The ‘Paradise curse’ of Johan Polak

Johan Polak (1928-1992), born and bred in Amsterdam, was one of its’ outstanding citizens of the city in the 20th century. “I am jewish, I am homosexual, as ugly as a horse and I am a millionaire. You wouldn’t think I can expect something beautiful of other people.”, this is how Johan Polak expressed his own ‘Paradise Curse’.  From June 1st till October 7th, the city archive of Amsterdam shows an exhibition about this extraordinary person, showing the many facets of this complicated and accomplished man.

The life of Johan Polak

Johan Polak was a publisher, a maecenas, a booktrader, bibliophile and classicist. But as a national celebrity and board member of the COC, he played also an important part in the fight for gay rights in The Netherlands. He founded the publishing house Polak & Van Gennep in 1962, together with Rob van Gennep, and four years later the Atheneum Bookstore.

A young Johan Polak
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He grew up as the second son of a well-to-do liberal-jewish family. His carefree youth was broken off by the death of his father and the outbreak of the Second World War. Both events had a big impact on his further live. During his teenage years he developed a love for literature and the spoken word. In this period he also started to collect books and got to know the world of publishers.

In the books he read as a teenager helped Polak to discover his homosexuality. His coming out was for him a person, sexual liberation. By becoming member of the board of the COC and openly write and discuss his sexuality in public, he made a huge contribution to the gay liberation in The Netherlands.

Polak was at his best when he was at the centre of attention. He hid his insecurities behind humor, eloquence and courteous behavior.

The exhibition

He also left many traces in the city of Amsterdam. That’s why the Stadsarchief (Amsterdam City Archive) has put up an exhibition to tell and show about his fascinating life. It is told in this exhibition with documents from his own archive, that is being persevered in the Stadsarchief. Unique borrowings from other collections complement the exhibition and give a rounded view of Johan Polak. You can see handwritten letters from well-known Dutch writers, rare prints of books and never before published pictures.

The exhibition is among others base on the biography J.B.W.P. Het leven van Johan Polak, by Koen Hilberdink.

The exhibition last from June 1st till October 7th 2018. The Stadsarchief is located in the beautiful De Bazel building at the Vijzelstraat 32, 1017 HL Amsterdam. The exhibition can be visited Tuesday till Friday from 10AM till  5PM, Saturday and Sunday from 12PM till 5PM. Entrance is free!

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