About “A SILENCE THAT SPEAKS” by Susan Soyinka
A SILENCE THAT SPEAKS
A FAMILY STORY THROUGH AND BEYOND THE HOLOCAUST
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 Richly illustrated with archive photographs and rare historical documents, this biography and family history is an extraordinary story of one family’s struggle to deal with the impact and the legacy of the Holocaust.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 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.