Independent Lens: Steal a Pencil for Me

Tue, 05/26/2009 - 10:00pm
Pictured: Ina and Jack Polak
Credit: Marc Seliger/ITVS
If anyone ever wanted proof of the power of the human spirit, Steal a Pencil for Me is it. Directed and produced by Academy Award® nominee Michèle Ohayon, Steal a Pencil for Me is a transcendent story of hope and a love that survives even genocide. Following its critically acclaimed theatrical release, the film will have its television premiere on the PBS series Independent Lens, hosted by Terrence Howard, on Tuesday, May 26 at 10 p.m. on WXXI-TV 21 (cable 11) and WXXI-HD (DT21.1/cable 1011).
Seamlessly weaving together past and the present, Ohayon masterfully brings to life the story of Jack, an unassuming, married accountant, and Ina, the 20-year old beauty who steals his heart. Their love story starts in a transit camp in Holland, survives through their time in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and ends up in Westchester NY, where the film captures them celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary.
June 1943, Nazi-occupied Holland: In Amsterdam, Jack Polak first meets Ina Soep at a birthday party and is instantly smitten. But Jack’s pursuit of love is complicated: He is poor and unhappily married to Manja, a flirtatious and mercurial spouse.
September 1943: Dutch Jews are deported to Westerbork, where Jack, his wife Manja and his love Ina find themselves living in the same barracks. 
Under these highly improbable circumstances, Jack courts Ina, his love at first sight, and his persistence and optimism win her heart. They find ways to see each other clandestinely, and thus begins a love affair that will last forever.
When Manja, Jack’s wife, despite their difficult and unhappy marriage, objects strongly to the relationship, Ina and Jack resort to writing secret love letters, years later published in a book. Through words of passion and dreams of the future, they encourage each other to stay alive. Every day brings them one step closer to Liberation.
Among death and disease, hard labor and fights over food, the two lovers hang on to their courtship. And when Ina falls ill, it is Manja who gives up her bread so that she might eat to regain her strength.
When filmmaker Ohayon first heard about Jack and Ina from their daughter Margrit, she immediately read the love letters and was intensely moved by the every-day human details not found in holocaust history books. Ohayon knew she had to make a film about this incredible and unlikely intimate story. “The notion that even under these horrendous circumstances there was still love, jealousy and passion proves that the human spirit cannot be easily broken, that one’s will-power to survive and the strength of love is immeasurable—in life and in death,” Says the filmmaker.