Who do you think you are?
Jerry Springer

Jerry Springer - how we did it

Maternal Grandmother: Marie Kallman

Jerry never knew his grandparents: both his grandfathers died long before he was born. Jerry’s parents, Richard and Margo Springer, last saw their widowed mothers in 1939 when they left them behind in Berlin to escape Nazi Germany for the safety of London. Richard and Margo had never discovered what happened to them, although it was always thought that they were murdered in the Holocaust.

We started our investigation by searching for information about Jerry's mother's mother, Marie Kallman.

Step 1 - Family Members

Once again we began by speaking to family members, a process which frequently unearths clues about shared relatives. Within many Jewish families, one member or branch of the family will already have attempted to trace a relative who may have been caught up in the Holocaust. Clues from any progress they have made are invaluable.

Jerry met up with his cousin Erica and asked her what she knew about their shared grandmother, Marie Kallmann. Erica told us that like the Springers, she and her family had left Germany to move to America before the war and had been saving money to get a visa for Marie to join them there.

Erica told Jerry that the last her mother ever heard of Marie was when a letter she sent from America was returned unopened with a stamp on it saying: 'deported to Poland'. Erica had also been to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC (see Related Links) and found out that Marie was sent to a place called ?ód? in Poland with her sister and brother-in-law.

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Jerry finds out more about his grandmother, Marie.

Jerry decided to go to ?ód? to try to find out more about Marie's fate.

Step 2 – Ghetto Population Books

We were aware that ?ód? had ultimately become one of the largest ghettos in Poland. During the Second World War, hundreds of thousands of European Jews were forcibly expelled from their homes and made to live in ghettos within cities like ?ód?. In the ghettos, squalor, hunger and random violence led to thousands of deaths. Inhabitants were forced to contribute to the Nazi war effort before being deported to death camps for extermination.

In our search for information about Marie, we went to the state archive in ?ód? which holds ghetto population registry books (see Related Links). These books were created by the Judenrat (Jewish Council) of the ?ód? ghetto and are dated from 1940, when the ghetto was established, to its liquidation in August 1944. They contain lists of people arriving on transports to the ghetto and also registration cards that were filled out on arrival and at departure. The records include names of residents, sometimes their former addresses, dates of birth, occupations, addresses in the ghetto, and dates of deportation or death.

Before arriving in Poland, we had found a genealogist, Petje Schroeder, who could help us with our search on the ground. It can be very useful to find a genealogist to start doing the groundwork before arriving in a foreign location (see Related Links).

We met Petje at the state archive. She had found the Berlin transport list for 1941, which showed Jerry that Marie was deported to ?ód? in that year, on the first transport from Berlin to the ghetto. Petje had also found two registration cards, one that Marie had filled out on arrival in the ghetto, and one that had been filled out when she left.

From disturbingly detailed records, Jerry learned that on 27 October 1941, his elderly grandmother moved into room number 9 of house 25. It was a room that she shared with six other people. There was no furniture, no water, no kitchen and no toilet.

In one document, we saw that seven months later Marie was 'resettled outside the ghetto', but the card didn't say where. Petje told Jerry that 'resettled' was a euphemism for being deported to the extermination camp in Chelmno nearby, which was the first camp established by the Nazis for the purpose of murdering ghetto inmates.

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Petje Schroeder tells Jerry about the conditions in which his mother lived in ?ód?.

Petje took us along the route Marie would have been made to walk to the ?ód? ghetto train station. The station has been left as it was during the war. As they stood next to old cattle wagons which would have been used to transport people to the death camp, Petje showed Jerry moving archive photographs of men, women and children taking the same hopeless route 60 years earlier.

Step 3 – Visiting Former Camps or Mass Graves

At ?ód? we had discovered that in May 1942 Marie was loaded into a cattle wagon with many others and moved by rail to the extermination camp. Jerry now wanted to visit the grim destination of his grandmother's final journey, and he set out for Chelmno.

As we have found in other cases, visiting the site of a former concentration camp, death camp or mass grave can be harrowing. But for some it can help to bring focus to the sense of dispersed loss that is often a symptom of having had a relative disappear during the Holocaust.

In Jerry's case, visiting Chelmo with Petje also meant that he discovered more details about the end of his grandmother's life. He learned that Chelmno was the first camp to be established by the Nazis with the specific function of mass murder. Marie was therefore one of the first victims of the Final Solution.

Using some archive photographs, Petje described how Germans dressed in white coats and stethoscopes would welcome people getting off the train. New arrivals would be told to undress in order to have a bath before going somewhere else to work. They were directed into the basement of a building, up a ramp and into a gas van, which would then be driven to nearby woods with 40 or 50 people inside. There, people like Marie would be gassed to death, in mobile death machines that became the blueprint for the industrialised gas chambers of places like Auschwitz.

