The Jan. 21 episode of “Finding Your Roots” on PBS explored the family trees of actor Jeff Goldblum, NPR host Terry Gross, and comedian Marc Maron. All three are Jewish.
In the course of the show, Goldblum learned about the journeys of his maternal great-grandfather Abraham Temeles and paternal great-great-grandfather Zelik Povartzik.
In the early 1900s, Temeles left his hometown of Zloczow in the Austro-Hungarian empire because of the rampant anti-Semitism. He traveled to Halifax, Novia Scotia, on the SS Vulturno — a ship that sank two years later, killing over 100 Jewish migrants.
“It’s just a random piece of luck that I’m here at all I guess,” Goldblum said.
Povartzik left his hometown of Starobin, Russia, in 1911, just a year before it was overcome by anti-Semitic violence. When the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941, they killed most of the remaining Jews in Starobin. The only descendant the show’s research team could track down was a second cousin once removed who died fighting for the Soviet army against the Nazis.
“It’s moving, it’s very moving,” Goldblum said as he held back tears at the end of the episode.
Terry Gross’ paternal grandparents were born in the 1880s in Tarnow, Poland, and immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s. When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, Tarnow’s Jewish population of about 25,000 was quickly confined to a ghetto; and in 1942, Nazis began slaughtering them. A firsthand account said that the Nazis
knocked children’s heads against cobblestones and bayoneted adults, killing 7,000 people in days.
Most of Gross’ relatives from Tarnow disappeared from the record at that point — except for one survivor named Nathan Zeller, who only lived a few more years until his death at the Flossenburg concentration camp in Bavaria.
“It’s made everything I know about the Holocaust very specific and concrete,” Gross said. “I always ask myself if it was time to flee, would I know, would I have the courage to leave?”
One colorful character revealed in Marc Maron’s family tree was great-great grandfather Morris Mostowitz, who owned a chain of grocery stores in the Charleston area in the late 19th century. Mostowitz was apparently involved in at least a dozen crimes (including horse theft and illegal liquor sales) and wound up getting sued by his son Barney over a loan he never paid back.
Presented with these details, Maron was amused but also philosophical. “It does resonate, the fact that no matter how religious you are or what makes you a Jew in your particular life, the fact that you are defined on some level in a very real way by the reality of anti-Semitism … there’s something about that awareness that is still and currently tremendously important,” he said.
FULL EPISODE: https://www.pbs.org/video/beyond-the-pale-iev3bq/