Stephen J. Pollak First Interview: April 8, 2002Catherine Nugent2022-04-26T17:43:25-04:00
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Oral History of STEPHEN J. POLLAK
First Interview-April 8, 2002
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of the
Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewee is Stephen J. Pollak, and
the interviewer is Katia Garrett. The interview took place at the Shea & Gardner law firm at
1800 Massachusetts Avenue, in the District of Columbia on Monday, April 8, 2002, at 10:00
a.m. This is the first interview.
Ms. Garrett: Let’s just jump right in, Steve, to talking about you and where it all started. When
you were born, where you grew up, your family and the like. Tell me about your
Mr. Pollak: Well, I was born March 22, 1928. My parents lived on the South Side of
Chicago, close to their parents. I was the first child. My parents were married in
August 1926, and I was born in 1928.
Ms. Garrett: What were your parents’ names?
Mr. Pollak: Maurice August Pollak and Laura Kramer Pollak. My father was 13 years older
than my mother. He was a head taller or more than my mother. My mother was
almost immediately out of Smith College (class of June 1926) and my father had
gone two years to the University of Chicago. His father had died when he was
quite young. His mother never remarried. When he was going to the University
some friend of the family counseled him that he should get on with the business
of life and leave college and get a job, which he did, probably greatly to his
regret. He had held a number of different jobs, none of which I am really familiar
with when he married my mother. My mother has told me that my father lost the
job he had while they were on their honeymoon. He then went into the real estate
business that my mother’s father and another man had begun in 1893, Draper &
Kramer. He spent a lifetime in that business. My father loved that business. He
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worked five and a half days a week. When I can begin remembering anything, I
was then living in a suburb of Chicago. My family moved north of the city to a
village called Highland Park on Lake Michigan and rented a house in a little
division of Highland Park called Ravinia. It was on the Northwestern Railroad
line between Chicago and Milwaukee. My father took the “8:10” in the morning
to work and the “5:10” home. The train left from Highland Park and went nonstop into the city. One memory that I have is that each Sunday evening, or
Sunday, we would drive into the city to visit the grandparents.
Ms. Garrett: Were all four of the grandparents living during your childhood?
Mr. Pollak: No. My father’s father had died when he was a young boy, and I didn’t ever
know him. My mother’s parents were living at 53rd and University Avenue on the
South Side of Chicago. My father’s mother and his sister, who didn’t ever marry,
and a brother of his mother, were also living on the South Side, ultimately at 51st
and University. We would visit them Sunday — my memory is of visiting each
family. I don’t think that those visits saw the grandparents getting together. We
would visit one set and then the other.
Ms. Garrett: What was that neighborhood like? 53rd and University, 51st and University?
Mr. Pollak: Well, it was, to my recollection a very benign, probably totally white
neighborhood. It was five, ten blocks north of the University of Chicago campus.
I remember that milk was delivered — the families purchased their milk from the
Wanzer Dairy that delivered milk to the homes in a horse-drawn wagon. I can
remember hearing the clop-clop of the horse on the pavement. There was a small
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drugstore on the corner of 51st and University, and I can remember going in there
and getting candy or something like that with one or another of the family of my
father. My grandfather raised English Bulldogs that he had brought over from
London, England, to the United States, and showed them in the shows of the
American Kennel Club. I remember my parents telling me that he was the first
Jewish member of the American Kennel Club. He had in his back yard in the city
a run and dog houses for a number of these English bulls. One of the show names
of one of the best dogs was “Glorious Sobriquet.” In any event, the grandparents,
like grandparents everywhere, doted on us children. I had one sibling, a sister,
who is two years younger than I am. It was a sizeable trip from Highland Park to
the South Side of Chicago. When we would go home on Sunday evenings, we
would drive along the waterfront east of the Loop in Chicago, and there were
these neon signs on the top of the buildings. I remember one of them was for
Glidden Paint. And it showed someone pouring paint over the world. We would
be driving home in the dark and we would get to that place on the trip and my
father would always point out these neon signs and my mother would say, “Oh,
Maurice you’re waking up the children.” I think in a way that may tell something
about my parents. My father enjoyed making us children happy about whatever
was available and my mother was thinking about what was good for us, like
getting enough sleep or making the trip go along without incident. The town in
which we lived was just a benign existence. The family next door named
Armstrong had a son my age, Mason. I was friendly with him and we would go
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overnight to each other’s house and his parents were just like my own parents.
