kiryat Haim Cultural Center.
2002 "I am From the North", Hankin Design Gallery, Holon.
2003 “ Sculptures and Metamorphoses by Photoshop”, City Hall gallery, Carmiel.
2004 “Only on the wall”, Aba Hushi Cultulal Center, Haifa.
2004 “Ten years Retrospective”, Beith Shagal, Artists’ Assoc., Haifa.
2004 “Back to Beith Nagler – where all of it started”, Beith Nagler, Kiryat Haim.
2006 "To Reut with Friendship", "Reut" art school, Haifa.
2006 "Material & Fantasy". "Migdal" gallery, Tel Aviv.
2007 "Sculptures & Reliefs". The Water tower Gallery, Nahariya.
2008 "80 ; 15" ( 80th birthday & 15 years as professional artist). Beith Shagal, Artists' Assoc., Haifa.
2010 "Harmony in Reliefs and Sculptures", Cultural Center , Kiryat Chaim
2012 "Stone, wood and fantasy", Haifa Auditorium.
2012 “After 69 Years”, Arka Gallery, Vilnius, Lithuania.
2012 “After 73 Years”, Krastotyros Museum, Alytus, Lithuania
2012 “Harmony of shapes”, Cultural center, Ukmerge, Lithuania
2012 “After 69 Years”, National M.K. Ciurlionis Art Museum, M. Zilinskas art Gallery. Kaunas, Lithuania
2012 “Movement in Space”, Art and Culture Center, Petach Tikva.
Main Group Exhibitions and Large Scale Project Proposals: Constant participation in the yearly exhibitions & catalog of the Artists’ Assoc., regional exhibitions etc.
1990 International competition for “Jerusalem of Lithuania” monument. Vilnius, Lithuania. Honorary Mention. The model is now at the Yad Vashem museum, Jerusalem.
1994 "Israeli Sculptors’ Exhibition", Kibbutz Farod.
1995 Commemorative exhibition: 50th Anniversary of the End of W.W.2; 3000th Anniversary of Jerusalem. Haifa
1997 Exhibition of the H.Struck Award Winners, of the last 15 years. Beith Shagal.
1997 Proposal for a 9m tall, steel sculpture for the Open Air Museum of Tefen.
1998 Proposal and model for a monument to the Holocaust, at Bustan Hagalil.
1999 Holocaust Commemorative Exhibition. Beith Hatanach, Tel Aviv.
1999 Proposal and model for a monument to the "Sinai" Armored Division, at Latrun.
1999 "Israeli Artists Face The Millennium", Montserrat gallery, New York, USA.
2000 ArtLand gallery, Nakatsugawa City, Japan.
2002 Group carving of the "Peace Totem Pole" (13m tall), Ginosar.
2003 “Haifa greets Bad Hofgastein”, Bad Hofgastein, Austria.
2004 International, Sculpture Exhibition, Kameyama Sculpt. Garden, Seki City, Japan.
2005 "Song of the Strings", model and proposal for a 10 m tall sculpture.
2007 "International Sculpture Exhibition", City Museum of Gifu, Seki city, Japan.
2008 "Femina", Picasso Gallery, Kastra. "Like Mature Wine", Veterans of the Artists Assoc
2008 A sculptor & 3 painters, "Alternativ" gallery, Paris, France.
2009 4 weeks of work at "Danang International Sculpture Center", Vietnam
2009 "Imaginary Journeys" exhibition, Ferrara, Italy
2010 Exhibition at "Amsterdam Whitney" Gallery, Chelsea, New York, USA.
Source: material collected by Judith Rozina. Synthesized and translated by Northern Jerusalem.
Sources of images: Saadia Bahat's personal archive (family photographs) Sculpture pictures were kindly provided by the gallery "ARKA", website:
Saadia Bahat's homepage: http://s-bahat.com/