'Helen Lewis survived the greatest nightmare ever dreamed by man. Her story is appalling, mesmerising, and one reads with increasing gratitude for her clarity, honesty and courage.' Ian McEwan Helen Lewis, a young student of dance in Prague at the outbreak of WW2 was herded, like Madeleine Albright, into the Terezin ghetto, then shipped to Auschwitz, in 1942. Separated from her family, she struggled to survive amidst the carnage of The Final Solution. How she did so, and what she did in order to survive, is a gripping story, told with wit, candour, and controlled anger. Widely praised by many, including Jennifer Johnston, Michael Longley, and the Guardian, and hailed by the Independent for its 'elegiac simplicity and lucidity', A Time to Speak is an elegant memoir of the Holocaust, humbling in its freedom from bitterness, which will leave no reader unmoved.
Helen Lewis was born in 1916 in Trutnov in Czechoslovakia. She completed her grammar school education, then successfully auditioned for a place at Milca Mayerova's School of Dance in Prague. While studying for her diploma, she also began a course in Philosophy at the German University. She married in 1938, and in 1942, together with her husband Paul, she was deported to Terezin, the Jewish ghetto sixty kilometres north of Prague, and then in May 1944 to Auschwitz, where they were separated. After the liberation she returned to Prague to learn that her husband had not survived. In 1947 she married Harry Lewis, an old friend who had escaped to Belfast just before the start of the war, and settled there with him the same year. After the birth of their two sons, she became involved in dance again, choreographing for theatre and opera. Her teaching eventually led to the foundation of the Belfast Modem Dance Group, which introduced modern contemporary dance to Northern Ireland. A Time to Speak was published in 1992 and brought her wider recognition as a writer, broadcaster and speaker. She often talked about her experiences to community groups and in schools, a responsibility she took particularly seriously. Her contribution to the life of Northern Ireland was recognized by the award of honorary doctorates by The University of Ulster (1993) and The Queen's University, Belfast (1996) and by her appointment as MBE in 2000. She died on 31 December 2009.
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