They accepted us running around doing whatever we did. I had a friend across
the street, named Buzz Laurie who became an artist and is a painter living in
Taos, New Mexico. We called ourselves the “Three Musketeers” and played all
around the home area. Down the street, I had another friend named Bobby Jones,
who now lives in Durango, Colorado. Those were my earliest friends. Mason
died relatively young. Young meaning probably 35 or 40.
Ms. Garrett: Are you still in touch with them?
Mr. Pollak: I am at the holidays, and I have purchased paintings of Buzz Laurie. I was just in
touch with him because I offered to purchase one of his paintings for my daughter
who lives in Boulder, Colorado. He paints Southwest United States scenes. Buzz
sent me a bunch of his transparencies to look at. Yes. And I’m in touch with
Bob Jones at the year end. Durango is a hard place to get to, and I haven’t seen
him in many, many years, but we were friends and remain so. My friendships
arose based upon the capability to meet without automobiles and those boys lived
very close. I had to cross one street to get to the Laurie household and the Jones
household. A little further away (meaning three blocks), there was a family with
twins my age named Hotchkiss. I went all through school with Gene and Jim and
both twins are still good friends of mine. Jim is an investment counselor and has
provided that kind of help for my family and my parents and my wife Ruth’s
parents. Gene became a college president and we are still close. So, those are
four people that I’ve known for 65 or 70 years, pretty stable acquaintances.
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We all attended public school right from kindergarten through the end of
high school. Bob Jones went away to high school. He had very accomplished
sisters and one brother, and I think the pressures on him academically were heavy.
He wasn’t doing as well as they had done, although I think he was very capable.
The twins were separated after the first or second year of high school.
Ms. Garrett: They were sent to different schools?
Mr. Pollak: Gene continued at the public school and Jimmy went to Vermont Academy, for
no reason, I think, other than to foster their independent development. Then they
went to the same college and I went to that college, too, Dartmouth. They and I
joined the Navy when we arrived at college, and I went through the Navy with
them, so I’ve spent a lot of time with the Hotchkisses. They are probably my
longest close friends from childhood.
Ms. Garrett: Before we get into school, I want to hear a little bit more about your parents.
Your mom, you said she went to Smith. What did she major in and what did she
do when she returned to Chicago?
Mr. Pollak: My mother went away to Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Interestingly enough, my mother was called Polly during her youth and then she
married Maurice Pollak and that fit with her new last name. She was a good
student. I don’t know what her major was. It surprises me that I don’t. She spent
her junior year at the University of Chicago. She told me recently that she had
met my father and that led her to transfer to the University of Chicago. I don’t
believe she prepared herself for a career. I think that those were not life paths that
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were recognized as available then. I think my mother was very capable and in
today’s world would have charted out a career. She actually followed a career of
Ms. Garrett: What kind of volunteer work did she do?
Mr. Pollak: Her major activity that I remember during my childhood was the League of
Women Voters. She was very active in the League and during my young years
was President of the Illinois State League and served on the National Board.
Given my propensity for horrible puns and not-so-funny jokes, I would often say
my mother was active in the “National League,” meaning the baseball league,
although, of course, it was the National League of Women Voters. She knew, I
think, the founder of the League, Anna Lord Strauss, and other women leaders.
She was active in the League with Emily Taft Douglas, who was married to Paul
Douglas, later Senator from Illinois. Emily Taft, as she was often referred to, was
for a term or two a congresswoman from Illinois. My mother also was active, as
was her brother Ferdinand Kramer, who with my father, ran the real estate
business after my grandfather died in 1944, in the Chicago Planning and Housing
Council. The Council has had a material effect on the development of the City of
Chicago. That was a volunteer activity. Later, perhaps during the 1950s, maybe
later, my mother was a member of the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission
which was a seven-person authority with power over planning of public works in
northeastern Illinois, including the City of Chicago. That was a public body to
which she was named by the Governor.
