An award for Helen Lewis

November 23, 2018 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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A book about her father’s WWII experiences has won the Mark and Evette Moran Nib Literary Award presented by Sydney’s Waverley Council for author Helen Lewis for the research she carried out for her memoir The Dead Still Cry Out.

We reproduce the review written by Geoffrey Zygier and published in J-Wire in July.

The Dead Still Cry Out: The Story of a Combat Cameraman: a book review by Geoffrey Zygier

As a young girl playing in her home in England one day, Helen Lewis opened an old, apparently hidden suitcase.

Amongst the items she discovered was an envelope containing five large photographs. They proved to belong to her Jewish father, Mike Lewis, who had filmed the liberation of Bergen-Belsen while serving as a cameraman and paratrooper in the British military in World War Two. The images were unspeakable, documenting the atrocities committed in this concentration camp in Northern Germany. Yet speak of them she has, in this fine, absorbing memoir largely about her father’s experiences.

Helen Lewis was to immigrate to Australia at the age of 21; however decades were to pass before reading Deborah Lipstadt’s ‘History on Trial’ prompted Ms Lewis’ search, which culminated in ‘The Dead Still Cry Out’.

Using both written and oral material – including primary sources such as her father’s diaries and war records, and her discussions with him – Ms Lewis recounts the story of how Colman Michael Weisenberg, born of refugee parents in London’s East End, became Sergeant Mike Lewis, whose work provided a factual, albeit harrowing, record of the Final Solution. Indeed, so important was his photography that some of his and his colleagues’ film was later used as evidence in the Belsen war crimes trial. (And a warning for potential readers: some of the photos printed in ‘The Dead Still Cry Out’ remain both shocking and distressing. Nonetheless, as she states in her Author’s note, Ms Lewis believes “… their reproduction in the framework of this story is appropriate….[S]ometimes we need to be disturbed.”)

But ‘The Dead Still Cry Out’ is not only a story of prominent aspects of Mike Lewis’ life. At the same time, it prompts reflection on the relationship between damaged parents and their children; the received trauma of being an observer of suffering; the question of the situation of Jews in the Diaspora in general and in Britain in particular; how history and memory are formed; and about the pervasiveness of Holocaust denial when such authoritative opposing evidence exists. This book is a fascinating read.

Helen Lewis

A final thought: as noted this book touches on a number of themes, but the dominant thought in my mind as I reached its end is of a scenario that Ms Lewis could well have reflected upon in her memoir.

Despite being a victim of antisemitism during the 1930’s Depression, Mike Lewis still strongly believed that Jews in Great Britain were secure. Is that still the case? There is an increasingly real possibility that the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party may well be ruling the United Kingdom in the near future. Not only will this will be a UK that highly likely will oppose the State of Israel, but one that will also demand the allegiance of British Jewry to this stance. There will likely be negative, perhaps disastrous, consequences for British Jews if this occurs. This is perhaps unsurprising given realpolitik and British history, but any such outcome demands an unyielding response from British Jews and other Jews worldwide.

The Dead Still Cry Out: The Story of a Combat Cameraman

By Helen Lewis

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