Guide to the Papers of the Grace Polk Family, 1877-1975
AR 25104 / MF 964

Processed by Martina Nuetzmann

Leo Baeck Institute

Center for Jewish History

15 West 16th Street

New York, N.Y. 10011

Phone: (212) 744-6400

Fax: (212) 988-1305



Finding aid was encoded by Lea Osborne on March 24, 2006. Description is in English.
March 2009. Microfilm inventory added. October 2010. Links to digital objects added in Container List. 2010-10-12  encoding of linking to digital objects from finding aid was changed from <extref> to <dao> through dao_conv.xsl December 2011. Corrections made to finding aid.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Polk, Grace, 1941-
Title: Grace Polk Family Collection
Dates: 1877-1975
Abstract: The Grace Polk family collection contains materials related to the Polk (formerly Pollak) family, including Julius and Katharina Sofer, their daughter Felicitas and Lilia and their respective families, the Orenstein Family as well as information about Harry Polk's grandfather, Paul Lichtenstadt. The bulk consists of private and official correspondence. In addition, there are official papers concerning immigration matters of the Polks, Sofers, Orensteins and others, including affidavits, and official correspondence.
Languages: The collection is in German, English, French and Czech.
Quantity: 5.5 linear feet
Identification: AR 25104
Repository: Leo Baeck Institute
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Biographical Note

Grace Diana Polk was born in New York in 1941 to Harry and Elizabeth Polk. Grace's father, Harry, (originally Hans Gunthar Pollak), was born on May 3, 1894 in Vienna, Austria. His parents were Hugo Pollak (1866-1935) and Thekla Pollak (née Lichtenstadt; 1871-1939). During World War I, Harry served in the Austrian Army and was held as a POW in Siberia until 1921. After his release, he worked for the Ephrussi Bank in the Stocks and Bonds Division. In 1936, he married Elizabeth Sofer. The couple left Austria in 1938 for London. Later that same year, they traveled to New York aboard the S.S. President Roosevelt. While in the United States, Harry worked for the Waldes Company in Long Island City, a manufacturer of slide fasteners with branches in Vienna and Prague, until his retirement in 1964. He separated from his wife the same year and began to travel, finally settling in Austria. He remarried in 1974 to Hermine Rubin. Harry Polk died in Vienna on August 24, 1983.

Elizabeth Sofer was born in Vienna on March 23, 1902 to parents Julius Sofer (1871-1957) and Katharina Skalla Sofer (1864-1944). She worked for her father at the Waldes Koh-i-noor Company in Vienna. Elizabeth was a dancer and a member of several modern dance companies. Like her husband, she first worked for the Waldes branch in New York. In 1957, she began to work as a dance therapist at the Lexington School for the Deaf in New York City, and in 1958 co-founded the National Dance Teacher's Guild. From 1960 to 1982, she was a staff member at the Children's Center for Creative Arts at Adelphi University. She specialized in working with handicapped and emotionally disturbed children. In 1966, she co-founded the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA). Elizabeth was also instrumental in shaping the New York State public school curriculum. She conducted more than fifty teacher workshops in the United States and abroad. After retiring, she worked as a freelance writer with senior citizens and co-founded the Timelines Community to encourage the creativity of elders. In 1995, Elizabeth was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the ADTA and noted as a chief pioneer in the field of dance and movement therapy. She died on October 29, 2001 in New York.

Julius Sofer (Elizabeth Polk's father) was a manufacturers representative at the Waldes Koh-i-noor Company in Vienna. He was a highly distinguished member of the business community. His connections to the American branch of the Waldes Company helped him to obtain affidavits and visas for the Polks and other members of their family. In 1938, Julius Sofer transferred to the export department of Waldes in Prague and then immigrated to Cuba in 1941. His wife Katharina Sofer stayed behind in Vienna and died there in 1944. Julius finally arrived in the United States in 1943 and lived with the Polk family until his death in 1957.

