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HERNAN POLAK

CHILE

Photography by Elliot Sylman

Hernan came to Canada in his mid-20s in 1972. His grandfather had travelled from Europe to Argentina under the Baron de Hirsch plan. A book called Jewish Gauchos told the stories of people with similar experiences. Others who spoke Yiddish had their story told in The Community Was Called Mosheville.

Hernan’s father, Jacobo, left for Buenos Aires and then later went to Santiago, Chile. There he met Hernan’s mother, Brigida, at a WIZO dance - she had recently arrived by boat from Romania. Jacobo had heard that Chile was a good place to live, so he established himself there and opened up a deli in the Santiago market, which he operated for most of his life. He and Brigida had two sons, Hernan, and his older brother, Luis, who still lives in Santiago.

Hernan graduated as an agronomist from the University of Chile. His specialty was studying apples and pesticides. Around that time, he met his wife, Sonia, who was born in Santiago to Jewish parents who came from Poland and France.

Salvador Allende came to power in Chile in the 1970s, and the economy was in terrible shape. Hernan and Sonia decided to leave and obtained papers to come to Canada. He had to buy a return ticket because he was a professional and they were not allowed to leave the country. They lived in Israel for eight months after leaving Chile. Sonia’s mother is French and a lot of her family had moved to Montreal, so Hernan and Sonia moved to Montreal before arriving in Toronto. Hernan only spoke Spanish but got a job in a factory. They felt Toronto was a more vibrant city and decided to move back, where Hernan’s knowledge of the English language improved. He had a series of jobs, first as a jobber (someone who sells dried goods), later with industrial chemicals, and afterwards, he opened a mirror factory in Thornhill. Currently Hernan works as a sales consultant at an ergonomic company.