The Holocaust was one of the biggest tragedies in human history and as the number of living survivors dwindles with the passage of time, descendants of Holocaust survivors strive to keep the memories of their ancestors alive. Unsurprisingly, many children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors work in creative mediums like art and film. As genocides continue to occur worldwide, many of these famous artists are inspired by their ancestor's experiences. Through their works, they strive to tell stories of oppression, hate, and prejudice in hopes of building a better future.
Some children of Holocaust survivors experienced the horrors firsthand as well, which has had a major impact on their work. Roman Polanski, for example, saw both his parents sent to concentration camps while growing up in Poland, and lived in the Krakow Ghetto before escaping. Polanski's 2002 film The Pianist was inspired in part by the director's memories. While his mother died, Polanski was reunited with his father after the end of World War II. Josh Gad dedicated his performance in Marshall to his grandparents, who endured the Holocaust, and Gal Gadot used the memory of her ancestors to inspire her role as Wonder Woman.
Even more big names had relatives who survived the Holocaust. Browse the list below to learn more.
- Photo: WikiMedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Steven Spielberg had a number of relatives who died during the Holocaust in Poland and the Ukraine.
- Profession: Television director, Businessperson, Television producer, Entrepreneur, Film Producer
- Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY
Kunis, born in the Ukraine, lost many family members in the Holocaust. The actress stated in a 2012 interview:
My whole family was in the Holocaust. My grandparents passed and not many survived. After the Holocaust, in Russia you were not allowed to be religious. So my parents raised me to know I was Jewish. You know who you are inside... When I was in school you would still see anti-Semitic signs.
- Profession: Model, Actor, Voice acting
- Photo: WikiMedia Commons / Public Domain
When participating in an episode of the PBS series Finding Your Roots, Scarlett Johansson learned her great uncle died in a Warsaw Ghetto in Poland. "I mean, you really couldn’t imagine the horror. It’s just so crazy to imagine," she said.
- Profession: Model, Actor, Voice acting, Singer
- Photo: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Many of Gal Gadot's ancestors died during the Holocaust. Her grandfather, who was only 13, survived the atrocities. Gadot said her family's history helped her portray Wonder Woman, stating:
His entire family was murdered — it’s unthinkable. He affected me a lot. After all the horrors he’d seen, he was like this damaged bird, but he was always hopeful and positive and full of love. If I was raised in a place where these values were not so strong, things would be different. It was very easy for me to relate to everything that Wonder Woman stands for.
- Profession: Model, Actor
- Photo: Metaweb (FB) / CC-BY-SA-2.0
During an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, Lisa Kudrow learned that her great-grandmother was killed by Nazis during the Holocaust.
- Profession: Comedian, Television producer, Film Producer, Screenwriter, Actor
- Photo: Metaweb (FB) / CC-BY-SA
Both Roman Polanski and his father are Holocaust survivors. Polanski was born in Paris, but his family moved to Poland when he was three. While Polanski escaped the Krakow Ghetto in 1943 and avoided a concentration camp, Nazis deported both his parents. While his father survived, his mother was killed in Auschwitz.
- Profession: Film Producer, Screenwriter, Actor, Writer, Film Director