Margrit Polak, daughter of Dutch Holocaust Survivor Jaap and Ina Soep-Polak, will present the story of her parents, who fell in love in Westerbork, kept their love alive through writing notes in Bergen-Belsen, and eventually married and moved to the USA.
This story will be told in English on Saturday May 4 at 3.00 and 4.00 PM.
When Margrit was 18, she and her father discovered 130 letters written between him and her mother, chronicling their courtship in Westerbork and Bergen Belsen. She translated and annotated the letters which have subsequently been published as a book, filmed as a documentary and presented as an opera, all entitled Steal a Pencil for Me.
Ina Polak was the daughter of Abraham Soep, owner of the second largest diamond factory in Amsterdam. A member of the board of the Jewish Council, Soep was able to keep his daughter relatively safe in Westerbork, where she worked in the laundry rather than dismantling batteries, which was her original job. There she met Jaap Polak, who was unhappily married at the time. They had met years before at a birthday party, and Jaap remembered falling in love with her at first sight. When they met in Westerbork, Ina also fell in love. Ina and Jack exchanged notes in Westerbork, but in Bergen-Belsen, where Jack worked in the kitchen and stole food for her, the notes became their primary mode of communication.
Ina had an important job in the Diamond Camp of the Sternlager in Bergen-Belsen because she spoke German, and was assigned to record the meetings between the nazis and the Diamond Group as they planned the Diamond Camp in the Sternlager. In her Shoah Foundation Testimony, Ina remembers how the Diamond Group included the manufacturers, the workers from the biggest tycoons to the lowliest cutters – all in one barrack in Bergen-Belsen. The idea was to set up a diamond industry in Bergen-Belsen. Ina remembers the lady diamond cutters saying a chant every night, before they went to sleep: “Notwithstanding the whole day, or the disquieting information, Still we are a day closer to our liberation.”
Ina speaks about “the kind of spirit that people still kept.” For her husband, this spirit was first and foremost his love for Ina, who would become his wife after the war. Jaap helped found the Anne Frank Center in New York, USA, where he was chairman emeritus. He was knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in 1992 to honor him for his work telling the story of the Holocaust.
Margrit resides in Los Angeles with her husband, musician Harvey Shield. Margrit serves on the board of director for The Freedom Writer’s Foundation, and does work in Los Angeles to promote the legacy of Anne Frank.