Lisa Kudrow says discovering family's Holocaust past was emotional rollercoaster

The actress says she broke down while filming episode of Who do you think you are?


Friends star Lisa Kudrow has opened up on a podcast about her paternal family’s experience of World War II and the Holocaust, as well as the filming of the Who Do You Think You Are? episode where she went to the place where they were killed, as well as her own understanding of growing up Jewish. 

Speak to the podcast ‘Podcrushed’, co-hosted by actor Penn Badgley, Kudrow said that she was “too young” when her father first explained the Holocaust to her, and did not understand just how affected her family was by it.

She said that her father told her about the events of World War II when she was age six: “I think I was a little too young for that and maybe as a consequence of that, all I knew was, ‘well, I haven’t heard that we had any relatives in concentration camps so the Holocaust, yeah, but maybe not my family.

“My grandmother told me when I was like 7 that her parents were killed by Hitler, and I went ‘was he like a serial killer? What are you talking about? You tell a lot of crazy stories, so I don’t know what you’re talking about old lady.’

“And she would start crying, ‘Hitler, he killed my mother and sisters, brothers and the babies’.”

Kudrow criticised herself for not understanding when she was younger how deeply her family was impacted by the Holocaust: “It’s so stupid, this weird denial thing.” 

She also discussed the episode of WDYTYA where she explored her family history and visited the site where her paternal grandmother’s family was killed: “There were death squads that were responsible for about a million Jews being killed throughout that Pale of settlement. They’d just round them up and shoot them, and bury them in mass graves.”

“A few people escaped and erected a monument so there’s actually a marker for exactly where it happened, and for a lot of places scattered around Belarus, Ukraine, and other areas, there’s absolutely no marker at all. So, I just counted that as lucky, that I could see that and bear witness, because there’s still some people who say it didn’t happen.”

Kudrow broke down in tears on camera while reading records from the 1940s revealing that Mera Mordejovich was “killed and burned” with 900 other Jews in Ilya, Belarus. She said: “I remember feeling like I don’t know if I can do another minute of this; it’s so hard. Reading what happened exactly, talking to a couple of people; one guy who was a child when it happened and he watched it.” 

Kudrow also discussed the role of religion during her childhood in a culturally Jewish family: “I chose to have a bat mitzvah. I felt like all these friends I have that are Jewish are having bar and bat mitzvahs. I’m Jewish, I need to have a bat mitzvah. I mean, that’s who I am.  

"I didn’t have any friends at the time I was deciding to do it. But we had a friend of the family who’s a reform rabbi, and he got me tapes, and so I just learned from the tapes all the prayers and everything I had to do, and while I couldn’t have people at a Temple, he let my immediate family into his Temple and bat mitzvah’d me. And then I had a party.”  

"I think I’d seen ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and understood that’s around the area my family was from. It just looked so beautiful to me and all those traditions and stuff. I actually got myself Shabbat candles and would on Fridays, just in my bedroom, do a little Shabbat ceremony. My family just sort of went ‘okay’. And it didn’t last long, but I was going through this period where I just wanted to learn. 

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