Since obtaining his law degree from McGill University in 1982 and passing the Quebec bar exam a year later, attorney Michael Polak has enjoyed a successful career.
The son of parents of Dutch origin, Quebec Court Judge and retired Liberal Member of the National Assembly Max Polak (pictured with Michael below), and Celine Spier, Polak grew up in Côte Saint-Luc. In fact his parents still reside in the same Wavell Road home.
Over the years Polak has travelled to the Netherlands several times, usually with his parents, and served as a member of the Canada Netherlands Chamber of Commerce. He has also assisted the Netherlands Consulate in Montreal with Dutch-Quebec contracts on numerous levels. Ironically, while his parents had to surrender their Dutch citizenship when they came to Canada more than 50 years ago, through what he calls a “loophole,” Michael was able to claim dual citizenship about a decade ago.
Polak believes that these factors led to his formal confirmation this month as the Honourary Consul General for the Netherlands in Montreal. “As the title explains this is honourary and I will not get paid,” he told me. “I will, nonetheless, try to represent the Kingdom of the Netherlands at every opportunity here.”
Polak’s mother is a survivor of the Holocaust and the Theresienstadt concentration camp in the former Czechoslovakia. Her experience was in fact described in detail in the novel What World Is Left. It was written by Monique Polak, Michael’s sister and while it focuses on a fictitious character named Anneke and her family, it is inspired by he experiences of Celine Spier. Michael Polak says that until his sister began doing the research for this book, their mother had never discussed her experience in Theresienstadt
Max Polak, born to a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, met Celine after the war in Holland. They moved to Canada in 1954 and raised three children: Michael, Monique and Caroline, also a lawyer.
“This honourary appointment means a great deal to my parents and they are just tickled pink,” says Polak. “ For many years the Netherlands had a full Consulate here. In fact, there was a Jewish Consul General named Albert Moses. For budgetary reasons they had to close and I was actually approached more than a year ago. Even though my post is honourary I needed a former letter from Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. The Canadian government required a security clearance. This all took time. Now that it is done I am here to be of assistance. If people have VISA problems, I can help. I am in constant communication with the embassy in Ottawa.”
Polak notes that this coming May will mark the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Holland. “It was Canada,” he said, “which played the most significant role.”
Indeed Canada’s most notable role in bringing about the end of the Second World War was the liberation of the Netherlands on May 5, 1945. To this day, the Dutch Royal Family sends 10,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa each year as a show of thanks. In the early hours of May 7, just two days after Canada’s victory in the Netherlands, Germany’s High Command of Armed Forces signed an unconditional surrender at a schoolhouse in Rheims, France. The following night, a second and final surrender was signed at a villa just outside Berlin.
Polak’s legal practice remains a busy one as the counsel for three international airlines, a representative to a myriad of radio, television and production companies, handling licensing, distribution, mergers and acquisitions for foreign companies based in the Netherlands, Spain, France, Belgium, the United States, Germany and China . He is also involved in a number of community activities. His wife, Penelope Kershaw, is the president of one of the oldest philanthropic organizations in the city The American Women’s Club of Montreal. Polak says he will be counting on her broad experience in community affairs in his efforts to elevate the relations between the Netherlands and Montreal for greater cultural understanding and exchange.
Honourary Consul General Michael Polak can be reached at 514-935-6226.