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When I was little, I remember that many of the people living in Highland
Park would call my mother when elections came around to find out how they
should vote. She was up on politics and interested herself in it. I don’t remember
either my mother or my father actively involving themselves in political
campaigns. My mother was working for good government. I harbored the view
then that my mother was a Democrat, or supported the Democratic candidates
mostly, certainly Franklin D. Roosevelt. I recall my father as being more business
oriented and possibly leaning a little toward the Republicans, but I’m not sure that
he did. Later, I don’t think that he did at all.
Ms. Garrett: Was politics or public affairs something that was discussed in your household a
Mr. Pollak: I think it was. I remember in grammar school, called “Ravinia School,” my father
for a period of time served on the School Board for the District 108 which
consisted of four or five grammar schools. In 1936, my school had a mock
election for president. My memory is that there was a large number of students
for Alf Landon from Kansas. I was one of four voting for Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The mock election could have been in 1940 when Willkie was the Candidate.
Ms. Garrett: A distinct minority in the town were Democrats?
Mr. Pollak: That’s true, but I don’t have the feeling that Highland Park was an archly
conservative area. I think it elected Republicans in Lake County, and that
continues to this day. Concern with public affairs, concern for good government,
these were concerns of our household. From almost the earliest that I can
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remember I was interested in civics, probably coming a good bit from my mother.
I remember my mother having an interest in those concerns stemming from and
driving her involvement with the League. My father was supportive, but I don’t
think that he exhibited, at least at a verbal level, the same interest. My father
liked to play golf and the family was a member of a Jewish country club located
in Ravinia called Northmoor. My father played golf each Sunday in the temperate
part of the year. Sometimes as I grew older he would come out early from the
city on Wednesday or Friday or Saturday and I’d play nine holes with him. He
taught me to play golf and I have very fond memories of doing that with him. He
liked athletics and was very supportive of my interest in athletics. My parents
were big on volunteering. One responsibility my father took on, possibly
connected to his service on the School Board, was to be the citizen responsible for
supervision of the public ice skating rink. Winters were cold, and starting in
November, the playfield at the grammar school was flooded as an ice skating rink.
We kids went skating every night there. There was one employee who would
flood or spray the skating rink each evening and my father supervised that and
probably other matters relating to the rink as well. We were very active ice
skaters, my parents, my sister, and I.
When I was very young, our family would go with the very earliest kinds of
skis and ski on the golf course which had a few very little hills.
Ms. Garrett: I imagine hills were hard to come by in that area.
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Mr. Pollak: Very. As we got a little more accomplished, we went into southern Wisconsin
and skied at a place called Wilmot. We also skied further north at La Crosse,
Wisconsin, and Ishpeming, Michigan. My parents’ closest friends were Bernard
and Ruth Nath. They lived in Highland Park and had two daughters. Their
daughter my age was named Marjorie. She was my earliest girlfriend. We went
all through public school together. She is still a close friend of mine. One year
we went skiing at Lacrosse over Christmas. When we were going home, it was
very cold and we were at the railroad station waiting for the train. One would
travel back and forth by train. I had been in a play or been reading a play, and
went out on the platform and came back in to the station house and said to the
group, “It is bleak without and I am but thinly clad.” My mother has always
remembered that, as have I. It was from Shakespeare. On cold days, my mother
would repeat the saying with a twinkle in her eyes.
One of the lovable things about my mother, something that she has willed to
me, is that she loves the almost musical sound of persons’ last names. Highland
Park was blessed by the fact that at the northern end, the whole town probably
was maybe four miles from north to south, bordering on Lake Michigan, was Fort
Sheridan, an army base. The community around Fort Sheridan was called
Highwood and it had a large immigrant population of Italians and Swedes. That
meant that the high school was more diversified than just suburbanite families. A
lot of the Highwood families serviced in one way or another the needs of the
military base and its personnel. In any event, in my high school class there were
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many students with these melodic Italian names like Tagliapetria, Pignataria,
Almadeo Minerini, Passuello. My mother used to like to roll these names off her
tongue. The children from these Italian and Swedish families contributed a great
deal to my learning experiences coming from different backgrounds.