Harry Polk's sister, Zdenka (Mimi) and her husband Ernst Orenstein, stayed in Vienna until 1939 in order to care for their mother, Thekla Lichtenstadt. After her death, the Orensteins left Austria for Norway and finally settled in Hawaii. Only their oldest son, Otto, accompanied them. Tony, the younger son, arrived in Hawaii on his own as a child via England and the continental United States.

Elizabeth Polk's sisters, Felicitas Sofer and Lilia Sofer Skala, also immigrated to the United States. Lilia Skala brought her husband, Louis Erich Skala, and her sons Martin and Peter. Lilia was an actress who worked for Austrian theatres. In the United States she appeared on Broadway and in several movies and was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in the film Lilies of the Fields.

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Scope and Contents

The Grace Polk Collection covers the life of the Polk family from the early 20th century to the 1970s. The bulk of the collection consists of private and official correspondence, but also includes personal papers, clippings, publications, and essays. Although Grace Polk, the daughter of Harry and Elizabeth Polk, compiled the collection, the records concentrate on her parents, grandparents, and other relatives. The combination of official documents, clippings and correspondence illuminates the situation of Jewish families living in Europe under the Nazis. Finally, the collection illustrates the effort and problems encountered by Jews as they attempted to leave the country, in particular from Austria, as well as their experiences in the United States.

Also included are personal records such as school reports from the 1910s, scrapbooks depicting life during several wars, songbooks, drawings, and oral histories.

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This collection is arranged topically.

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Access and Use

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Access Information

Collection has been digitized. Please follow the links in the Container List to access the digitized materials.

Collection has been microfilmed (MF 964).

Readers may access the collection by visiting the Lillian Goldman Reading Room at the Center for Jewish History. We recommend reserving the collection in advance; please visit the LBI Online Catalog and click on the "Request" button.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:
Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY, 10011

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Separated Material

Series V, Photographs, has been removed to the Photograph Colletion. Please see the photo archivist for assistance.

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The collection is on 12 reels of microfilm (MF 964):

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Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date (if known); Grace Polk Family Collection; AR 25104; box number; folder number; Leo Baeck Institute.

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Container List


Series I: Correspondence, 1926-2002

This series is in German and English.
1.75 linear feet

This series is arranged alphabetically by last name.

Scope and Content:

This series contains private correspondence arranged by sender and date. Some photographs were left with the correspondence if directly connected to a particular letter. The records included illustrate the private life of the Polk family and their extended family and friends as well as describe the conditions encountered during emigration in the 1930s and 1940s. In addition, several letters illuminate the political situation in Austria after World War II.

Box Folder Title Date
1 1 Genealogy 2002
1 2 Adolf to Nymann 1926-1939
1 3 Orenstein Family to Quintavalle 1926-1939
1 4 Redlich to Sofer, Katharina 1926-1939
1 5 Stein to Zuckermann 1926-1939
1 6 Axthelm to Deeny 1940-1942
1 7 Eichhorn to Horn 1940-1942
1 8 Jacobson to Owens 1940-1942
1 9 Paley to Rotto 1940-1942
1 10 Schreiber to Sofer, Katharina 1940-1942
1 11 Stein to Zausmer 1940-1942
1 12 American Red Cross to Mueller 1943-1945
1 13 Orenstein Family to Polk, Elizabeth 1943-1945
1 14 Price, Victor to Skala, Peter 1943-1945
1 15 Sofer, Felicitas to Zuckermann 1943-1945
1 16 Aichberg to Eder 1946-1949
1 17 Epstein to Harmel-Rubenstein 1946-1949
1 18 Hartwig to Kurz 1946-1949
1 19 Landau, Alice to Polesi 1946-1949
1 20 Polk, Harry to Rotter, Paul 1946-1949
1 21 Roth to Sinclair 1946-1949
1 22 Skala, Lilia to Zoellner 1946-1949
Box Folder Title Date
2 1 Anschel to Hoffe 1950-1975
2 2 Hofmann to Polk, Grace 1950-1975
2 3 Polk, Harry (1 of 4 folders) 1950-1975
2 4 Polk, Harry (2 of 4 folders) 1950-1975
2 5 Polk, Harry (3 of 4 folders) 1950-1975
2 6 Polk, Harry (4 of 4 folders) 1950-1975
2 7 Polk, Elizabeth to Schwarz, Julius 1950-1975
2 8 Schwarzbart to Weynecke 1950-1975
2 9 Axthelm to Louis undated
2 10 Maynon to Polk, Grace undated
2 11 Price, Pat to Sofer, Julius undated
2 12 Sofer, Katharina to Zausmer undated
2 13 Unknown Author 1938-1941
2 14 Unknown Author 1942-1964
2 15 Unknown Author undated
2 16 Unknown Author undated
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Series II: Family History and Personal Documents, 1901-1963

