Steal a Pencil for Me


Not your mother’s Holocaust movie, Michéle Ohayon’s gripping documentary asks you both to weep for and celebrate a Dutch Jew who maintained a wife and a girlfriend in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and who freely admits he denied his own terminally ill sister his last crust of bread. Now 93 years old and living in the United States, Jack neither was nor is a rogue, but a devoted husband, father, and grandfather, and a tireless speaker on the high-school circuit—a sweet old gent proud of his still active libido. But in 1943 the young accountant, married to the wrong (and possibly bipolar) woman, fell hopelessly in love with Ina, a put-together young bourgeoise with liquid brown eyes and impeccably coiffed hair, just before all three were rounded up by the Nazis. Ina is still a fox after 60 years of marriage to Jack, but before you cry happy ending, the film shows—via the letters the two lovers wrote one another in the camp—just what it took to make love conquer all when the problem was not merely surviving hunger, lice, and typhus but, of all things, keeping up appearances for the sake of everyone’s dignity. At once tender and tough-minded, Steal a Pencil for Me offers a useful corrective to the sentimental prevailing notion that the Shoah only happened to saints.