My memory is that all through my 13 years of public school in Highland
Park, kindergarten through eighth grade at Ravinia School and four years at
Highland Park High School — my graduating class in 1946 had 242 students — is
that there was one black family named Brown. There were two children in that
family, the daughter was the younger of the two and may have been in my class.
The son, whose name was Shelby Brown, was a year or two older than I was. It
was a very white community that I grew up in. It was diversified by ethnicity
somewhat, but not by race. My memory of diversity also includes diversities of
religious background. The predominant religion was Christian among the people
that lived in the community, but there was a significant Jewish presence. My
memory, a kind of a subliminal awareness, was that being Jewish was not only
being part of a minority, but I had this vague feeling that it was a disfavored
Ms. Garrett: Did you have any experiences directly where you were disfavored?
Mr. Pollak: The only experience I can point to as a memory is some kind of playground
incident where an older boy called me a “kike.” I’m not sure I quite knew what it
was, but I knew it wasn’t a term for a favored person. I never had anybody fight
me over being Jewish. There were undoubtedly a lot of Jewish children in my
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school. I felt no minority status in grammar school. I played football, swimming
and tennis in high school. I never felt any minority status there. There was a
Jewish country club and one or more gentile country clubs in my home town.
Among my boyhood friends, the Laurie family was Catholic, and the Jones and
Armstrong families were perhaps Presbyterian. The Jones and Armstrong
families belonged to the gentile country club, Exmoor. I felt those clubs were
My father was tall and was a good basketball player. In high school he had
had three or four or five close friends. They all played on the basketball team,
and then he and they went to the University of Chicago and played on the
basketball team, incidentally for Amos Alonzo Stagg, who was the great stand-out
football coach for the University of Chicago, which then was a powerhouse in
football. Stagg coached the basketball team as well. All of my father’s friends
then joined a gentile fraternity and he was excluded. I think that was a lifeaffecting experience for my father. He didn’t really count gentiles as reliable
friends until very late in life because his close friends had parted from him at the
beginning of college because he was Jewish. And so I think that seeped into my
awareness. But how early and how much this awareness became influenced by
difficulties and worse experienced by the Jews in Germany, I’m not able to
distinguish now. I can remember an awareness in the family that we were Jewish
and that we were different in that respect. I think that the pride that Jewish people
now have in their Jewishness was less in my youth. Families still saw
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assimilation as a major goal, and assimilation was perfectly fine on the part of a
community in this country. There has developed feelings that people can be a
hundred percent a part of the American experience and still have their lesser
communities. That’s a positive thing for people’s self worth. There was less of
that for me in my youth. I don’t think I wanted to be different. I don’t recall that
those considerations made a difference to the people with whom I spent my time.
I don’t think that the Jewish-gentile difference made much of a difference in fact
but it made some difference in my head.
Ms. Garrett: Was your family at all religious? Did you go to temple or services on holidays?
Mr. Pollak: My family was not very religious or at least that’s the way it seemed to me. My
mother felt that we should go to Sunday school, as it was called, at the North
Shore Congregation Israel, which was in Glencoe, the next suburb to the south.
My sister and I did for many years. The rabbi was named Shulman. I don’t recall
what age I began, but we would attend the regular Sunday service and then go to
our classroom. I was resistant. My memory is that I was resistant because my
father worked 5 1/2 days, so, to the extent that he was home and I was going to
Sunday school, then I wouldn’t have time with him. But that is at odds with the
fact that each Sunday morning he played golf. It may be that my resistance was
that there were perhaps Saturday classes or maybe Hebrew classes. I connect my
resistance to wanting to be with my father who, I recall, was supportive of my
desire to avoid going to Sunday school. I didn’t open myself to the joys of
religion. I found the classes boring. Neither of us, my sister Louise and I, was
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confirmed or bar mitzvahed or bat mitzvahed. Later, my sister, who had a first
marriage to Ray Marks, divorced, and married Chuck Salzman. Chuck is
religious, and Louise is now quite religious. Her daughter — she has three
children — her daughter Susan is ordained as a rabbi. I think that Louise has
gotten a lot out of her religion.
