Jane Sey­mour’s episode was a har­row­ing tale of two Jewish sis­ters’ sur­vival in Nazi Europe dur­ing the Se­cond World War. Claire Vaughan spoke to Jane and the crew about their re­search and ex­pe­ri­ences

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

The ac­tress dis­cusses her WDYTYA? ex­pe­ri­ence, which re­vealed her Jewish fam­ily’s es­cape from the Nazis

Ispent nine months in Birke­nau and Auschwitz and else­where de­pict­ing some of the events that ac­tu­ally hap­pened to my fam­ily,” Jane tells me. She’s talk­ing about her 1988 role in War and

Re­mem­brance as Natalie, a Jewish woman liv­ing in Nazi-oc­cu­pied Europe dur­ing the Se­cond World War. It’s in­cred­i­ble to think that 27 years later, while mak­ing Who Do

You Think You Are?, she would dis­cover just how close to Natalie’s ex­pe­ri­ences those of her rel­a­tives were.

Award-win­ning ac­tress Jane Sey­mour (born Joyce Franken­berg) found in­ter­na­tional fame as Soli­taire in the James Bond film Live and Let

Die. She now lives in Mal­ibu and has starred in many ac­claimed tele­vi­sion dra­mas, in­clud­ing Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman.

Jane’s father was Jewish and her mother Dutch. Her WDYTYA?? jour­ney be­gan with a pho­to­graph of her father’s ex­tended fam­ily taken in the 1930s. She was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in two sis­ters in the pic­ture, her great aunts Jad­wiga and Michaela, who she knew sur­vived the war. “I knew of my grand­par­ents and great aunts and un­cles but I never re­ally knew much about them.”

Re­searcher Alice Fraser says: “Jane’s pa­ter­nal grand­fa­ther left Poland as a young boy and set­tled in Lon­don. He left be­hind sib­lings and we knew that two of Jane’s great aunts were liv­ing in Nazioc­cu­pied Europe when the Se­cond World War broke out – one in War­saw and one in Paris – and we knew they’d both sur­vived the war. So this posed the ques­tion of how does some­one Jewish live through Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion and sur­vive? That was our start­ing point.”

Sue Hills, the di­rec­tor of Jane’s episode, says: “I was very keen to make it a film about women be­cause their lives are so rarely well doc­u­mented in his­tory. We hear many sto­ries about the aw­ful tragedy of the Holo­caust and here are two women who sur­vived – even though they only sur­vive in a cer­tain way be­cause of the trauma and the hor­ror they went through – it was still a story of sur­vival.”

Be­fore the war, Jad­wiga, her hus­band, Her­man Te­mer­son (a gy­ne­col­o­gist), son Jerzy and daugh­ter Hanna lived in War­saw. In 1940, a year af­ter the Ger­mans in­vaded, they were liv­ing in­side the ghetto cre­ated by the Nazis to con­tain the city’s Jewish pop­u­la­tion. The fam­ily man­aged to es­cape be­fore the Jews were ar­rested and sent to their deaths in con­cen­tra­tion camps. Though they had help from Poles liv­ing on the ‘Aryan’ side of the city, sadly all but Jad­wiga per­ished. Her­man was shot dead in 1944 as he watched the re­treat­ing Ger­mans from a win­dow. Jad­wiga had no idea what hap­pened to her fam­ily un­til af­ter the war.

As Alice ex­plains, Jad­wiga’s story was very chal­leng­ing to re­search. “The records were so dis­persed, plus it’s very dif­fi­cult to trace the peo­ple in War­saw be­cause so many trag­i­cally ended up in Tre­blinka death camp where no names were recorded. We were com­par­a­tively lucky in that Her­man was a prom­i­nent doc­tor, which meant he left more of a pa­per trail. Af­ter the war, peo­ple felt moved to record what hap­pened to him – he was clearly a no­table per­son in the com­mu­nity.”

Mean­while, Michaela and her fam­ily were liv­ing in Paris. France de­clared war on Ger­many in 1939, but then as Ger­many’s in­va­sion force be­gan the push to­ward

Though the fam­ily got out of the ghetto, all but Jad­wiga per­ished

Paris, three-quar­ters of the pop­u­la­tion left in what be­came known as ‘the Ex­o­dus’. Jane’s rel­a­tives headed away from the oc­cu­pied north of France to Mar­seille, in the south, which soon came un­der the con­trol of the Nazi-backed Vichy govern­ment. For Jane, this brought back mem­o­ries of work­ing on War and

Re­mem­brance, as her char­ac­ter Natalie made the same jour­ney to Mar­seille.

Michaela’s hus­band Aron Sin­ga­lowski worked for an or­gan­i­sa­tion called ORT that pro­vided vo­ca­tional train­ing for Jews. This was to both help and hin­der the fam­ily as they be­gan their long jour­ney to free­dom. The records show that they ini­tially man­aged to get all the pa­per­work they needed to get into the US, but they didn’t go – it’s likely that Aron felt tied to the other Jews trapped in Mar­seille.

As the Ger­mans closed in, Jane tells me how frus­trat­ing she found this. “When they got the exit visa I thought ‘Thank God, get out of there’, and then I was handed an­other doc­u­ment that said they didn’t go. It drove me crazy – I was like, ‘Please, please, re­ally, for the chil­dren, you gotta go’. At the same time I could ap­pre­ci­ate Aron’s po­si­tion.”

