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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Pollak, Hans (1885–1976)

by G. C. Bolton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Hans Pollak (1885-1976), philologist, was born on 28 April 1885 in Vienna, son of Jewish parents Moriz Pollak and his wife Marie, née Pessl. Hans studied Scandinavian and comparative philology under Max Jellinek at the University of Vienna (D.Phil., 1908); his special field was the structure of the Gothic verb. In 1907 he was converted to Catholicism. Employed (1908-15) in the phonetic archives section of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, he visited Sweden in 1910, and was granted tenure in 1912. On 3 February 1910 at the Votivkirche, Vienna, he married Ella Johanna Löwith; they were to have one child before being divorced in 1912. While retaining part-time status (1915-26) in the academy, he taught in senior high schools.

Pollak was seconded (1916-18) as lektor to the University of Lund, Sweden, and had charge (1920-26) of German and Latin at the Bundesrealgymnasium, one of Vienna's leading schools. A consistent advocate of reform in the teaching of German, he published over thirty learned articles on aspects of philology. In a civil ceremony in Vienna on 9 January 1926 he married Margaret Hamilton, daughter of Justice Theyre Weigall. That year he was reappointed to the University of Lund, where he wrote and translated several works on the pedagogy of philology.

Returning to Vienna in 1934, Pollak resumed teaching until 1938 when, he remarked, 'I was . . . suddenly retired by the Nazis in consideration of my Jewish blood'. Through his wife's connexions, he was able to migrate to Australia; he reached Sydney on 8 April 1939 in the Aorangi. In 1940 Professor Augustin Lodewyckx appointed him part-time tutor in German at the University of Melbourne. Pollak took up a full-time post as assistant-lecturer in German at the University of Western Australia in 1941 and was to be promoted senior lecturer in 1949. In July 1944 he was naturalized. He built up a three-year undergraduate course in German and fostered teaching of the language in secondary schools. Students responded to the courtesy and enthusiasm of the greying scholar, whose slight stammer did not disguise the efficiency born of decades of teaching. Particularly interested in German Romantic writers, he founded (1949) the Western Australian branch of the Australian Goethe Society.

Retirement in 1951 from full-time teaching enabled Pollak to resume productivity in publication. In 1963 he encouraged the establishment of a newsletter in comparative education, to which he contributed. Six years later, at the age of 84, he gave a notable paper on concepts of time in language to the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association, showing his awareness of contemporary developments in Aboriginal as well as European linguistics. In 1970 he was awarded a D.Litt. by the university. He published eleven more articles in the 1970s, mostly in the Zeitschrift für Deutsche Philologie.

Pollak was greatly respected as an exemplar of scholarly values retained and exercised into vigorous old age. He died on 24 April 1976 at Shenton Park and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery. His wife survived him; the son of his first marriage predeceased him. The Pollaks were a devoted couple whose cosmopolitan perspectives contributed, unobtrusively but valuably, to the provincial culture of Perth in the 1940s and 1950s.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Alexander, Campus at Crawley (Melb, 1963)
  • Comparative Education, Nov 1963, May 1964
  • item 102/1 (University of Western Australia Archives)
  • naturalisation file, PP302/1, item WA18210, and immigration file, A443, item 1952/15/4522 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Pollak, Hans (1885–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 30 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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