Actress Lisa Kudrow traces her roots in the US version of the celebrity genealogy series, travelling to Belarus to uncover the truth behind what happened to her great-grandmother.
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Emmy Award-winning actress and producer Lisa Kudrow
first shot to fame in 1994,
playing the eccentric Phoebe Buffay on the hit sitcom friends.
She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Michel, and son, Julian.
I was raised Jewish, but not religiously.
We didn't belong to a synagogue...and, you know.
My parents, brother, sister, and I are very close,
and still live within a few miles of each other.
I have, like, snippets of story.
As far as I know, my family during the Holocaust were rounded up and shot.
I'm a little anxious, I have to be honest,
because I just have a feeling that there's some...
powerful emotion coming my way.
We're going to my parent's house.
We're going to see my father who has the genealogy scroll,
the family tree.
What I feel is a lot of this is for my father
because he's worked so hard on the family tree
and it's his passion, so...
There's some incomplete information,
so it would be nice to fill that in for him.
My father was...kind of this thug from Brooklyn.
He met my mother and they got married and then he was drafted
and that's where he decided he could become a doctor.
You know, he got it in his head that he could become a doctor,
and after he got out of the army, put himself through college,
and then put himself through medical school.
He worked one and two jobs while he was in school.
He is the one who pulled the family out of...hard times.
-Hi, how are you?
-Hi, Dad. Hi, Mom.
'My dad's parents were both Eastern European Jews.
My grandmother, Gert, she came in 1921 for a better life,
but it was never easy for her.
Well, it's her family's history that my father and I want to look into further.
My Grandma, Gert, had a lot of horrible things happen to her.
A very sad life.
The first child that was born was my brother.
This is him. He died when he was four-years-old.
My mother was pregnant with my sister at the time that he died.
And my sister was born in 1929.
I was born in 33, my father died in 1936.
So I was three-years-old and here's what I remember.
Believe me, I remember all our belongings were in the street.
And I remember, my sister and I were holding on to each other,
and we were both very frightened as we saw my mother in tears
and screaming and all that stuff.
And that was about the time my father died, so we were thrown out of our apartment.
And then we moved to a tenement.
It was a very difficult time, it was very hard.
For my mother, can you imagine? My mother, what she must have gone through.
And she loses her daughter when her daughter was 18-years-old.
We were the only two left in our immediate family.
When I was very young, she was babysitting me, and we were playing cards,
and I asked her, you know, "Don't you miss your parents?"
Cos I was little, and she started crying.
It was, like, you know, 40 years later, right?
And she's crying, and she's saying, "Yes."
She said, "my mother was killed by Hitler With a knife in the back."
-Oh, oh. I know what she's talking about.
I'll tell you. I'll tell you what she was talking about.
It was the story that we heard from a cousin.
It was 1947 or 1948.
Knock on the door, and the door opens.
I was there. I remember it like it was yesterday.
I'm looking at the door opening,
and there's this guy standing there,
young guy in a uniform that I had never seen before.
It turns out it was a Polish Navy uniform
and his name was Yuri Barudin.
Yuri told our family that he was playing in the woods near their shtetl,
and the shtetl was called Ilya.
And he came to the edge of the forest,
and he could see that they were shooting,
and he was watching his family being cut down by the Nazis.
They killed all the Jews in town.
My grandmother was one of them,
Your grandmother's mother, your great-grandmother.
This is tough, huh?
-So that's the story that Yuri told?
-That's the story that Yuri told.
-Oh, my gosh.
Is that that name he took? Is that a different name?
-I don't know. I don't know.
-Is it a Jewish name? Barudin?
I don't know that either. Barudin? I don't know.
He smiled. He patted me on the head
and that was the last I ever saw of him.
He disappeared and then somehow we heard that he died.
Died doing what?
-Honey, I don't... I don't remember.
-OK. Oh, God.
'That story still haunts my father.
'I want to find out exactly what happened to my great-grandmother's family.
'and if possible, if there is a final resting place,
'pay my respects to those who were lost.'
Lisa's heading to New York to see if she can find out anything about Yuri's visit there in the 1940s.
She's meeting her father's cousin Gerry Meister
at the Tenement Museum in Manhattan. Gerry was with Lisa's father
and grandmother when Yuri visited New York.
She's hoping her remembers some more details about this mysterious distant cousin.
-Home sweet home.
-No, this is...
-This is common.
The window in between rooms to get some light.
Is this like how my father grew up, by the way?
-Do you remember his apartment?
-It wasn't quite this regal...
-..your father's apartment.
-Are you serious?
-It was like a black hole a third the size.
So it sounds like things were really very hard for my grandmother,
which is an understatement.
I would say that...she wasn't quite as poor as a church mouse.
Church mouse had it better.
She had the... She was the poorest person I knew.
We were poor, but we were well-off compared to her.
She must have been pretty strong.
To live her life, she lost a husband, a son, a daughter.
My mother and I came into the house and Gertrude was eating
a slice of bread and an onion.
And she was somewhat embarrassed and she said to my mother,
"You won't believe how sweet this onion is, it's delicious."
She was covering up that all she had was a crust of bread and an onion,
that I saw with my own eyes.
Gertrude's life in America had been marred by tragedy,
ever since her arrival.
Her mother was called Meri Mordejovich,
and as far as the family know, she and most of the other Jews in Ilya
were murdered in the Holocaust.
This is your great-grandmother.
This is my grandmother. This is Meri.
