Actress Scarlett Johansson..
(photo credit: REUTERS/MIKE SEGAR)
Jewish actress Scarlett Johansson recently discovered that several of her ancestors perished in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust.
The revelation came during the making of an episode of PBS’s genealogy show Finding Your Roots, in which she sat down with host Henry Louis Gates Jr. to explore her family tree.
magazine published a short preview of the episode, which is set to be aired in the US on Tuesday.
“Wow, that’s sad,” Johansson says, shaking her head in disbelief after reading out the names of her maternal great-grandfather’s brother Mosze Szlamberg and his children Zlata, 15, and Mandlit, 17, who died in the ghetto.
Finding Your Roots - Scarlett Johansson. (YouTube/ Scarlett Johansson Scrapbook)
“Sorry,” she said, as she battled the tears that sprang to her eyes. “And I promised myself that I wouldn’t cry. But it’s hard not to.”
Her great-grandfather Saul Szlamberg had moved to New York City where he worked as a grocer.
“That is crazy,” she says as she studies the document from Yad Vashem. “I mean, you really couldn’t imagine the horror. It’s just so crazy to imagine... It’s crazy to imagine that Saul would be on the other side selling bananas on Ludlow Street [on Manhattan’s Lower East Side]. And how different it would be being in America at that time,” says Johansson, 32.
“The fate of one brother versus the other.”
“It makes me feel more deeply connected to that side of myself, that side of my family,” she adds. “I didn’t expect that.”
Fellow-actor Paul Rudd had a similar reaction in his own appearance in the upcoming episode, in which he learned about the antisemitism his grandfather endured in England in the wake of World War II.
“The Hempstead, Edgware, Catford and New West End Synagogues received telephonic threats this week warning that the structures would be either blown up or burnt down,” a mustachioed Rudd reads from a JTA news brief from January 12, 1947.
Rudd’s grandfather David – after serving five years in the British military during the war – returned to London. Instead of finding peace there, however, he experienced antisemitic riots led by homegrown fascist groups in his neighborhood.
“One of the new fascist groups – Union for British Freedom – held a meeting this week at Edgware, at which Victor Burgess, who was detained during the war as a ‘dangerous person,’ suggested that four British Jews should be flogged publicly,” the brief continues.
“Now think about your grandfather,” Gates tells Rudd on air. “He had served in World War II to fight fascism and he comes home to fascism.
Can you imagine?” “I mean, it must have been awful,” Rudd replies.
Rudd’s grandfather, Davis Rudnitsky changed his name to David Rudd because he thought it would improve his chances of getting a job. The actor says that according to family lore, David did get a job after the name change – at a kosher butcher.
Growing up, the future movie star says he was detached from religion, but that he used to be called “Jewboy” at school. His family moved frequently during his youth – to places where there were few Jews.
Rudd says in the episode that hearing about his relatives makes him “feel closer to them and closer to my religion.”
In previous episodes, American- Jewish celebrities such as Dustin Hoffman, Carole King, Larry David and Bernie Sanders have all learned about their pasts.
“For many, learning about their roots brings them closer to their religion,” Gates, a Harvard historian, told JTA in an email. “Many tell me they ‘feel more Jewish’ after we have introduced them to their ancestors.”