The content of this painting violates our surmise of what such a title usually intends. The boy who grew up in pre-war Vilna with an intact family is not the same as the one who survived the catastrophe remembering a murdered father and ruined community. The Holocaust has shattered the notion of a unified self. Indeed, the center of the picture is dominated not by the face of the living boy, but by the replica of the dead one, taken from the most famous photograph to emerge from the disaster. It reveals a frightened child, hands raised, being led from what might have been his hiding place in the Warsaw ghetto. His is a "counter-portrait," though the two likenesses are really inseparable, since the fate of the boy who was Bak is intimately linked to the to the doom of the victim whose image is imprinted on a crude assemblage of panels and canvas. On the left are some wooden cutouts of the posture that will be reproduced, the bullet-holes in the palms changing on the portrait into the stigmata of a crucified Christ. One of the muted themes of the entire series is the question of Christian responsibility for the destruction of European Jewry. The boy has only to straighten his arms to assume a cruciform position. At his elbow joint are two pieces of wood in the form of a tilted cross, though their X-shape also suggests the mystery of iniquity and as a Roman numeral 10 the defilement of the ten commandments.
other challenges, these paintings invite us to read their signs as complex
visual images of strands of atrocity that will be rewoven into a tapestry
of art. The rhythms of creation must somehow absorb the jagged heritage
of loss. Like the ghost of Hamlet's father, the figure of the dead with
raised arms imposes a blessing-curse on the seated child: "Remember
me!" Whatever he achieves in the future, the living boy will be haunted
by the memory of all the lost childhoods, including his own. The implement
in his hand, presumably the shaft of a paintbrush, is a harbinger of his
vocation, though Freudian commentators might also want to see in this
detail a bond between creative and sexual energy....