Comedian Matt Lucas was left speechless on last night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are (BBC1) as he discovered that his cousin lived with Anne Frank and her family in Amsterdam before they went into hiding.
Pictured above in Golders Green synagogue, Matt, who lost his father when he was just 22, was very close to his maternal grandmother Margot, who passed away in 1999. He wanted to find out more about her: “It helps keep her alive for me and I really miss her”. He started his family history journey by visiting his mother to discuss a selection of family memorabilia including a letter dated June 1939 that his great grandmother Rose sent from Berlin to her daughter Margot, who had arrived in England, saying that she was not well enough to join her.
Matt headed off to Berlin to find out more about his maternal great grandparents Therese (known as Rose) and her husband Gustav, who was a doctor but had died when Margot was just 20. So, she too had lost a parent very young
Margot had wanted to become a doctor and went to medical school in Berlin, When Hitler came to power in 1933 he introduced laws that made it harder for Jews to gain an education so she had to abandon her university course.
Matt said: “I left my university early because my comedy career started to take off so I didn’t complete my degree and my grandmother was mortified. I took it almost as a lack of faith in me and my abilities but now maybe I can understand more why she would have been so opposed to that.”
Matt also visited Charlottenburg where Margot and her mother lived in the 1930s. He saw photographs of the devastation caused by Kristallnacht. Three months later, Margot left for England, leaving her mother, who had multiple sclerosis and couldn’t travel, behind.
Some of Matt’s family escaped to the Netherlands in the 1930s. One of them was was his grandmother’s cousin Werner Goldschmidt, who he discovers rented a room from the Frank family in Amsterdam in 1942 and was living with them when they went into hiding. Matt is amazed by his family connection to such a famous family: “It’s the one story everyone knows. If you know no other story about the Jews in World War 2, you know the story of the Frank family.” Anne wrote about Werner in her diary and Matt was astounded to see the entry.
“I read it (the diary when I was younger, and never realised she was talking about a relative of mine,” said Matt. “But to think he would have known Anne Frank and he was lurking around slightly unwelcome the night before they were going is a big surprise. Her book is one of the most important books ever written.”
Matt and his grandmother spoke often but her never talked about her childhood in Berlin. “My grandmother never talked about her cousins but I think she knew what happened to them,” he said.
“I’d been told in the vaguest terms that my family had died in the camps but I had never been told their names and I never knew the details. This is recent history and it feels that there is always a risk as a Jew that this could happen again. It is so important to tell these stories.”
Who Do You Think You Are is available to watch on BBC iPlayer
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