My family always had a Christmas tree. Christmas was a big thing. I never
saw anything out of the ordinary about celebrating Christmas until I married my
wife, Ruth. Ruth is a granddaughter of the head orthodox rabbi of the State of
Wisconsin. Her parents thought that a Jewish family that had a Christmas tree
had made a terrible error. In our early years, when we had children, we had a
Christmas tree, but in time, Ruth got me to give it up and I’m quite satisfied with
that. I look back and think that I had confusions about who I was and what my
relationship to Judaism was. I was resistant to it, probably taking a page from the
Ms. Garrett: Did there come a point when that resolved itself?
Mr. Pollak: Some time later. I went to Dartmouth College. Many influences led me there.
One of them was that I harbored the view that fraternities played a lesser role
there than at some other places. As a macro matter that may be true, but they
played a major role at Dartmouth. I can remember before going to college talking
over the dinner table with my parents about college fraternities and how they were
discriminatory. That keys in with the experience of my father at the University of
Chicago. I did not join a fraternity at Dartmouth. I never wanted to. This, I
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concluded later, was a coming-of-age experience. Somewhat after I’d made this
choice, I realized that I hadn’t really made that choice myself. I felt I had made
the choice I thought my parents would make or expected me to make. When this
more adult, more independent thinking broke over me, I realized with some
disappointment that it was perfectly fine not to join a fraternity, but it would have
been better not to have joined for my own reasons, rather than my parents’. I was
never sorry about it. It was just that it would have been better to have come to
terms with my own thinking to say, “That isn’t something I want to do. Those are
not necessarily the people that I want to be with.” In fact, many of my friends on
the swimming team were fraternity members as were my close friends, the
Hotchkisses. I was troubled by the idea of joining a segregated Jewish fraternity
and I was also troubled by the idea of being a token Jewish member of an
otherwise gentile fraternity. I didn’t like either alternative, so the swimming team
was my fraternity.
Ms. Garrett: You were growing up in some interesting times, I think, globally and
domestically. I wanted to talk to you a little bit about what impact some of those
events — events of World War I, World War II, had on you and on your family
and if the fate, the plight of the Jews in Europe, was something that was discussed
or known, or if you understood much.
Mr. Pollak: I was 11 or 10 when Hitler began moving against the Sudetenland and then
Czechoslovakia and later France. That was a matter of constant concern in our
family. My family was committed from an early time to the idea that the
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United States had to be involved in opposing the Nazis. There were hatemongers
on the radio, Father Coughlin and Gerald L.K. Smith, who had to be Nazi
sympathizers and spouted anti-Semitism on the radio. We were aware of those
conditions. I followed all of that very closely. I was committed to the entry of
the United States into the war. The United States’ future was on the line.
Ms. Garrett: Where were you when you learned about Pearl Harbor? Do you remember that?
Mr. Pollak: I don’t remember where I was. I think I was just at home on a Sunday afternoon.
I remember where I was when I learned President Kennedy had been killed, but I
don’t remember where I was that Pearl Harbor day.
I remember the conditions in the United States in the Depression and the
concerns that my family felt for people who didn’t have work. Our household
had a strong concern for public assistance and for government doing the right
thing, driven by the ethic of the League of Women Voters with which my mother
was active. These views must have been reinforced in my grammar school,
although I don’t recall much about that. As I got to seventh grade, I had a civics
teacher – we had a home room teacher and I think my home room teacher was the
same as my civics teacher – Lorraine Sinkler. She was very much concerned with
good government and international cooperation and she had a large influence on
me as did my mother.
Ms. Garrett: Were there any other teachers who filled that role in the early days?
Mr. Pollak: Well, I had important male teachers in high school. A lot of good solid teachers,
all the way along. I think my public school education was a good education. The
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public schooling was a good community to be a part of. I did very well as a
student, but never thought of myself as a brilliant student. My three earliest
friends often referred to me as “prof,” short for professor, although looking back
on it I don’t really know why. I wasn’t really an intellectual youngster. I wasn’t
reading deep books.
Ms. Garrett: What kind of books did you read? What did you enjoy?
Mr. Pollak: I remember enjoying the Hornblower books by C. S. Forester about the sea. My
father had been in the Navy in World War I, and I had seen his picture in uniform.
