26 August 2008

UK: Jerry Springer on WDYTYA, Aug. 27

Who Do You Think You Are? will feature Jerry Springer's family search in the segment to air 9pm, Wednesday, August 27, according to this UK Independent interview .

In addition to being the host of the silly show that bears his name, he's also been mayor of an Ohio (US) city, but this segment explores his family during the Holocaust.

He reveals an unexpectedly sensitive side and is reduced to tears as he explores what happened to his family during the Holocaust. His parents had to leave Germany in such haste, they were not able to take their mothers with them. So now he is attempting to find out what became of the grandmothers he never met.
Read about his emotional journey back to England, where he was born in the East Finchley Tube station during a 1944 air raid. His German-Jewish parents fled there on August 1, 1939, a month before the border closed at the outbreak of WWII. In 1949, the family emigrated to Queens in New York City. In the show, he travels to what was Landsberg, Germany (now Gorzow, Poland) where his father had a shoe shop, until things got rough in the 1930s, with increasingly oppressive restrictions placed on the Jews.
In the local archive, Springer reads a newspaper from 1933 ordering people not to visit Jewish businesses, lawyers or doctors. "Bastards!" he says, the anger clear on his face.
He discovered that, in 1942, his maternal grandmother Marie Kallman was sent in a cattle train to the Chelmno camp, where she was among the first to be gassed. He walks around the trains kept as a memorial at a nearby station; he sobs and says a prayer. Springer's paternal grandmother Selma Springer was deported to Theresienstadt, which Nazi propaganda characterized as a model camp. She died there in 1943. Filming the show, he says, gave him an insight into what his parents had gone through.
Everyone talks, quite rightly, about the horror of the Holocaust," he says. "But think of the fear from 1933 onwards, the constant terror of knowing that tonight you might get a knock on the door and the Gestapo might take you away. I can't imagine that was anything other than horrific."
After the war, his parents, Richard and Margot, lived with the aftershock.
One of the reasons I wanted to make Who Do You Think You Are? was to find out what happened to my family, because my parents didn't want to talk about it," he sighs. They'd talk about the War in general terms, and then stop in mid-sentence. It was too painful for them. They wouldn't even watch The Sound of Music because of the Nazi uniforms in that film. You don't want to make your parents uncomfortable, but I wish now that I had sat them down and said, 'Tell me all about it.' But survivors always say, 'Once you open that door, you can never shut it again. If I let you into that room, you'll never leave'."em>
Having made the show, he feels his family is an example for what happened to Jewish people in Europe for hundreds of years.
"You know when you read those historical novels and there's a fictional character placed in the middle of major events? He's a friend of Churchill's or he worked for Stalin. That was my family. Whatever happened to Europe in the past 200 years, my family was in the middle of it.
His great-grandfather Abraham, in 1880s Neustettin was the head of the first European Jewish synagogue to be burned in 700 years. The following generation was sent to the death camps, the next escaped to America.
"It's like my family has been in the middle of a historical novel."
There's more detail: how his experience with the Holocaust impacted his liberal politics; studying political science (Tulane University) and law (Northwestern University); and calls his own show silly. Critics say the show is responsible for the downfall of Western civilization as we know it, but he thinks that the Holocaust was more of a threat. American politics, terrorism and more are touched on in the interview. About the search for his roots:
"Of course," Springer sighs, "I'd have preferred not to have provided the material for this programme. But I hope that people watch it and that it provokes discussion."Above all, I hope people remember that the Holocaust happened in our lifetime and was carried out by people who looked just like us. It's so easy to pass it off as a tribal thing that happened 800 years ago. Wrong! It happened in the most civilised society in Europe, a culture that had great music and literature."
And he believes the story must continue to be told and that the tale of one person's suffering can have more impact than the story of millions being killed. Six million is a number people can't get their heads around, but one person can immediately imagine his or her own grandmother in that situation.
Springer likes to sign off each episode of his talk show with a summary of what we've learnt. So what might we take away from Who Do You Think You Are? He pauses. "I hope the programme makes you think about one thing," he replies. "How can we stop this happening again?"
If you are in the UK or have satellite access to BBC1, this segment is set for 9pm Wednesday. Otherwise, watch for re-runs in your area. To read the complete article, click on the link above.


  1. Hi Schelly,
    Thanks for sharing this. I hope the producers at NBC will note the continued interest in having a stateside version of WDYTYA. I haven't seen anything official since the big announcement in March. Have you heard anything new?
    California Genealogical Society and Library blog

  2. Anonymous5:11 AM

    Hi Schelly

    I am looking forward to watching this tonight, although I am not sure that looking forward is the right phrase. Most of these programmes are moving in one way or another, Stephen Fry in a previous series was one that sticks in my memory.

  3. Anonymous5:13 AM

    A PS to my previous post, if you can access the BBC website you can watch programmes broadcast in the previous 7 days on iplayer

  4. Anonymous2:57 PM


    I watched this programme on tv and also cried.
    I am tracing my family history and discovered that my grandfather died in Flossenburg concentration camp.