This series is in German.
0.5 linear feet

This series is arranged topically.

Scope and Content:

Series II consists of Harry and Elizabeth Polk's personal papers which describe their youth and the years before they left Austria, papers concerning Elizabeth's parents, Julius and Katharina Sofer, and various records regarding other family members. Of particular interest is a scrapbook created by Harry Polk during his time as a POW in Siberia. Harry and his fellow inmates made woodblocks and had a small printing business with the bits of paper they could scrape together. However, The bulk of the series pertains to emigration matters, such as affidavits and official correspondence.

Subseries 1: Julius and Katharina Sofer, 1938-1957

This subseries is in German, English and French.
Scope and Content:

Subseries 1 documents the emigration efforts of Julius Sofer and his wife, Katharina, for instance affidavits of support and official correspondence. There are also bank account notifications, notes, and papers regarding the death of Julius and Katharina Sofer.

Box Folder Title Date
2 17 Emigration (Affidavits and Official Correspondence) 1938-1939
2 18 Emigration (Official Correspondence) 1939-1940
2 19 Emigration (Official Correspondence) 1939-1942
2 20 Credit Suisse Papers 1937-1941
2 21 Miscellaneous undated, 1944-1957

Subseries 2: Harry and Elizabeth Polk, 1894-1971

This subseries is in German and English.
Scope and Content:

Subseries 2 contains personal papers, such as school reports, two books of recipes, and notes of Harry and Elizabeth Polk. Also included are emigration records, for example clearance certificates, cargo correspondence, one passenger list and a menu from the S.S. Roosevelt, the ship that the Polk's arrived in New York on, and a scrapbook containing woodblock prints in both color and black and white.

Box Folder Title Date
2 22 Harry Polk (Personal Papers) 1901-1930
2 23 Harry Polk (Autobiography) 1894-1971
2 24 Harry Polk (Records from World War I) 1914-1921
2 25 Elizabeth Polk (Recipe Books) undated
2 26 Elizabeth Polk (Miscellaneous) 1907-1938 and 1963
Box Folder Title Date
3 1 Emigration (Clearance Certificate) 1938
3 2 Emigration (Correspondence) 1938-1939
3 3 Emigration (S.S. President Roosevelt) 1938
3 4 Emigration (Miscellaneous) 1938-1939

Subseries 3: General Records, 1938-1945

This subseries is in German and English.
Scope and Content:

Subseries 3 includes various records, such as official correspondence, checks, essays, postcards, and inventory lists.

Box Folder Title Date
3 5 Official Correspondence 1938-1941
3 6 Miscellaneous 1938-1945
3 7 Drawing undated
3 8 Drafts of Letters and Notes undated
3 9 Postcards undated

Subseries 4: Family and Friends, 1938-1960

This subseries is in German and English.
Scope and Content:

Subseries 4 consists of various records concerning the Polk's extended family as well as one folder illustrating the efforts of Harry and Elizabeth Polk to support family members and friends during their emigration process.

Box Folder Title Date
3 10 Johanna Hartwig (Scrapbooks) undated
3 11 Johanna Hartwig (Poems and Funeral Arrangements) undated, 1947
3 12 Ernst Orenstein undated, 1960
3 13 Hermine Schwarzbart 1938-1946
3 14 Correspondence (Emigration-Related) 1939-1948
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Series III: General Records, 1930-1960

The series is in German, English and Czech.
four folders

This series is arranged topically.

