WILKES, Helen Waldstein

Author Tags: Biography, Jewish, War

Retired, with a Ph.D. in French literature, Helen Waldstein Wilkes of Vancouver, born in 1936, has examined her Jewish/Czechoslovakian background in Letters from the Lost: A Memoir of Discovery (Athabasca U.P. $24.95). In 2011, this book won both the Alberta Readers' Choice Award for best book published in Alberta (fiction or non-fiction) and the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction.

Much of this sophisticated and well-illustrated material is derived from a treasure trove of letters—received by her parents in Canada from family members in Europe from 1939 to 1948—that Wilkes rescued from an Eaton’s Christmas box after her father died in 1959. As Nazis closed in on war-torn Czechoslovakia, her father had managed to escape from Prague with his young family in 1939.

“I think involuntarily of Hilderl,” she writes, “a relative on my mother’s side. Hilderl was a beautiful child known to me only through my photo album. In the photo she is perhaps five years old. Poor little Hilderl. Neither her name nor the details ever varied as my mother told the story: ‘Poor little Hilderl was a delightful child, sweet, bright, charming. One day as she was walking home with her mother, a Nazi tank deliberately drove onto the sidewalk and killed Hilderl. I don’t know how her mother survived. We all thought she would go crazy.”



Letters from the Lost: A Memoir of Discovery (AU Press 2010) 978-1-897425-53-4.

[BCBW 2010]