Raised Jewish, Comedian Chelsea Handler Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past (VIDEO)

August 8, 2013 10:41 am 17 comments

Comedian Chelsea Handler.

Comedian Chelsea Handler’s blonde hair and blue eyes betray the fact that she descends from a long line of German lineage.

In fact, Handler’s mother was German, and in a recent episode of TLC’s “Who Do You Think You Are,” a TV show that follows celebrities as they research their heritage,  Handler discovers that her grandfather was a Nazi.

“Whether or not he agreed with Hitler, he was serving in the German army, and then he was taken as a prisoner of war to America where he stayed for several years,” the comedian revealed in an exclusive clip of the episode, according to EOnline!. “My German grandma definitely spoke about her life during the war way more than my grandfather did. He never spoke about it.”

Her story is made all the more compelling by the fact that Handler was raised as a practicing Jew, with her American father who is Jewish providing the Semitic strand.

“My father, I guess, made a deal with my mother when they had children that they were gonna be raised Jewish,” Handler says. “So I connect with my Judaism, or the Jewish side of my family, more than anything else.”

In the show Handler traces her grandfather’s path from Nazi soldier to American immigrant through documents and interviews with sources familiar with her family’s history.

Watch a trailer of the Chelsea Handler episode of “Who Do You Think You Are” below.

17 Comments

  • If one has Naziism in one’s family history, it’s reasonable to want to hide the fact if it means preserving one’s own self respect. One can hardly blame someone for hiding such a fact. And if someone has the courage to admit it, to shake loose from such an association, again, how can one be blamed for doing so? it doesn’t make them Nazis by association. Let;s keep our heads on straight in these (difficult) conversations. It isn’t fair to visit the sins of the fathers – and grandfathers – onto the children. G-d only knows what secrets every family wants to hide for good reason.

  • Every human being has the right to affirm the good and reject the evil in their heritage and ancestry. Chelsea Handler has exercised this right. There were indeed many Germans who did their military service and committed no atrocities. Even if she were the child of an SS officer, she is who she is and not chained to her past. My ancestry is Croatian. The Croats had a very poor record on Jewish issues. My task of research was made easier through the knowledge that my grandparents left Croatia in 1907. My more distant relatives came from Istria, a region that was far better than other parts of Croatia.

    Also, someone bearing my grandfather’s last name was in Jasenovac, known as the Auschwitz of the Balkans. Still, the unanswered questions are a real burdern. I would never hold it against a Jew or a gentile if they were descended from Nazis. That being said, if someone says that they are proud of a Nazi past, my feelings are entirely different.

    • Shmuel Klatzkin

      Rudi, your comments are spot on.

      Check this out and verify its truth in your own experience: Those who make people responsible for their ancestors’ sins almost always are people who do not accept responsibility for their own.

  • Basil Fletcher

    These stories are very important in assisting individuals to accept themselves. There are many who need help in removing the burdens of a past, which they played no role in creating. If a practicing Jew of German or Eastern European origin should discover that his or her was a guard at a death camp, what would it mean for him or her? Could he or she look into a mirror with pride? Only by accepting and putting down that type of burden from the past, will the individual be able to accept him or herself.

  • Ivan Gur-Arie

    The fact that her grandfather served in the German Army does not necessarily make him a Nazi. HE could have been a young boy caught up in the societal press for war, Tell me he was SS or a member of the party and then you have something, However, Some Wehrmacht soldiers did participate in the killings of innocents, IS there proof of that?

    • Kelly Siebecke

      The grandfather was SA – a Brownshirt. Not exactly “noble” service.

    • Stuart E. Hersh

      The Wehrmacht carried out killings of downed American, British and French airmen on the order of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces (OKW). The Wehrmacht also sent US soldiers, captured in the Battle of the Bulge (December, 1944), to a concentration camp, Burga, which was part of the Buchenwald camp. Many of the GI’s died from malnutrition (400 calories per day) despite the fact that they had to dig an underground tunnel for the building of V-2 rockets. The camp was controlled by the Wehrmacht.

      At the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial, Keitel was found guilty of conspiracy to commit crimes, crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was hanged on 16 October,1946.

      The crimes committed by the Wehrmacht against Russian POWs is well-documented by historians.

  • Consulting Doc

    I saw the episode on tv. Ms. Handler discovered during a personal visit to Germany, in consultation with historians and researchers, that there was no evidence that her grandfather was a Nazi or ever joined the Party. He joined a sports organization apparently under duress and ultimately served as a low level, unenthusiastic Wehrmacht soldier in an artillery regiment. He surrendered with his comrades as soon as he could to American soldiers and was transferred to a POW camp in Iowa, where he played violin in the prisoner orchestra. Ms. Handler was relieved to discover that her grandfather was NOT a Nazi. Can we show proudly-Jewish Ms. Handler some respect and not turn her discovery on its head and not misrepresent her findings about the grandfather she loved?

    • YOU OBVIOUSLY HAVE NOT HEARD THIS WOMAN GO OFF ON THE JEWS IN HER “COMEDY ACT” SHE IS NOTHING IF NOT VILE AND DISGUSTING AND DISRESPECTFUL TO JEWS.

