Jerry Springer: the Jewish life and times of a cultural icon

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Jerry Springer: the Jewish life and times of a cultural icon

The Jewish cultural icon, whose family fled from Germany to England during the Holocaust, died peacefully at his home in Chicago after a brief illness


Jewish cultural icon Jerry Springer has died aged 79.

The talk show host was best known for showcasing dysfunctional families on The Jerry Springer Show, which ran from 1991 until 2018 in the US.

Springer was born in Highgate London Underground station on February 13 1944, while it was being used as a bomb shelter. His parents, Margot and Richard Springer – who had in 1939 fled from Germany to England during the Holocaust – later settled in the Queens borough of New York City.

Jerry Springer poses for a photograph at his management’s office. Springer, the one-time US mayor whose show unleashed chaos on TV screens, has died at the age of 79.

Springer traced his family roots in a 2008 episode of BBC family tree research programme, Who Do You Think You Are?, where he visited Landsberg (now Gorzów, part of Poland), where his father once owned a successful shoe shop.

He discovered that 27 other members of his family, including his widowed grandmothers, Selma Springer and Marie Kallman, were murdered in the Holocaust.

The family tried and failed to help Marie escape to the US; sent to the Lodz ghetto in Poland, she was crammed into a cattle wagon and sent to her death at Chelmno extermination camp. Selma was deported to Theresienstadt, a Jewish ghetto outside Prague in 1942, dying aged 72, in the ghetto hospital.

Dr Tony Grenville, the historian from the Association of Jewish Refugees, (AJR) who appeared on Jerry’s Who Do you Think You Are? episode tells Jewish News: “My impression of him was completely different from his public persona. He was very pleasant, very intelligent, very sensitive and generally rather a pleasure to deal with, which was not what I was expecting.”

Jerry Springer with Emily Maitlis

Grenville says that “one thing, to my amazement, they left out of the programme, was the three or four minutes I was asking him about his parents’ move to the US.

Jerry said to me: ‘I’ll tell you a story. When my father got older, he wasn’t safe to drive. And every time he got into the car, my mother got very anxious. So, I spoke to him and said ‘Dad, you really ought not to drive any more.’ The father said to Jerry: ‘Listen, we’ve survived two world wars in Europe. We didn’t want to survive a third. So, I’m never going to sell that car. You never know when you will have to escape.’

“And Jerry then burst into tears and I wondered what I had done. I thought it was a very moving moment and showed how this anxiety, this deep anxiety had affected his parents. The father’s constant sense of never knowing when he’d have to escape – and how it had passed on to Jerry – inter generational transmission. And I had reduced Jerry Springer to tears; but they cut it out.”

In 2016 Springer thanked the “amazing efforts of so many” at the launch of the World Jewish Relief archives project, which digitised and made publicly available the personal records of more than 40,000 refugees for the first time.

Within those documents were ones pertaining to his own parents, a revelation at the time he said left him “blown away”.

Jerry Springer with his parents’ documents (centre) with Linda Rosenblatt World Jewish Relief vice chair and James Libson World Jewish Relief chair 2016

In an article written in Jewish News, Springer said: “They showed that my parents got out just four weeks before the war started and based on the number at the top of their document, they were among the last 100 Jews to leave Germany. There was a name written on the card of their sponsor, someone called Goldberg. They didn’t know this person – they were probably just a member of the agency signing these to get as many Jews out as possible – but basically these people saved my parents’ lives and my sister, who was born a month later. Without them, I wouldn’t have been born either. These people reached out to us – even though they didn’t know who we were.”

He spoke further on his family history when interviewed by Emily Maitlis at the World Jewish Relief Annual Business Dinner in 2017, writing: “A general rule I always follow: if somebody saves my life, I’ll always show up at their dinner.”

World Jewish Relief tweeted one of many tributes to Springer on social media:

The Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) tweeted:

On his own profile, Springer aptly referred to himself as “talk show host, ringmaster of civilisation’s end”.

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