Sheldon Kirshner

Steal a Pencil for Me

Michele Ohayon’s heart-felt documentary, Steal A Pencil For Me, now available on Netflix, is a highly unusual love story.

Jack (Jaap) Polak and Ina Soep, both Holocaust survivors from Holland, met in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam in 1943 and nurtured their relationship in two concentration camps, Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen, before getting married.

Due to class differences, they were not really destined to be a couple. Polak was from a working-class background, while Soep, 10 years younger, was the daughter of a wealthy diamond merchant.

After meeting Step, Polak did not expect to see her again. As fate would have it, they stayed in close touch through thick and thin.

Like the majority of Dutch Jews, Polak did not go into hiding. “We didn’t know how bad it would be,” he says in reference to the German occupation, which lasted from 1940 to 1945. Polak’s sister, Betty, had a premonition that the Germans would persecute Jews and joined the resistance movement.

In due course, Polak and his first wife, Manja, were sent to the Westerbork transit camp in Holland. By chance, Soep was placed in the same barrack as them.

Polak, unhappily married, courted Soep from the moment they were reunited in Westerbork. “He won my heart through sheer persistence,” she says, referring to their love letters. “His letters kept me going.”

Conversely, Polak’s deep feelings for Soep gave him the courage to carry on.

He and Soep lived in dread of being deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau from Westerbork. Ninety thousand Dutch Jews were interned in Westerbork and 10,000 were sent to other camps. Only about 5,000 of these Jews survived the ordeal.

In 1944, Polak and Manja were transferred to Bergen-Belsen in Germany, leaving Soep behind in Westerbork. Eventually, she was also transported to Bergen-Belsen. Conditions there were more difficult than in Westerbork, but they managed.

Manja was aware of Polak’s romance with Ina, but she, too, had a lover.

During the last months of World War II, Polak and Ina were temporarily separated, inducing a profound sense of loss and heartache. They found each other shortly after the end of the war.

Having divorced Manja, Polak and Ina were married in 1946. They left Holland in the early 1950s to live in the United States. They had three children and a long happy marriage. Their surviving letters, edited by their daughter Margrit, were published in 2000.

Steal A Pencil For Me, a fine and uplifting documentary, proves the adage that love conquers all.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal,