About “A SILENCE THAT SPEAKS” by Susan Soyinka



Susan’s mother, Lucy Fowler née Smetana, was a Viennese Jew who fled to Nottingham, England, in 1938 to escape Nazi persecution. She lost most of her immediate family, but spoke little of her experiences for decades. In 1995, Susan learned for the first time of other members of the extended family who had survived and were now scattered around the world. Thus began an 18-year search for her mother’s family, and for the story of what had happened to them during that dreadful era. She also travelled deep into her family’s past, uncovering in the process an oral family history claiming descent from the Czech composer, Bedrich Smetana.

Just as she was completing her research, Susan was the astonished recipient of some 3,000 pages of Nazi documents sent by the Austrian State Archives, from which she learnt the fate of several family members.  Still, her search was not over. Days before publication, and after attending a conference in Paris, she finally learned the gruesome details of the arrest of her grandmother and aunt in France, and their deportation to Auschwitz.

This is a saga which spans 200 years and four continents, in the process crossing many countries including, among others, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, San Marino, France, Sweden, England, Australia, USA, Ghana and Nigeria. It is, in effect, a history of Europe and beyond, told through the experiences of eight generations of one family. Richly illustrated with archive photographs and rare historical documents, this biography and family history is an extraordinary story of one family’s struggle to deal with the impact and the legacy of the Holocaust. It is also a Holocaust memoir which offers a unique insight into the inner workings of the Nazi regime in Austria.


“In this remarkable book, Susan… was able to give names to the nameless, faces to the faceless – and restore the wholeness of a family the Nazis had intended to destroy…. It restores life where there was death, presence where there was absence, roots where identity was lost, hope where there was despair.” Stephen Smith, Executive Director of the Shoah Foundation Institute , writing in his Foreword to the book.


In May 2014, Susan received an award for “A Silence That Speaks” from the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain (JGSGB). The official title of the award is: “The Rabbi Dr Bernard Susser award for an outstanding publication by a member of the Society”. Bernard Susser was a renowned Jewish historian, and author, amongst many other publications, of “The Jews of South-West England”. He was also the Rabbi at one time of both the Exeter and Plymouth Synagogues in Devon. The south west connection is coincidental but fitting, since Susan now lives in Penzance, Cornwall, in the far south west of England.

Josef and Cäcilie Smetana, Susan’s great grandparents, with their four children, in front of the family factory in 1900.

About the author Susan Soyinka has worked as a teacher, lecturer, and researcher, spending 10 years of her early career in West Africa. On her return to England, she retrained as an educational psychologist, and after discovering her Jewish roots, worked for nine years in the Jewish community in London. Retirement has given her the time and energy to develop a new career as a writer.

Her first book, From East End to Land’s End, The Evacuation of Jews’ Free School, London, to Mousehole in Cornwall during World War Two, was described by Aumie Shapiro, author of the Jewish East End photographic series, as an “extraordinary, significant story of inter-faith and community harmony. A magnificent achievement.”

Other reviews of From East End to Land’s End include:

“This exceptional book is incredibly well-researched and is of huge general as well as Jewish interest.” BBC Who Do You Think You Are?  Magazine

“This well-researched and immaculately presented book was a thrilling discovery for me. Susan Soyinka has absorbed herself in the relevant sociological material and, at the same time, brought individuals from London and Cornwall to vivid life. A piece of scholarship with a strongly beating heart.” Keith Richards, Former Chair, Third Age Trust

“Painstakingly researched and delivered with real empathy, this fascinating and emotionally-charged book is a sparkling and illuminating read from start to finish.” Simon Parker, Editor, Living Cornwall, Western Morning News


Susan receiving award from JGSGB on 18 May 2014

Susan receiving award from JGSGB on 18 May 2014


© Susan Soyinka, 2012, updated May 2014

For a selection of photos and documents from the book, click the button at the bottom left of this page.

Susan’s books are available on Amazon

  1. penwithlit says:

    Reblogged this on penwithlit and commented:
    Interesting conversation with Susan today. This will be a great read later this year:-

  2. Jeremy Goldbloom says:

    I much enjoyed your book “From East End to Lands End”. Good wishes from Jeremy Goldbloom, son of the late A. Goldbloom (z’l), whom you mentioned in that book. Have you read “Seagull Morning” by Elsie Balme? She has a few words on the subject of the Jewish evacuees also.

  3. McPomm says:

    Congratulations Susan, I’m ordering it today, if it’s half as good as From East end to Land’s End it will be superb.

  4. Catherine Jinadu says:

    Congratulations, Susan on your second book
    I look forward to reading it

  5. This is brilliant Susan, you deserve a rest! fantastic research, looking forward to reading the book.

  6. yamey says:

    I wish you every success with this interesting-looking publication.

  7. Rosemarie E. Poffley says:

    I have just ordered “A Silence That Speaks” after hearing Sue Soyinka talking on Radio Nottingham. I am really looking forward to reading it. I worked with Sue many years ago at Ashfield School.

  8. Tali says:

    Dearest Susan a riveting read and heartfelt wishes for ending the silence!

  9. Adrienne says:

    I was really moved by your book, Sue – what an amazing piece of research. Whilst reading, I realised that I was working at Lagos University at the same time that you were at the University of Ilorin. Perhaps you remember Frank and me from your days in the Hawthorns at Keele?

  10. Frances L Smith says:

    I intend to read your book soon. It’s been fun working with you on our family tree mystery!

  11. Vicki Morley says:

    An outstanding read, I thoroughly recommend it.

  12. Philip Caplan says:

    Dear Susan Soyinka. Do you know anything about 100 or so East End Jewish children who were evacuated to Constantine during WW2.

    • I do not know a great deal about them, but I am aware that there was a large Jewish community in Constantine during WW2. I have mentioned them on page 207 of my book From East End to Land’s End, and have quoted an article in the JC dated 2.5.1941 about a Passover meal in Constantine that year, led by a Mr Harry Rubein. My book is about 100 JFS children who were evacuated to Mousehole.

  13. Michael Rodenberg says:

    I came across From East End to Land’s End by accident BUT what a fortunate accident. I was evacuated to Marazion in 1940 from the East End at six months of age along with my mother and two year old sister. We soon had to move to Penzance and we stayed for almost 20 years. I went to school in Penzance but never met any other Jewish children there. I never knew about the JFS in Mousehole and so I found the book new and completely fascinating. The book’s evocative account of the East End fits closely to the stories my parents told me. The somewhat idyllic description of the reception of the children in Mousehole surprised me and didn’t coincide with my experiences growing up in Penzance. Certainly from 1945 on i remember that Londoners were tegarded as “foreigners” and Jews, well, the coments I received were not always kind shall I say. Having a “foreign” name didn’t help of course.

    I loved the book and have ordered copies for my children who live “next door” to Cornwall, in Devon. Susan you have taken me back over 70 years in time and brough back long burried memories. Thank you for your lovely book!

    Michael Rosenberg. (Florida)

  14. David Tovey says:

    Susan, I am a Cornish art historian and am doing a piece on Ruth Adams for the Lamorna Society and would appreciate making contact. David Tovey http://www.stivesart.info

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