“It was very poignant when Jane learned about Aron’s at­tempts to get his fam­ily out of France,” says Alice. “The French Na­tional Ar­chives pre­served his visa ap­pli­ca­tions and they show him mak­ing des­per­ate at­tempts to get visas, he’s turn­ing to ev­ery em­bassy in Mar­seille and ev­ery time the doc­u­ment comes back it’s stamped in big red let­ters ‘visa re­fused’ re­flflect­ing the sense of en­trap­ment that the fam­ily must have felt.”

Even­tu­ally the Ger­mans oc­cu­pied Vichy France and Michaela, Aron and their two daugh­ters had to flee to Switzer­land on foot. A week later, the Ger­mans rounded up many of the Jews in Mar­seille and sent them to con­cen­tra­tion camps. A doc­u­ment Alice tracked down shows the fam­ily were ar­rested as they tried to cross the bor­der il­le­gally. Ini­tially they were sent to an in­tern­ment camp, but were later re­leased be­cause of Aron’s job. They spent the re­main­der of the war in Switzer­land.

Fur­ther tragedy

Once Jad­wiga’s war was over, she joined the many Jews des­per­ately seek­ing what was left of their fam­i­lies. Jane says: “She found out that her sis­ter had sur­vived in Switzer­land and some­how they got her a visa to go and visit.” But it was too much for Jad­wiga and with the re­al­i­sa­tion that she had lost ev­ery­thing, she killed her­self. “I went to the ac­tual spot where they found her body,” says Jane. “Af­ter all that she went through, to then kill her­self, I found that just heart­break­ing.

“It was hard to stop cry­ing. Just re­ally har­row­ing,” she says. “I could vividly imag­ine – by be­ing in the places, and see­ing and touch­ing the ac­tual doc­u­ments and hav­ing the ex­perts tell me – ex­actly what hap­pened and, specif­i­cally, what hap­pened to my rel­a­tives.”

“The his­tory was so pow­er­ful in this episode,” says Sue. “We hear ter­ri­ble sto­ries about the Pol­ish peo­ple ‘help­ing the Ger­mans, build­ing the camps’, but here we have a story about Poles who helped the Jews and re­sisted the Ger­mans. With France, we al­ways get sto­ries of the French Re­sis­tance but here we have a story of French col­lab­o­ra­tion. It was fas­ci­nat­ing to see a dif­fer­ent side to the com­mon his­tor­i­cal themes you get.”

The records used to re­search Jane’s story were spread far and wide. “We went to ar­chives in Is­rael, Amer­ica, Switzer­land, Ger­many, Poland and France,” says Alice. “They were just all over and I think that re­flects the na­ture of the events we were deal­ing with.

“The 1936 Paris census re­turn and the War­saw 1939 phone­book al­lowed us to lo­cate Jane’s great aunts in those two cities just be­fore the war broke out. Once the war gets go­ing the records get harder to find but the War­saw Ghetto Data­base ( was in­cred­i­bly use­ful. This showed up Jane’s great aunt and her hus­band liv­ing in the ghetto, giv­ing us their ad­dresses. Her­man was ad­ver­tis­ing his prac­tice in the news­pa­per in­side the ghetto.

“We also used the In­ter­na­tional Trac­ing Ser­vice Ar­chive, pre­served in the Wiener

Li­brary in Lon­don ( This shows fam­i­lies try­ing to find each other af­ter the war. We scoured those records and found Jad­wiga ap­ply­ing to stay in Switzer­land.”

Lucky es­cape

The film re­vealed how Jane’s great aunts sur­vived the war, but she tells me how their brother, Lewin, had made his own es­cape in the early 1900s. “My grand­fa­ther Lewin was be­ing held in Plock on the bor­der of Rus­sia and Poland, when he was 14 for dis­tribut­ing the Bund, a so­cial­ist news­pa­per. Jews weren’t al­lowed to be so­cial­ists; he was ar­rested and sen­tenced to be sent to Siberia. The story goes that my great grand­fa­ther bribed some­body and got my grand­fa­ther off and sent him to Eng­land.

“Lewin didn’t speak a word of English, had no education and ended up in the East End where the one thing he could do was be an as­sis­tant to a bar­ber. But he moved on to sell­ing ra­zor blades, then to hav­ing a fac­tory that made ra­zor blades and even­tu­ally he had a whole­sale com­pany.”

“If my great grand­fa­ther hadn’t stepped in, I wouldn’t be here to tell the story!”

An­other piece of Jane’s story didn’t make it to the screen but you can watch this un­seen footage by vis­it­ing our web­site ( whodoyou

thinky­ Alice ex­plains: “We were able to for­ward trace Her­man Te­mer­son’s fam­ily and found that he had a niece, Mal­go­rzata , and she was alive and well and liv­ing in War­saw! She had an amaz­ing story about be­ing smug­gled out of the ghetto as a baby with just her nanny, and be­ing adopted by a Pol­ish Catholic cou­ple. It was amaz­ing to find her and also for Jane to meet her and hear her story.”

“The hor­ror of the af­ter­math of war will stay with me,” says di­rec­tor Sue. “You’ve got th­ese sur­vivors, but are they re­ally sur­vivors?”

The fi­nal word has to go to Jane: “It was life-chang­ing for me to step into the shoes of rel­a­tives, and to re­alise that, but for the grace of God, me and my chil­dren would have walked the same path.”

The Franken­bergs in 1930. Jad­wiga is on the far right, Michaela is seated se­cond from the left

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