Polak, Jacob Eduard

views updated


POLAK, JACOB EDUARD (1820–1891), physician and writer. Born in Bohemia, he studied medicine and science in Prague and Vienna and in 1851 was invited to Teheran by the Persian government to serve as professor of anatomy and surgery at the military college. In 1856 he was appointed court physician to Shah Nasr-el-Din. Polak returned to Vienna in 1860 and was associated with the general hospital there while acting as lecturer in Persian at the University of Vienna. When Nasr-el-Din toured Europe in 1872 he visited Polak, who is mentioned in the shah's "Diary" as his "good old friend." Polak wrote a number of important treatises in Persian on anatomy, surgery, ophthalmology, and military medicine, some of which became standard works. He also compiled a medical dictionary in Persian, Arabic, and Latin in order to provide the Persian language with a system of medical terminology, and composed a much-used dictionary, Deutsch-persiches Konversationswoerterbuch (1914).

A faithful and devoted Jew, Polak used his prestige and influence at the court of the shah in favor of his coreligionists. He drew the attention of European Jewry to the plight of the Jews in Persia at the time and proposed that the Alliance Israélite Universelle should send a Jewish representative to Teheran or establish a Jewish school there, as was ultimately done. Polak wrote extensively on various aspects of Jewish life in Persia; Persien, das Land und seine Bewohner (1865) and other publications contain important information about the Jews.


P. Goldberg, Dr. J.E. Polak: eine biographische Skizze (1856); Fischel, in: jsos, 12 (1950), 119–60.

[Walter Joseph Fischel]