Exterior view of the Benjamin Soep diamond factory.
Photograph | Photograph Number: 46349
Circa 1930 - 1940
- Photo Designation
LIFE BEFORE THE HOLOCAUST -- Netherlands -- Economic Life/Daily Life
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Ina Polak
Exterior view of the Benjamin Soep diamond factory.
- Ina Polak (born Catharina Ina Soep) is the daughter of Abraham and Tonie (nee Kaufmann) Soep. Ina was born on January 3, 1923 in Amsterdam where Abraham was a diamond manufacturer and Jewish communal leader; for several years he served as president of the Amsterdam synagogue. Ina had a brother Bennno (Benjamin) who was four years older and a sister Josette, who born on August 13, 1924. Though the family was religiously observant, the children went to secular schools; Ina and Josette attended Montessori School. Ina spent the summer of 1939 in learning English until her father wrote and said he thought there would be a war and she should return home. Since The Netherlands had remained neutral in World War I, he thought she would be safer in Holland than in England. While Ina was preparing for her final exams in May 1940, she heard German planes overhead. Holland fought for five days before surrendering on May 14. At first, life continued more or less normally. Ina took her final exams in June and began secretarial school in the fall. Her brother became engaged to Lisette Lamon, and they married in October 1940. Lisette had already immigrated to America with her parents, but returned to Holland to be with Benno. After married 7 months, Benno arrested as a reprisal for the killing of an SS man. Previously, after the Germans had closed down a nearby Zionist Hachshara, members of the Jewish community offered the young Zionists housing. Benno and his wife hosted one man as did the Soeps. When the Germans conducted the reprisal raid, they decided to arrest all the men who had previously been in the Hachshara. When they came to Benno's apartment, they arrested him as well. The arrestees were sent to a nearby military camp. Abraham, who belonged to the Jewish Council, worked to obtain Benno's release. He almost succeeded when on June 22 Germany invaded Russia. The Germans immediately rounded-up Dutch Communists. To make room for them in the military camp, they shipped all the other prisoners to Mauthausen. In October the Soeps received an official document informing them that Benno had died in August 1941 in Mauthausen. After his death, his wife came to live with the Soeps. Ina's boyfriend Rudi Acohon also was arrested during a different reprisal raid even and never returned. The Soep family had been on a list of people to be sent to Spain in a prisoner exchange. After Benno's arrest Ina's father asked to be taken off the list. The group actually got to Spain but without the Soeps.
In 1942 the Germans began the round-up and deportation of Dutch Jews. Ina wanted to go into hiding, but her father forbade her to go since that would have endangered rest of family if discovered no longer at home. At first the family was exempt from deportation by virtue of Abraham's work for the Jewish Council. However, in May 1943 a friend of Ina's sister-in-law, who belonged to the underground, visited them at night. That evening she was followed, and the Gestapo wanted to arrest the whole family for harboring a member of the underground. They only avoided deportation that evening through the intervention of the president of the Jewish Council. However, the Soeps were rounded-up and sent to the Schouwburg Jewish Theater which was serving as a way-station to the Westerbork or Vught concentration camps. Again the Jewish Council intervened and obtained the Soep's release after five weeks in the theater. They could not, however, return to their own home and had to move to the Jewish quarter in East Amsterdam. On Rosh Hashanah, September 30, 1943, together with everyone else in the quarter, they were deported to Westerbork. Ina and her family were assigned to barrack 64. Also in the barrack was a young couple whom Ina had met at a party earlier that summer. She and the man, Jacob (Jaap) Polak began a surreptitious courtship. To be more discreet they began writing notes to each other and continued the correspondence almost until the end of the war. Ina's father arranged for her to be given work in the linen camp patching sheets on sewing machine and working in the linen room of the hospital. In May 1944, the family was notified that they would be sent to Bergen-Belsen, which was considered a privileged camp. Shortly before this, they had received a Salvadoran citizenship paper from the consulate in Switzerland. On May 18, 1944, Ina and Josette were deported to Bergen-Belsen aboard a passenger train; they arrived two days later. (Her parents followed on a later transport in September; since her mother had contracted hepatitis, they remained in Westerbork until she was better.) Hugo Weiss, the Juden Aeltestete, greeted them at the station and assured them everything would be OK. (He later married Ina's aunt after the war.) Unlike prisoners in other camps, they were allowed to wear their own clothes. Ina and Josette were brought to a compound called the Stern Lager with the families of other diamond workers. The Germans planned to establish their own diamond industry in Bergen-Belsen and housed all diamond workers from tycoons to cutters in one barrack. The sisters never worked since the Germans wanted to preserve their hands in the event they established the industry. Jaap and his wife who enjoyed a privileged status by virtue of having Palestine certificates were in the same camp. Ina and Jaap continued their courtship. Jaap had been assigned to work in the kitchen and had to report for work very early in the morning. This job allowed him to smuggle in extra food. Each day Ina made his bed and left him a short note. He in turn left her some food and a letter as well. For most of this period, Ina remained unaware of the conditions in other camps until she spotted prisoners in another compound wearing striped uniforms. One told her about the gas chambers in Auschwitz, but she refused to believe it. Eventually, the Germans began convening meetings with diamond manufacturers about how to establish the industry. Since Ina knew shorthand, she served as secretary at these meetings. However once the Germans realized that they had neither the time nor the access to raw materials to produce diamonds, they decided to deport most of the workers to other camps. Only the Soeps and one other family remained behind. Ina does not know if this was on account of her father's status or their Salvadoran papers. Abraham tried to plead for other colleagues to remain in the camp, but the German officer told him that if he didn't leave immediately, they would deport him as well. The Soeps were then sent to a smaller compound in Bergen Belsen known as the "Exchange Camp". Ina could no longer see Jack but still exchanged notes by courier. Before she left they exchanged notes so each had the notes they had written.
On April 7, 1945 Ina and Josette were evacuated from the camp on a passenger train with 2400 prisoners. They stayed on train for six days with little to eat besides turnips. As the front approached, the train stopped at the Elbe River; the prisoners heard rumors that the Germans wanted to shoot all the prisoners and that changed their minds after receiving bribes. Eventually the passengers went to the next village to get food. Members of the American 9th Army found them cooking eggs and potatoes and liberated them near Farsleben on April 13, 1945. However that same day, Ina lost most of her correspondence with Jaap after her letters fell in a puddle. The following day the Americans brought the survivors to Hillersleben, an abandoned nearby military village. After a few days, the Americans told them that the area was about to be ceded to the Russians so they had arranged transport for them back to Holland. (Ina's parents remained behind since her father was quite ill.) The survivors waited in a wooden cinema for transport to arrive. One man said he had an uneasy feeling about the place and offered to stand guard while the others slept. Some hours later, he woke everyone up having spotted smoke coming from the projection room. The group evacuated immediately before the building went up in flames. The following day, they left for Holland by open freight train. They arrived in Holland on May 5, the same day that western Holland was liberated. Jaap meanwhile had been on another train that had been liberated by Russians. He turned to The Netherlands in late June. Jaap divorced his wife in August 1945, and he and Ina got engaged in October. They married January 1946 and went on to have three children.
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Ina Polak
Record last modified: 2009-12-23 00:00:00
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