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Sons tell of their pride as Belfast honours life of Holocaust survivor Helen Lewis

By Brett Campbell

The sons of a Holocaust survivor who inspired generations of dancers in Northern Ireland have spoken of their pride after she was honoured with a blue plaque on the walls of a Belfast theatre where she once worked.

Michael and Robin Lewis - sons of Helen Lewis - were among a host of guests at the unveiling of an Ulster History Circle blue plaque at the Crescent Arts Centre yesterday, Holocaust Memorial Day.

Eldest son Michael told the Belfast Telegraph: "It's an extraordinary event and we are delighted that our mother's work is being recognised and appreciated in a city which she made her home."

The 67-year-old retired head teacher, who now lives in Sheffield, said: "She found peace and a home here after her life had been effectively wrecked through her suffering. Over time, with the help of my father and a return to dance - her great and first love - she was able to reconstruct her life. It was remarkable, and it happened here in Belfast."

Robin (62) said his mother would be "slightly amused" at the honour, but "very proud and happy".

"She always said it was important to remember the truth about the past, because there are people who want to distort it and forget about it," he said.

In her 1992 memoir - A Time to Speak - Helen chronicled her chilling experiences of the Second World War.

Robin, who is now a judge in London, added: "She would say, 'If the world is moving to place where people no longer know the difference between truth and lies, it's even more important that they can read the truth'.

"To this extent, her book still speaks today."

Rabbi David Singer addressed those who had assembled to mark the occasion by reciting an ancient Talmudic blessing.

"Just as I dance toward you but cannot touch you, so may none of my enemies be able to touch me for evil," he said.

It was an apt tribute for a woman remembered as a pioneer of modern dance in the city.

Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston said Mrs Lewis "is an example of the contribution that international newcomers make to our country."

The talented dancer, choreographer and writer was born Helena Katz in Trutnov, Czechoslovakia, in 1916.

She married in 1938 before being deported to a Jewish ghetto in Terezin and then to Auschwitz in German-occupied Poland, where she was separated from her husband Paul, who did not survive the horrors of the Nazi death camp.

In October 1947, after an old friend, Harry Lewis, contacted her from his new home in Belfast, she remarried and moved to the city.

It was the birth of her two sons which rekindled Helen's passion for dance that she had from childhood and subsequently led to the founding of the Belfast Modern Dance Group.

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