I always harbored the view as a youngster that I wanted to go into the Navy and I
ultimately did. One of the great books that I read as a young person was Somerset
Maugham’s Of Human Bondage. An influential reading for me was
Dostoyevski’s Crime and Punishment, which I must have read later. I remember
reading a book by Marcia Davenport, about coal mining in Britain, How Green
Was my Valley. I read the Neville Shute books about South Africa. I liked
reading novels. My memory of my education is that I did not draw as much out
of a lot of it as I think was available, on history, on literature. I was doing a lot of
different things, as well as growing up.
Ms. Garrett: What were your goals? What did you want to be when you grew up and had a
Mr. Pollak: From an early time I wanted to be in government. I thought that the government
was a force for good, and that I wanted to be a part of it. I had a plan to go to
college and to go to public administration school thereafter, Littauer at Harvard or
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Maxwell at Syracuse or Woodrow Wilson at Princeton. The Navy sent me to
college in something called the Holloway Plan and that obligated me to serve 15
months to two years after graduation on active duty. While I was in the Navy,
President Truman, because of the Korean War, extended my term to three years. I
applied to those three public administration schools, and then I applied to Yale
Law School and entered the Law School. I didn’t know any lawyers except for
Bernard Nath, my parents’ friend. I didn’t know what he did as a lawyer. When I
went to law school, I had no role models at all. I was confused in my first
semester by all the terms for what to me seemed the same thing – petitioner,
plaintiff, respondent, appellant, appellee, defendant. It was hard for me to get the
case reports straight because I knew so little about the fabric of the law, which
should have been otherwise because I had taken Constitutional Law at Dartmouth
from Professor Robert Carr. I did not leave Dartmouth with the idea that I would
become a lawyer.
I was active at Dartmouth in the National Student Association. I remember
attending, possibly in the winter of ‘48-‘49, one of the early convocations of the
National Student Association at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I
became friendly there with a young woman from Mount Holyoke College named
Charlotte Huston and later dated her. After college, she married Otto Reischer
who was an immigrant from Austria. Otto was an economist working for the
Labor Department in 1951-52. Otto and Charlotte were living in Washington. I
was beginning my third year in the Navy. Ruth and I came to Washington to visit
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Charlotte. Over lunch at a hotel at the corner of Pennsylvania and 18th Street,
Otto asked me what I was planning to do when I got out of the Navy. I said, “I’m
going to go to public administration school. I want to be in government.”
McCarthyism was then the bane of people in government. He said to me, “Well,
that’s a bad idea. If you go into the government and you are trained in public
administration and somebody takes out after you for your views, they’ll let you
go, you won’t have anywhere to go. Government is your only skill.” He said a
much better avenue to public service would be to become a lawyer. “Then,” he
said, “you can go in the government and if McCarthy or someone takes after you,
you can just thumb your nose and get out of government and practice law.”
Ms. Garrett: And that was the impetus for applying to law school?
Mr. Pollak: Yes. I had this feeling that Yale Law-trained lawyers were interested in public
service. I applied only to Yale. That lunch really made a difference in my life.
Otto didn’t even know me. I’m still friendly with Charlotte. I served as Otto’s
lawyer. Otto died relatively young. Charlotte then, years later, married a
wonderful MIT astrophysicist named George Clark. Law was almost an accident
for me but it’s been a very good calling.
Ms. Garrett: Was your family involved in any wartime activities during World War II?
Mr. Pollak: A cousin of my mother, Dr. Stanton Freidberg, an ear, nose and throat specialist,
was in the Army during World War II and served in the Pacific. He sent me a
little cap of a Japanese soldier. I remember taking it out of the wrapping and
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recoiling from it, which must reflect the feelings I had as a youngster about the
Ms. Garrett: Did you have any awareness of the Japanese internment?
Mr. Pollak: I regret to say that if I did, I imagine I supported it. I thought then that the risks
that the President spoke about warranted what was done. I don’t think that
anymore. At the same time, there were no Asians that I knew. I was aware of the
internment. My memory is that I took seriously the idea of Japanese-Americans
directing planes over America, so I thought there was a real threat. Now, it seems
terrible to have accepted that. It was only years later that I became aware of
underlying injustices of all sorts, including loss of land and businesses which nonAsian Americans took over. As far as I can recall, I am not distinguished by
having had the independence of mind to condemn the internment at the time. As
a general matter, I grew up supporting the rights that the Bill of Rights guarantees.