Scope and Content:

Series III is comprised of miscellaneous records regarding the entire Polk family. Business records from the Waldes Company are contained here, as well as newspaper clippings, and miscellaneous items, such as business cards, dance programs, and a lock of hair.

Box Folder Title Date
3 15 Waldes Company 1930-1950
3 16 Newspaper Clippings 1938-1939
3 17 Miscellaneous 1942-1960
3 18 Lock of Hair (Unidentified) undated
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Series IV: Publications, 1928-1947

This series is in German, English and Spanish.
eleven folders

This series is arranged by publication title.

Scope and Content:

Series IV contains several periodicals on Jewish emigration issues. In addition, there are periodicals from the Austrian Trade Association and a small collection of songbooks.

Box Folder Title Date
3 19 Asociacion Democratica de Refugiados Hebreos 1943 January-March
3 20 Deutsche Erde 1930-1931
3 21 Oesterreichische Handelsvertreter Zeitung 1928-1935
3 22 Commercial Law Books undated, 1934
3 23 Die Bastei 1946-1947
3 24 Jüdische Auswanderung 1938 July
3 25 Songbooks (German Songs) undated, 1924-1930
3 26 Songbooks (Schott's Accordeon Album) undated
3 27 Songbooks (Offenbach Album) undated
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Series V: Photographs, Undated

0.5 linear feet
Scope and Content:

Series V contains photographs, most of which were taken by Harry Polk. These have been arranged topically and depict the following subjects: landscapes, both in Europe and the United States, New York City, which includes photographs of the Macy's Day Parade and the New York skyline, residences, and portraits of both family and friends. None of the photographs are labeled, however, and the majority are undated

Box Folder Title Date
4 Photographs undated
Box Folder Title Date
OS 86 Oversized Photographs undated
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Series VI: Audio Media, 1998

This series is in German and English.
two folders

This series has been arranged topically.

Scope and Content:

Series VI includes an oral history interview of Elizabeth Polk that was conducted by Meg Peterson on November 13, 1998. The interview was recorded onto three CDs with a backup copy of each. There is also an audio cassette tape containing a compilation of old Viennese songs and duets.

Box Folder Title Date
3 28 Alt-Wiener Lieder und Duette undated
3 29 Elizabeth Polk Interview (1 of 2 folders) 1998 November 13
3 30 Elizabeth Polk Interview (2 of 2 folders) 1998 November 13
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Series VII: Oversized Material, 1877-1936

This series is in German.
2 linear feet

This series is arranged topically.

Scope and Content:

Series VII consists of oversized songbooks, drawings, a clipping from the 1890s, a collection of Rembrandt drawings and the wedding book of Harry and Elizabeth Polk.

Also included in this series are records of Johann Lichtenstadt, a journalist and Harry Polk's grandfather. Lichtenstadt wrote articles from the front about the Russian-Turkish War 1877-1878 and the assassination of Czar Alexander II. These clippings have been placed in a scrapbook that is contained here. Lichtenstadt had been a special correspondent for the newspaper, Die Presse, in Rumania and Bulgaria during the aforementioned war.

Box Folder Title Date
OS 85 1 Wedding Album (Harry and Elizabeth Polk) 1936
OS 85 2 Essig and Oel and Schöner Gigolo undated
OS 85 3 Die Elfte Muse, Sammlung moderner Kabarett und Vortragslieder undated
OS 85 4 Deutsche Lieder aus alter und neuer Zeit undated
OS 85 5 Wiener Lieder und Tänze, Zweiter Band 1911
OS 85 6 Wiener Lieder und Tänze, Zweiter Band (second volume) 1913
Box Folder Title Date
OS 86 1 Drawings undated
OS 86 2 Collection of Rembrandt Drawings undated
OS 86 3 Scrapbook (Johann Lichtenstadt) 1877-1881
OS 86 4 Die Presse (Clipping) 1890 September 11
OS 86 5 Map of Austria 1890 September 11
OS 86 6 Certificate from Die Kammer fuer Handel, Gewerbe und Industrie, Vienna 1890 September 11
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