It was with the heaviest of hearts that The Anne Frank Center USA learned of the passing of Ina Soep Polak on May 14, 2014. She and her husband of almost 70 years, Jack Polak, AFC USA Chairman Emeritus, were dear friends and supporters of the Center from its inception – taking an active and dedicated role in every respect. Our hearts go out to Jack, their three children, Margrit, Tony, and Fred, as well as their grandchildren.
Anyone who knew Ina knew what a special person she was – and what an extraordinary life she lived. She was born Catharina Soep on January 3, 1923 in Amsterdam to Abraham and Tonie (nee Kaufmann) Soep. Abraham was a diamond manufacturer and Jewish communal leader; for several years he served as president of the Amsterdam synagogue. On Rosh Hashanah in 1943, three years after Holland surrendered to the Germans, she and her family were deported to Westerbork concentration camp. The move could only be described as serendipitous in one respect – she was assigned to barrack 64, the same barrack as her future husband Jack. 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. “And now I’m married to that girl for the last 61 years.”
After meeting again in Westerbork, the two spent the next year and some writing love letters to one another, which they published in 2000 in a collection entitled, Steal a Pencil for Me. Their story was later made into a documentary of the same name by Academy Award nominee Michèle Ohayon.
The two were eventually transferred at separate times to Bergen-Belsen, where Anne Frank perished. While Ina’s brother and Jack’s parents all died in the camps, Ina and Jack miraculously survived. After liberation, they once again reunited in Holland. By January 1946, they were married. In 1951, they moved to New York, where they raised three children, and became vital supporters of the Anne Frank Center USA.
“I think we could write another book and fill another book with the things that happened,” Ina told The New York Times. “Things will get lost if no one is there to talk about it.”