STEAL A PENCIL FOR ME
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“We will come through this, dearest Inaka. And then we can say that our will to survive was not in vain. Many, many goodnight kisses…”

—Jack Polak, in a letter to Ina Soep at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp

In June 1943, Ina Soep, the rich and beautiful daughter of an Amsterdam diamond cutter, met a married couple—a poor accountant named Jack Polak and his vivacious wife, Manja—at a birthday party for a friend. Six months later, the three of them were sharing a barrack at Kamp Westerbork, a Nazi holding camp in the north of Holland. So begins one of the most complex stories of love, hope and transcendent luck to emerge from the Holocaust.

Headshot of Ina Soep as a young woman in 1940
Ina, 1940

Headshot of Jack Polak as a young man
Jack

STEAL A PENCIL FOR ME chronicles Ina and Jack’s improbable love story, weaving their past and present lives with the bitter sweetness of decades-old love letters written in concentration camps with stolen pencil stubs.

While at Kamp Westerbork, under the watchful gaze of his wife, Manja, Jack pursues Ina. Eventually, his persistence and optimism wins her heart. When Manja objects, the would-be lovers resort to exchanging secret love letters, creating a paper trail of their incredible courtship and of the grim reality that surrounds them. Against a backdrop of death and disease, hard labor and fights over stale bread, the two lovers hang onto their dreams. When Ina falls ill, it is Manja who gives up her bread so that her Ina might eat and regain her strength.

When the three are transferred to the infamous concentration camp Bergen-Belsen—the last outpost for thousands of Dutch Jews—Jack labors from dawn until dark, yet still finds time to compose lyrical prose for his beloved.

STEAL A PENCIL FOR ME is the story of love blooming in the midst of genocide, of passion immortalized in a clandestine exchange of letters and of the optimism that sustains two star-crossed lovers caught in the crosshairs of the Holocaust.

Update

Filmmaker Michèle Ohayon provided an update in February 2009 on some of the people featured in STEAL A PENCIL FOR ME.

Jack Polak celebrated his 95th birthday with his wife and his extended family in 2008. His sister, Betty, turned 90 in April 2008. Ina, Jack and Betty travel with the film to various screenings, speaking with the audiences and inspiring young people and adults to “never be a bystander in life.” They urge their audiences to take action when they see injustice taking place. The film has given them a new life and renewed energy.


Related Links and Resources

STEAL A PENCIL FOR ME Filmmaker Site
Learn more about the film, read publicity materials and view archival material and photos taken from 1942 to 1945 in Nazi-occupied Holland.

Steal a Pencil for Me: Love Letters from Camp Bergen-Belsen and Westerbork
by Jaap Polak and Ina Soep

(Lion Books, 2000)
Read the love letters that inspired the film in this first-hand account told by Jack and Ina themselves.

The United States Holocaust Museum
Read about the origins of the Nazi Party, the Holocaust, resistance movements and more.

Kamp Westerbork
Visit the transit camp where Ina Soep and Jack and Manja Polak were held from mid-1943 through their deportation a year later to Bergen-Belsen, the infamous last stopover for Dutch Jews on their way to death camps.

Anne Frank Museum, Amsterdam
Learn about the young Dutch girl who lost her life in the Holocaust and who is recognized worldwide as a symbol for tolerance and peace.


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