The Anne Frank Center Mourns the Passing of
Jack Polak, 1912-2015

The Anne Frank Center USA is heartbroken over the passing of our Chairman Emeritus and former President Jack Polak on January 9, 2015. At 102, Jack had a very full life as a Holocaust survivor, husband, father, tireless advocate, and educator. His moral, mission-driven, and monetary support made the The Anne Frank Center USA of today possible. Born Jaap Polak on December 31, 1912, in Amsterdam, Jack was deported to Westerbork concentration camp in July of 1943. It was there – in barrack 64 – that he fell in love with his future wife of 70 years, Ina Soep. The two had met once a few months before at a party and began a courtship upon reuniting. “I thought what a beautiful girl,” Jack told The New York Times, who profiled the couple in 2007, about his first meeting with Ina, who passed away last May. The two married in January 1946. During their time in the camp, Jack and Ina wrote love letters to one another, which they later published in a collection entitled Steal a Pencil for Me. Their story was then made into a documentary of the same name by Academy Award nominee Michèle Ohayon. After emigrating to New York in 1951, where they raised three children, the two became fearless advocates for tolerance education, working closely with The Anne Frank Center USA and other organizations on countless occasions. “Jack and Ina would speak to thousands of school children all across the country, long after we all felt they should take it easier,” recalls Yvonne Simons, AFC-USA Executive Director. “They both loved interacting with children, and were later thrown into the movie circuit with the same energy when Steal a Pencil for Me was released. They’d go to each and every screening, always signing books and speaking about the horrors of the Holocaust and the lessons to be learned.” Over the years, Jack was honored by the United Jewish Appeal, Israel Bond Drive, and B’nai B’rith. He was a founding board member of the Westchester Holocaust Education Center and the NYS Commission on the Holocaust. In 2004, he received an honorary doctorate from Hofstra University and the NYS Louis E. Yavner Award for a NYS resident who has demonstrated distinguished contributions related to teaching the Holocaust and human rights. On his 80th birthday, Jack was knighted by Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands for his work as the president of the AFC-USA. On January 26, 2006 at the first annual International Day of Commemorating victims of the Holocaust, Jack and Ina were honored in a candle light ceremony at the United Nations General Assembly. Jack felt a particular kinship with Anne Frank not only because she too was a Dutch Jew, but because of her mission to spread a message of hope, tolerance, and courage around the world. Jack often summarized his life’s lessons into six simple rules:
1. Don’t discriminate
2. Don’t generalize
3. Don’t be a bystander
4. Do work for peace
5. Do enjoy the simple things in life
6. Do understand that we live in a wonderful country and that we all need to work together to make this a better world, which is only possible if we learn from horrible experiences like the Holocaust.
As Anne Frank does, Jack’s insights and legacy will continue to brighten our everyday. Our deepest condolences go to his children Margrit, Tony, and Fred, and his grandchildren.