  • He was not a Nazi in the literal sense, but a soldier, probably a conscript in the German army in WWII. Besides, it is a sin to visit the sins of the fathers upon the sons and daughters.

  • An American Jew

    I don’t want to defend someone I have never met, but in your article you refer to Chelsea Handler’s German grandfather as a “Nazi soldier”.

    I might be nitpicking, but isn’t it more accurate to refer to non-SS soldiers in the Wehrmacht as soldiers in Nazi Germany rather than “Nazi soldiers”?

    • Mr. “American Jew”,
      Do you seriously think that the millions of Germans, who voted for and deliriously and enthusiastically supported Hitler, יש”ו, and nazi policies toward the Jews for a decade, were all S.S., which was a Nazi paramilitary organization of only a few thousand???
      Nazi and S.S. are NOT the same thing: there were a few tens of millions of nazis, some in the S.A., some in the S.S., some in the GeStaPo, some just NSDAP party members, some supporters…
      Have you ever heard of the extermination units called Einsatzgruppen and Einsatzkommando composed of regular soldiers and even traffic police (contrary to Wikipedia’s B.S.), as very clearly DOCUMENTED, and referred by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen in his “Hitler’s Willing Executioners”?
      Have you ever read that – contrary to what some intersted parties have tried to tell – regular Wehrmacht units were involved ALL OVER in the extermination of hundreds of thousands of Jews?
      Have you ever heard of the fact, pointed out by Raul Hilberg already in 1961, that ONLY in the Reichsbahn section organizing and coordinating the trains transporting Jews to their deaths, of which they knew weight at departure and weight upon return, there were over 20,000 German working, and they were NOT S.S. and ALL KNEW EXACTLY what those trains were for and where they lead and that they ALL left full of Jews and came back empty??
      I suggest that you learn some History of the III Reich and the Shoah before coming out with such misleading statements.

      Sergio HaDaR Tezza – UCLA History Graduate

  • And this story is of what value? Why would anybody with a brain care whether she is a Jew or Nazi offspring?

    • Kowman Harsh – You may not be interested in this story, but to millions of American’s it is fascinating. Jew-Hatred is epidemic today and all stories dealing with these topics are important.

    • the fact that she felt the need to talk about it is proof that it is of importance, if it is of value to her is in itself important.
      before the second world war mixed marriages were not rare. under racist laws all over Europe caused the killing and manytimes the dislocation of many families

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    JNS.org – I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency. In America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case. Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency’s three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of [...]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Residents of the Los Angeles Jewish Home give dating advice to a young Jewish man in a comedic video posted Monday on YouTube just in time for Valentine’s Day. Jonathan, an associate at the Jewish home, quizzes the senior citizens on an array of topics including having sex on the first date, kissing a girl, who should pay for dinner and whether online dating is a good idea. When the 28-year-old asks a male resident named Lee about his experiences [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Anyone who spent time in the Jewish Catskills hotels – especially those like me, who returned for decades – must see the new documentary,”Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort.” Not only will the film transport you back to the glory days of your youth and thousands of memories, but it will also make you long for a world that is now lost forever. I returned to Kutsher’s one last time in the summer of 2009, but by then, the [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Jewish Identity Lifestyle Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    JNS.org – Amid the numerous studies and analyses regarding Jewish American life, a simple fact remains: part-time Jewish education is the most popular vehicle for Jewish education in North America. Whenever and wherever parents choose Jewish education for their children, we have a communal responsibility to devote the necessary time and resources to deliver dynamic, effective learning experiences. The only way we can do this is by creating space for conversations and knowledge-sharing around innovative new education models. That also [...]

    Read more →
  • Commentary Featured Features Jewish 100 The Top 100 People Positively Influencing Jewish Life, 2014

    The Top 100 People Positively Influencing Jewish Life, 2014

    The Top 100 People Positively Influencing Jewish Life, 2014 ACADEMIA Alain Finkielkraut Moshe Halbertal Deborah Lipstadt Jacob Metzer Steven Pinker Tammi Rossman-Benjamin ARTS AND CULTURE Yaacov Agam David Blatt Leonard Cohen Gal Gadot Scarlett Johansson Ryan Kavanaugh Steven Spielberg Harry Styles INNOVATION AND ACTIVISM Meira Aboulafia Adina Bar-Shalom Nitsana Darshan-Leitner Daniel Gold Anett Haskia Ephrat Levy-Lahad Gabriel Nadaf Dumisani Washington GOVERNMENT Tony Abbott José María Aznar Ron Dermer Yuli Edelstein Abdul Fatah el-Sisi Stephen Harper Goodluck Jonathan Mitch McConnell Narendra Modi [...]

    Read more →
  • Features Jewish 100 Jewish 100, 2014: Bassam Eid – Voices

    Jewish 100, 2014: Bassam Eid – Voices

    Bassam Eid Palestinian human rights activist While Palestinians who demonize Israel as the sole reason for their woes receive no shortage of media invitations, those among them who spotlight their own leaders’ iniquities are far less in demand. Even so, the profile of Bassam Eid, the Director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, is thankfully continuing to grow. Eid’s latest campaign is for the overhaul of UNRWA, the UN refugee agency dedicated solely to the Palestinians, which he says [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.