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Petje explains to Jerry what would have happened to new arrivals at Chelmno.

In terms of Marie's journey, Jerry had reached the end of the road. He was able to read a reflective commemoration of victims of the Holocaust on the site of his grandmother's final temporary home.

Paternal Grandmother: Selma Springer

Whilst we had uncovered details about the fate of Jerry's maternal grandmother, Jerry also wanted to find out what had happened to Selma Springer, his father's mother.

We knew that Selma had moved to Berlin after the death of her husband in 1930 to live with her brother Hermann, and that Jerry's father had seen her for the last time in 1939 when the Springers escaped to England from Nazi Germany. He suspected that she too had been killed in the Holocaust, but didn't know exactly what had happened to her, or where to start looking.

Step 1 – Jewish Deportation Files

One thing we did know was that the Nazis often kept scrupulous files and records of anything to do with the transportation and processing of Jewish individuals and families, especially if these people lived in places like Berlin.

The Landeshauptarchiv in Potsdam holds an extensive collection of deportation files and deportation lists, created by the Oberfinanzpraesident (OFP) Berlin-Brandenburg of Hitler’s Third Reich (see Related Links). These files document the Nazi confiscation of homes and property of Berlin Jews and their deportation to ghettos and camps in Eastern Europe.

Among these people were many Jews from other parts of Europe who had already moved to the Berlin area in their efforts to escape growing persecution. The deportation files include detailed information on the property of those deported, their bank accounts and business assets; documents meticulously prepared by the Secret Police, the Gestapo. The International Tracing Service in Bad-Arolsen also holds an extensive archive of records that can be used to trace victims of Nazi persecutions, and it offers a tracing service (see Related Links).

In Potsdam we met historian Dr Roland Pietsch. He had found a deportation file for Selma, which told Jerry that she had been deported from Berlin in August 1942. The file included a list of all her property and clothing: two dresses, two undergarments, one shirt, one corset, three pairs of stockings... The Nazis listed everything Selma owned, from the money in her bank account down to her shoes and umbrella. The file even included demands for national insurance payments after Hermann and Selma had been 'evacuated' (a euphemism for being deported).

Roland drew attention to one document in Selma's file which mentioned that she and her brother had been taken to Theresienstadt. This was a ghetto outside Prague infamously touted as a model, comfortable Jewish community, designed for older Jews.

This was the first time Jerry had heard of the place. He wanted to visit Theresienstadt, in what is now the Czech Republic, to try to find out more.

Step 2 – Ghetto Museums

We discovered that the site of the Theresienstadt ghetto is now a museum and offers guided tours to visitors. Its archives hold near-complete lists of those deported to the ghetto and onwards to extermination camps. It also contains images, letters and works of art by prisoners, plus various other sources of information about life in the ghetto.

During the war, Theresienstadt was portrayed as a civilized resettlement ghetto. We even found a propaganda film, showing smiling inhabitants and healthy surroundings, made to perpetuate this falsehood.

In reality, conditions were harsh and particularly so for elderly inmates like Jerry's grandmother Selma. The museum portrays how the community was rife with disease and starvation, and that life there was overshadowed by the constant threat of deportation to the death camps.

We wanted to know whether it might be possible to find details about Selma's experience there. Museum guide Karel Rozec had found one useful document. He showed Jerry a list of all the people who died in Theresienstadt on 17 May 1943. Selma was on the list. But rather than having been killed by machine gun or gas chamber, it appeared that she had died at the age of 72 in the ghetto hospital - undoubtedly as a result of the dire conditions within the ghetto.

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Theresienstadt guide Karel reveals what happened to Jerry's grandmother Selma.

We now had proof of what happened to Jerry's father's mother. Although it appears that she was not directly murdered like his maternal grandmother Marie, Jerry knew for certain that she had died in the hands of the Nazis, in a place that was not her home.

Step 3 – Extended Family

Jerry had also seen another name on Karel's list that he vaguely recognised: Flora Springer.

Flora was the sister of Nathan Springer, Jerry's grandfather. Jerry worked out that Flora must have died at around the age of 80, and wondered whether she had any children or grandchildren who would have been cousins of Jerry and his father.

As a wonderful surprise, Karel was able to introduce Jerry to Yaron Matar, a great-grandchild of Flora. Yaron's father Jacob, Jerry's second cousin, escaped from Germany as a child via the Kindertransport on 31 July 1939, within days of Jerry's own father's escape to England.

Yaron has a large family in Israel that Jerry knew nothing about. Both Yaron's family and Jerry's family are descended from these two young survivors of Nazi persecution: Jacob, and Jerry's father Richard.

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Jerry meets second cousin Yaron for the first time.

Jerry’s journey had been revealing and distressing. But despite having discovered unimaginable suffering and challenges within his relatives' experience, he was reminded of the resilience, continuity and survival of the family.

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