150 years of family history

October 13, 2012 Agencies
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A new book based on the life of a Holocaust survivor who never considered himself a survivor has just been published by Melbourne ophthalmic surgeon Dr Henry “Harry” Lew.

Harry Lew

“Lion Hearts,” published by Hybrid, is a Jewish panorama of Europe, Central Asia, USA, Israel and Australia between 1860 and 2002, a family saga of refugees and asylum-seekers based around the life story of Lew’s father, Lonek.
Lew’s parents were survivors of the Holocaust, but Lew says his father used to say that he wasn’t a real survivor of the Holocaust because he was never in a concentration camp. In fact, he ran from Poland to Russia to escape the Germans.
He left his whole family back in Bialystok, where they perished. Henry “Harry” Lew was born in the Bialystok Centre in Melbourne, a way-station for Jewish refugees, in 1948.
But rather than writing a straight biography, Lew says the book is “approximately 30 amazing stories in which his father makes an appearance”.
But it is also an overdue obituary to his late father.
“A journey that passes through the history of the Holocaust is never easy to negotiate,” Lew writes in the introduction. “I did not write my father an obituary when he died. It was simply too painful for me to do so, and I knew it would be hopelessly inadequate. This book is an attempt to rectify that omission.”
Christopher Bantick, the Melbourne writer and teacher, says he’s never read a book like it. On the book’s front cover is a quote attributed to him, which reads: “An exceptional book about extraordinary people living in extraordinary times. My only regret upon completing it is that I have not met any of them personally.”
Lew previously published “The Stories Our Parents Found Too Painful To Tell,” about Rafael Rajzner – dubbed the “Oskar Schindler of Bialystok” who chronicled in Yiddish the liquidation of some 60,000 Jews in Bialystok with only a 1000 survivors.
It was serialised on ABC Radio National and had an ABC telemovie titled “The Sleeping Book” made about it. It now also carries an endorsement by Sir Martin Gilbert.
What’s extraordinary about Dr Lew is that he is not a writer by trade. He runs an opthalmology practice in Caulfield. For 27 years he was a senior consultant to the Repatriation Hospital Heidelberg catering to the surgical needs of our ex-servicemen.
“In 1984 I published the first case of an ocular tumour (an extremely rare one) cured by immunotherapy in Australia. Without being facetious I believe this remains the only ocular tumour cured by immunotherapy in Australia,” he said.
“From 1989-1992 I was one of, I believe, three (out of 700) ophthalmologists performing manual small incisional cataract surgery in Australia.
“Today it has become the most widely used procedure in remote and rural Asia.”
In 2000 he self-published “The Five Walking Sticks: The Story of Maurice Brodsky,” a Melbourne-based social history that also received acclaim.

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