Who do you think you are?
Jerry Springer

Jerry Springer - how we did it

Jerry Springer was born in London in 1944 but has lived in America since 1949. One of his earliest memories is the sight of New York from the water as he and his family arrived in America for the first time. But Jerry's origins lie further east.

Jerry’s parents, Richard and Margo Springer, were German Jewish refugees who escaped Nazi Germany just before the Second World War. Jerry didn’t know the details of how or why they left so quickly. He also knew very little about their family back in Germany: his family could only assume that most of those left behind must have died in the Holocaust. Jerry was very keen to uncover his family's roots in Europe, and to find out what had happened to those who stayed.

Parents: Richard and Margo Springer

Jerry knew that his parents, Richard and Margo Springer, left Nazi Germany just before the outbreak of the Second World War. But as is the case with many Jewish people of their generation, they didn’t speak much about their past. Richard and Margo had to leave their elderly mothers behind in Germany. They planned to bring them out to England as soon as they could, but had not managed to make arrangements in time.

As an initial step, Jerry wanted to know more about the conditions and events that prompted his parents to leave Germany, and their loved ones, before the onset of one of Europe's darkest hours.

Step 1 – Speaking to Family Members

When we began our research, the crucial starting point was gathering information from family members. Elderly relatives are often able to give first-hand information about previous generations and their own early lives, and younger family members can contribute clues from stories and documents passed on to them by older relatives. Such contributions help to build up a picture of past events and people.

In our case, Jerry asked his sister Evelyn what she knew about their parents' flight from Germany to the UK. Evelyn had in her possession an old registration certificate and passport belonging to their mother Margo. It was stamped with the telling phrase 'Refugee from Nazi oppression' and the registration certificate from the UK was dated 9 August 1939.

This was a striking date. We discovered that it became impossible to escape from Germany just weeks later, at the outbreak of war, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939. Seeing the registration certificate emphasised the fact that Jerry's parents had got out of Germany just in time.

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Jerry and his sister examine their mother's registration document.

Because their escape had been so close to the wire, we wanted to find out how Jerry's parents had been fortunate enough to be among the lucky few accepted into the UK just before the Second World War. To start his search, Jerry needed to come to London.

Step 2 – Jewish Refugee Organisations

We knew that various organisations had been established to help Jewish refugees from continental Europe pass through or stay in Britain as the situation worsened across the Channel in the 1930s and 1940s. Therefore there was a good chance that one of them might have a record of Richard and Margo Springer.

Jerry met Tony Grenville from the Association of Jewish Refugees (see Related Links) who could access records for one such organisation: the Jewish Refugee Committee, now known as World Jewish Relief. The Jewish Refugee Committee (also known as the German Jewish Aid Committee during the war) was an organization in London with which Jewish people fleeing Germany could register to find help upon their arrival in the UK. New arrivals would register at Woburn House in Bloomsbury and receive advice about subsistence and accommodation. The surviving records show refugees' addresses, arrival dates and any other help they might have received.

We were fortunate. Tony had found a record of Richard's arrival in the UK and was able to show Jerry his father's registration documents.

The documents revealed that Richard Springer travelled to London from Berlin, but that he was born in Landsberg, and was a shoe merchant. We also discovered that he had obtained a permit on the guarantee of a 'Ms Goldberg'.

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Tony Grenville from the Association of Jewish Refugees tells Jerry about Richard and Margo Springer’s escape from Nazi Germany.

It became apparent that by giving them a guarantee of £50, this unknown person had saved Richard and Margo's lives by enabling them to escape from the Nazi threat at the very last moment. Millions of others weren't so lucky.

Step 3 – Newspaper Archive

In Richard's registration documents we had the names of a lucky few who escaped. But Tony had other documents, including old newspapers, which told tragically different stories.

Aside from news articles, newspapers can provide other valuable snapshots of the events, views and culture of a particular period. The British Library Newspapers collection in Colindale, north London, holds many past copies of British and other newspapers. In addition the archives of some national newspapers are available online (see Related Links).

Using such resources from the late 1930s, Tony demonstrated how British newspapers frequently included adverts placed by German Jewish individuals and couples seeking work in the UK. These seemingly mundane appeals for work as domestic servants, gardeners, seamstresses and handymen were, in reality, desperate cries for help. Many of the men and women advertising their services were highly educated and overqualified for such work. They just had no means of escape from Nazi Germany other than securing employment in a British household.

The scores of advertisements Tony showed to Jerry emphasised just how desperate these people were to come to the UK, and how lucky his parents were to find a guarantor and to flee when they did.

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Jerry reads newspaper adverts placed by German Jews.

We now had a keen sense of their fortune in escaping, but Jerry wanted to know more about his parents' life back in Germany before they made the decision to leave.

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