UK family roots TV show reassures Holocaust survivor that his father was not a Nazi

Orphaned British survivor of Theresienstadt, 79, had been worried that was the only reason he didn’t die; BBC show also finds cousins for man who never knew he had any relatives

Screen capture from video of orphaned Holocaust survivor Jackie, 79, as he finds out he has living relatives. (YouTube)
Screen capture from video of orphaned Holocaust survivor Jackie, 79, as he finds out he has living relatives. (YouTube)

A Holocaust survivor who spent much of his life troubled that his father may have been a Nazi has been reassured through DNA testing that both his parents were Jewish.

Jackie, 79, a survivor living in London, was orphaned during the war and later adopted by a British couple who never told him of his past.

When he eventually did find out, he began to wonder how it was that he had survived and was nagged by the thought that his father, of whom he could find no information, may have been a Nazi who used his influence to keep him from the death camps.

An episode of the BBC’s “DNA Family Secrets” was not only able to confirm to Jackie that he is “99 percent Jewish” of European descent but also was able to identify cousins who by remarkable chance were living not far from his north London home. The show was broadcast last Thursday.

Jackie was just nine months old when he was taken to the Theresienstadt Camp in the 1940s. The camp was a transit point and 15,000 children were sent from there to the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp where they were murdered.

But though Jackie spent over two years at Theresienstadt, he was never moved on to almost-certain death at Auschwitz.

He doesn’t remember his time there but, as a war orphan, was sent in August 1945 to Britain where he was adopted aged 3.

Jackie knew nothing of his past or even that he was adopted until, as a young man, he was preparing to get married to his fiancée, Lita. His family was affiliated with the London Jewish community and he needed proof of his Jewish identity before the marriage could go ahead at a local synagogue.

It was only then that he found out about some of his past — his birth in Vienna, his miraculous survival of the Holocaust, his adoption, and the name of his biological mother, Elsa. But of his father, there was no record, with the field on his birth certificate left empty.

“That’s when I found that horrible news,” he said. “I was born in Vienna and I spent two years and eight months in a concentration camp, from [the age of] nine months old.”

“It’s the stuff of nightmares to find out I’m not English, these aren’t my parents and I came from a concentration camp,” said Jackie, who was only identified by his first name.

Over the next 60 years, Jackie often wondered whether his father was in fact a Nazi himself working at the Theresienstadt camp and that is why as a young boy he did not perish.

But despite his efforts to find out more of his personal history, he was unable to add anything to his story. The fate of his mother was not detailed.

“My paternal side I have no knowledge of, he could have been a non-Jew,” Jackie said in the show. “He could have been a Nazi. Why did I survive in a concentration camp?”

To discover more of his identity, the BBC show asked Turi King, a professor of Public Engagement and Genetics at the University of Leicester, to examine Jackie’s DNA.

King explained it was “really not going to be easy,” as in the Holocaust multiple generations of families were wiped out.

Shoah Wall of Names Memorial in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday, May 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Theresa Wey)

When the results came back, she was able to tell Jackie that he is “99 percent Ashkenazi Jewish” meaning that “almost certainly, your father was not a Nazi.”

The research also found that Jackie had two living relatives, descended from his great-aunt and -uncle. Though they were killed in the Nazi genocide, their daughter Irene escaped to the UK.

King then told Jackie that the two people, Alex and Tony, living in London were either his first or second cousins.

When informed that he had some surviving relatives, an emotional Jackie said it was “what I was praying for.”

He later met up with Alex and Tony.

The BBC said that Jackie had recently traveled to Vienna, where his mother’s name was added to the Shoah Wall of Names Memorial.

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