I was conscious of those rights, and thought they were an important strength of
our society. There was little conflict in my youth and I didn’t see much suffering
close up. When I saw it, as I felt there was suffering in Europe, I was supportive
of doing something about it.
Ms. Garrett: At the end of World War II, where were you when you heard about it?
Mr. Pollak: I was a competitive swimmer. In the summers of 1943, ‘44 and ‘45, I went to a
wonderful North Ontario, Canada, camp, run by the nation’s outstanding
swimming coach, Michigan University’s Matt Mann, an immigrant from Britain.
He ran a boys camp and his wife and daughter ran a companion girls camp on a
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lake near Magnetawan in Ontario Province. I was first a camper and then a
counselor at that camp, Camp Chikopi. I was at that camp in August 1945 when
the war against Japan ended. The news came through. There was an aide to Matt,
a woman, not as young as I was, maybe three or four years older, whose husband
was in the military. I was conscious of her joy at his being able to come back. I
had no contemporaneous knowledge of all of the celebrations photographed in
Life Magazine. My memories of the wartime include sacrifices people were
called upon to make. My father went to the 8:10 a.m. train in a car pool so that
they would use little gas which was rationed. I remember using food stamps and
gasoline stamps, shortages, saving tin cans and knitting squares for blankets. I
remember earning money and saving it to buy war bonds. I was fully committed
to going into the military as soon as I was of age, although I could have joined the
Navy when I turned 17 in March of 1945 and I didn’t. I projected going into the
military after high school, and then the war ended. I remember members of the
class two years ahead of me going in. There was a young woman named
Kackie Watson. She was an “item,” we would say today, with a young man who
went away to the war and was killed in Europe. It brought the war home to me.
He was here and then he was gone. The war was an overpowering presence
during all those years. Every morning, one read the paper. When the Allies
landed at Normandy, every day we would look at the paper to see how the battle
lines moved. My recollection is that my education just proceeded along. The war
probably didn’t make that much difference in the way my life was going. The
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social engineering that Roosevelt was pursuing had the full support of my
Ms. Garrett: Including your dad, who was engaged in business?
Mr. Pollak: There were tensions, but mother carried him along, I believe.
Ms. Garrett: It sounds like she was a strong personality.
Mr. Pollak: She was a strong personality. So was my father. My uncle Ferd Kramer went
away to Washington, so my father ran the family business, Draper & Kramer.
Ms. Garrett: What was he doing there?
Mr. Pollak: He was part of the National Housing Administration and War Housing
Administration. He brought his knowledge of that industry to Washington.
During the Depression my father was an executive at Draper & Kramer, a real
estate company begun in 1893 by my mother’s father. The executives didn’t take
any salary at all. They worked for a time with no income. My family was limited
economically then. My father was more realistic about making the private
economy go. He would have dialog with my mother who was seeing what the
social needs were that had to be met. Both points of view were entitled to credit.
So there was some clash there. My father would say sometimes to my mother,
“Laura you’re not being realistic.” At least that’s the way I would put it. I was
greatly influenced by my mother, but both parents had a work ethic that I
inherited. My mother’s work was in the home and volunteer work “downtown.”
In my little town, going downtown meant going down to Chicago. My mother’s
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mother came out to our house on Thursdays, allowing my mother to go out and do
things or go downtown. My grandmother would take care of us.
Ms. Garrett: I think we are at a point we can stop. We have been going about an hour and a
half or so. Next time, I’d like to pick up at college, the next jump. And then from
there to your naval service and law school
Mr. Pollak: It might be interesting to put on the record the careers of people that I grew up
with or went to college with. There were 242 of us who graduated from Highland
Park High School in 1946. I have probably been more involved in public life than
any of my class from that relatively affluent community. Among the women,
there are a number who, like my mother, devoted themselves to volunteer work or
became teachers. Most of the women from my generation did the traditional
thing, raise their families. My wife Ruth says she was trained to go to college and
get married, and she did. We married following her graduation from Sarah
Lawrence, a few weeks after my return from Korea.