Who Do You Think You Are? - Holocaust Edition  

Posted by Abba-Dad in , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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:

Mordechovitz Mera
____"____ Liba
____"____ Avraham

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.

This entry was posted on Sunday, March 21, 2010 at 9:09 PM and is filed under , , , , , , , , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Hi, Amir,

I wanted to comment on your thoughts. While it's not evident from the show, Lisa Kudrow shared in television, podcast, and print interviews before the show was aired that she DID know her great-grandmother and extended family members were killed during the Holocaust. She shared that she was reluctant to do research on this particular line because she was afraid of the details; she knew they could only be horrible. And as we discovered, they were...much more horrible than she had even imagined. In one interview, she tells how at one point they were filming her and she just had to walk away because she was so overcome with emotion.

The page that Lisa read in Ilya's market square can be found online here. I found this while watching the show and following Twitter at the same time. Another Twitter user tweeted about it and I found it by doing a search for "wdytya".

I wish more had been said about the resistance of the young Jews of Ilya; I felt that was important history that was ignored. I discovered it by reading the Ilya Yizkor page. But then again, Lisa Kudrow said in interviews that as a producer, she had to fight for everything that was shown on the programs. NBC wanted to remove so much, probably in the name of entertainment.

I agree with you that Ancestry lost an opportunity to highlight its relationship with JewishGen.

Yuri was Lisa's grandmother's first cousin and thus Lisa's first cousin, twice removed. Tomek, with whom she first spoke on the phone was her 3rd cousin (same generation) and Andresz (sp?) was her father's second cousin (same generation).

Thank you for a thoughtful summary of the show. I appreciate your perspective as a descendant of Jews who perished in the Holocaust. I think it was very important that this episode aired, because when people do their genealogical research, they often find distasteful or even horrific things that happened to their ancestors, or about the ancestors themselves. Genealogy is a multitude of journeys and sometimes they don't always have happy endings.

March 21, 2010 at 10:31 PM

Thanks for the comments Miriam. And thanks for the link to the translation. The reason I couldn't find it is that I didn't check the translation of the previous chapter. I guess they got combined together somehow. I'm sure Eilat will fix that.

I wish they had shown more on this show than they did. There were so many great avenues to explore that would have been important to highlight as well as entertaining.

Thanks again!

March 21, 2010 at 10:40 PM

I'm curious about the elderly woman in Ilya who claimed to have gone to school with Lisa's grandmother. The grandmother arrived in the US in 1921 at age 19. That would make the woman well over 100. Is this another case of someone making exaggerated claims to garner attention? Was she really a schoolmate of Grunia?

March 22, 2010 at 4:01 AM

Hi ~
I appreciate reading your views on this episode. I too wished there was a way to highlight more of the history without Lisa having to read all of the most horrible details. I know that in my household that lost one viewer.

I have heard that Lisa has said in interviews that she had trouble getting NBC to allow as much historical background as there is - but all of these shows have left me feeling like things were left out that I wanted to know! I kept saying (to the TV) "But HOW are you related??" at the end when she finally got to meet Yuri. [and thanks Miriam for explaining that]

All in all though, I am so glad that genealogy has come to prime time! And if nothing else maybe this particular show will help explain to an even younger generation - thinking of my teenage nieces and nephew - how really close we still are to the Holocaust. They can relate to Lisa Kudrow and it was her grandmother that was crying about her family. I hope that is a perspective they can understand.

March 22, 2010 at 9:05 AM

Shalom, all.
I have roots in Dolhinov (my great-grandfather Jossel Axelrod) and found your comments because I'm methodically working my way through whatever sites I can find with information about that shtetl.

I didn't see the show you're all talking about, so I can't add anything. I will say this: I grew up in Boston, MA, and I must say that the Holocaust was the subtext of a lot of my youth (1950s). Plus which, Boston area was a notoriously antisemitic corner of the USA for a lot of reasons. I'm writing about it.

Delighted to make contact with "cousins."
Dee Axelrod
can be found on Facebook

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March 30, 2011 at 11:20 AM

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