I watched the latest WDYTYA? episode about Lisa Kudrow as it aired on Friday night. I have a lot to say about this from many different aspects. As usual, my thought may be a bit scattered but I hope you can follow along.
1. I watched the show with my wife, who I have to say has been a trooper and has willingly watched the first two episodes with me. But I think this may be the last one she watches. I think it was just the expectation that this was going to be a family history and discovery show and not a grueling reminder of the atrocities of the Holocaust. I think the graphic descriptions of what happened to Lisa's family and the Jews of Ilya were a bit too much and may have missed the target audience. I can see this kind of discussion coming up in a Holocaust documentary, as it should. But on an 8pm, Friday night, national TV show? A bit much.
2. My first point does not in any way mean that reminding people what happened during the Holocaust is not important. It certainly is. And the best example of why it is important is Lisa herself. How can a descendant of Holocaust victims have absolutely no idea what went on? It could be the suburban, southern California upbringing. But in a Jewish family? I find that hard to believe. I hope for her sake her discussion with her father was staged for the show because otherwise she should be ashamed.
3. 6 of my 8 great-grandparents perished in the Holocaust. My father grew up without ever meeting or knowing his grandparents. My mother only knew her maternal grandparents because they fled from Beltsy, Romania (now Moldova) to Tashkent, Russia. You grow up knowing these things, even though none of my grandparents ever talked about their parents. Not once that I can recall. You could see how painful it was for Lisa's father to bring up these memories and he had never met his grandparents either. But my grandparents said where they were from and did discuss a little about their families. I remember that my grandmother had an Yizkor book about her town, Dolhinov (Dolginovo). I remember reading it as a teenager. I guess growing up in Israel makes the Holocaust a lot more real than it does anywhere else.
4. Speaking of Yizkor books, the New York Public Library has the Ilya book. If you go to image 316 which is page 312 you can find the names of Lisa's Mordechevitz family:
If you go a few pages further to image 321 which is page 317 you can read the article that Lisa read in the market square. It's the testimony of David Rubin and it's in Hebrew (it was translated on the screen by Eilat Gordin Levitan who is a very active member of JewishGen, managed several of the shtetl pages and has many websites with wonderful photographs and other information). I couldn't find this specific translation on the Yizkor pages on JewishGen, but there are several others.
UPDATE: Miriam Robbins Midkiff, from the excellent Ancestories blog, left a comment with the link to the translated page that Lisa read. It's after the list of martyrs (which also lists the Mordechovitz family). Thanks Miriam!
4a. I am going to email Eilat and see if I can get a copy of the article she translated so I can share it with my readers or at least point you to a link.
4b. I am in touch with another Rubin from Dolhinov and I sent him an email to see if he is related to the David Rubin who wrote the chapter in the Ilya Yizkor book.
5. I wonder why Ancestry did not play up it's relationship with JewishGen for this episode. Strange. I think that would have been a huge win for all involved.
6. Now just to show how much this episode hit home for me, if you look at Eilat's website and check out the map, you will see that my grandmother's shtetl, Dolhinov (number 1 on the map), is right next to Ilya (number 19 on the map):
7. Doing the kind of research that Lisa did during this show in the Polish and other state archives is not as easy as it seems. From what I know, nothing is online and most records of anything less than 100 years old is not accessible to the general public. You would either need to go there in person and hire someone who's got the right connections or you may be able to do it remotely by hiring a local person, which is probably not something regular family historians can do.
8. I loved how the Polish archivist just plopped down a phone book in front of Lisa. There's no easier way to look for living relatives right?
9. I would have liked to see how Yuri/Boleslaw was related to Kudrow. They kept referring to him as a cousin, but only at the end did they say that Lisa's grandmother was his Aunt.
10. Another important part of the show was when Boleslaw said he wasn't there in Ilya to see the massacre. He only heard about it. But the family had lived for 60 years thinking that he witnessed it. This is a recurring theme with oral histories that are handed down through generations.
11. So how did Boleslaw escape the fate of the rest of his family in Ilya? He escaped to Russia and joined the army. This is pretty much what my own grandfather did. But my grandfather lived in Warsaw, not Belarus. So "escaping" from Warsaw was not going to be as easy. I will need to get to the bottom of this story on my next visit to Israel. I am not sure how much my grandmother will be able to tell me, but I have to ask.
12. I had more thoughts during the show, but I can't remember them now. Overall, I thought that while the subject matter was extremely dark (yet extremely important), the show itself was fairly lacking when it came to actual research. Why had they not talked more about Ilya's history? What about the generation of Jews who lived there for centuries before the Nazis ended it all? I also felt that the constant recaps and previews were too much. There was very little actual footage that wasn't reused several times.
I'm looking forward to the rest of the season of WDYTYA? but I have to admit that this format is starting to get a little tiresome. Maybe they can tweak the format if they get a second season going.