Harman Patil

Helen Lewis (choreographer)

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Full Name  Helena Katz
Children  Two sons
Other name  Helena Hermann
Other names  Helena Hermann
Died  31 December 2009, Belfast
Helen Lewis (choreographer) wwwculturenorthernirelandorgsitesdefaultfiles
Born  22 June 1916Trutnov, Bohemia
Occupation  dance teacher, choreographer
Known for  A Time to Speak, autobiography
Spouse(s)  Paul Hermann (1938–45; his death) Harry Lewis (1947–91; his death)

Helen Lewis MBE (Trutnov, Bohemia, 22 June 1916 – Belfast, Northern Ireland, 31 December 2009) was a pioneer of modern dance in Northern Ireland, and made her name as a dance teacher and choreographer. A survivor of the Holocaust, she was also known for her memoir of her experiences during the Second World War.


Early life

Helena Katz was born in 1916 into a German-speaking Jewish family in Trutnov in Bohemia (later in Czechoslovakia, now in the Czech Republic). After she completed study at the Realgymnasium of Trutnov in 1935, she and her mother moved to Prague; her father had died in the previous year. There she studied dance with Milča Mayerová, who had trained with Rudolf Laban. Katz also studied philosophy at the German University of Prague, and took private lessons in French. In about 1936 she met Paul Hermann, a Czech from a Jewish family, and in 1938, after she had finished her dance training and her university exams, they were married. She taught as an assistant at Mayerová's dance school, and experimented with choreography.

War years

Following the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939, deportations of Jewish families began in August 1941. The Hermanns were sent in 1942 to Terezín; in 1944 they were transferred to Auschwitz and separated. Paul Hermann died in 1945 on a forced march, not long before the end of the Second World War. Helen, who survived two "selections" by Dr Josef Mengele, was later sent to Stutthof concentration camp in northern Poland.

When the war ended, she returned to Prague, where she learnt of her husband's death; her mother, who had been deported early in 1942, had died at Sobibór extermination camp. Helen began to correspond with Harry Lewis, a Czech with British nationality whom she had known at school and with whom she had had a brief romance before she met Hermann. She married Lewis in Prague in the summer of 1947 and in October moved to Belfast.


After the birth of her two sons, Michael and Robin, in 1949 and 1954, Lewis began to work as a choreographer. In 1956 she did the choreography for a production of The Bartered Bride of Smetana at Grosvenor High School in Belfast, for a performance of Dvořák's The Golden Spinning Wheel at the Belfast Ballet Club, and for a Macbeth at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast. Lewis also taught modern dance, and in 1962 started the Belfast Modern Dance Group. In 2001 she was awarded an MBE for her services to contemporary dance.

Her book A Time to Speak, about her experiences before and during the war, was published in 1992 and was translated into several other languages. It was adapted for the theatre by Sam McCready and performed at the Lyric Theatre during the Belfast Festival in 2009. It was also performed at Exeter Synagogue in 2010.

She died in Belfast on 31 December 2009, aged 93.

A dance studio at the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast is named after her.


Helen Lewis (choreographer) Wikipedia

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