-Doesn't it look like Gertie?
Oh, my gosh!
Look, she's little. So was Gertie, too. Little!
-And thin and...
-Not one of them five feet tall.
Oh gosh, there's so many people they lost.
And what do you remember about Yuri who told you what happened in Ilya?
Yuri was on the flagship of the Polish merchant marine, the Batory.
-The Polish merchant marine?
-Polish merchant marine.
-It sailed out of Gdinya.
And do you know what happened to him?
Disappeared off the face of the earth. Never heard from him again.
-I don't know what happened.
Maybe some anti-Semite found out he was a Jew and finished the job, we don't know.
To try and find out what happened to Yuri and her great-grandmother Meri
Lisa's travelling to Belarus.
I bet it's really pretty. I'm excited on one hand to see
where my grandmother lived cos she spoke really fondly of it.
But then also just, um... Oh!
..how they all met their end is making me...
..a little nervous.
She's flying to Minsk, the capital of Belarus.
She's being met by Jewish historian Tamara Vershitskaya,
Nice to meet you. My name is Tamara.
Minsk is about 40 miles southeast of Ilya,
where Lisa's grandmother and great-grandmother lived.
Before World War II, communities like Ilya
had strong Jewish roots going back hundreds of years,
But the war changed the culture of Eastern Europe forever.
Before the war Yiddish was one of the four national languages.
Yiddish was one of the four national languages.
-That's a presence!
-There was a Jewish Institute here,
there was a Jewish Institute at the Academy of Sciences.
Jewish culture was flourishing in Belarus.
-Yes, that's a surprise, I understand.
But after the war, after 1945,
the situation was different and Jews didn't feel very safe, even, here.
-And that's why many changed their names.
Many registered themselves as Russians or Belarusians or Poles
-or anybody else.
-Wow. I thought most of them were killed?
Most of them, yes. Most of them, yes, that's true.
After the war Jewish communities were reduced to...
5% were left alive from the total community,
10% at most.
-Oh, my gosh.
Lisa has come to the state archives outside Minsk
to see if she can find out what happened to
her great-grandmother, Meri Mordejovich.
You can see the lists of electoral board.
-So, voters list.
-Oh, that's a voters list!
-Voters list from what year?
-1935 and 1938.
-So, on that list we can see Meri Mordejovich.
-That's my great-grandmother.
She lived in Ilya since her birth,
-all her life.
-Wow. 1938. That makes her pretty old.
Is it possible to know, are there any documents
if she were killed in Ilya, in that massacre?
-Oh, there are documents?
We have some documents which we took from Moscow.
They are copies of documents. The originals of them are kept in Moscow.
It's terrible documents.
It is a list of people who were killed, hung and tortured
during the Second World War in Ilya.
-And in that document we can see your relative.
On that list you can see Mordejovich, Meri.
It is stated here that she was Jewish and she was a housewife,
and she was from Ilya and the last column is
killed and burnt.
Oh, my God.
'I knew my great-grandmother was murdered,
'But to hear the words "killed and burned,"
'That's worse than I thought.'
Lisa's on her way to Ilya where her grandmother Gertrude lived.
And where her great-grandmother Meri was killed.
She wants to know if there are any other details about Meri's fate
that were missing from Yuri's story.
-That's the place...
..where the Mordejovich family lived.
That's where Gertie grew up.
This is the view that she saw.
This is what I pictured.
This is exactly what I pictured.
I feel connected to the smile that would come across her face
when she'd say, "It was so beautiful."
And I'm so happy that she got to grow up here,
and it's so pretty, and I'm also so...
happy that she, um, got out,
and her sisters got out,
and I'm sorry for everybody else.
My grandmother learned
from Yuri what happened here.
It's a huge loss. It's... it's...
It's her whole family.
It's her mother, who she loved, and she'll never see her again.
She could have at least dreamt about seeing her one day
or coming back to visit and being able to, like,
breathe in this air and be here again, and that's gone too.
Well, it would make sense for Yuri's story.
He must have seen the Germans...
take them out of the house
and take them away.
Tamara has tracked down an Ilya resident
who was living in the town when the Nazi's arrived in 1941
It's possible that she may remember Lisa's grandmother.
SHE SPEAKS IN HER NATIVE TONGUE Oh, my gosh.
My grandmother grew up here.
-What was your grandmother's name?
Grunia, Grunia, Grunia, Grunia...
SHE SPEAKS IN HER NATIVE TONGUE
She lived near the river.
We went to school together.
We were like one family.
I must tell you, when the Germans came we went to have a look at them.
We had never seen Germans before.
We were afraid of everything. We knew what war meant.
In the first days they started to loot Jewish houses.
Later on the synagogues were burnt down
and our house was burnt down as well.
The Jews escaped from their houses to the forest.
They collected all the Jews.
I tried to hide a small girl.
A policeman came into the house,
searched under the bed,
took the girl, pulled her from under the bed by the hair,
and threw her into the fire.
Let God, nobody see it again.
I pray to the God that it never happens again.
'I'm sorry that she has to remember it.
'I feel badly coming here and asking her to remember it,
'cos it's got to be really hard.
HITLER SHOUTS IN GERMAN
In 1941, two years after Hitler gave the order to invade Poland,
the Nazis invaded Belarusian territory.
They soon occupied towns like Ilya
and created ghettos for the Jews.
A program of ghetto clearances began
and the systematic murder of Jews the Nazis called "actions".
-So where are we now?
-This is the...
-This is the centre of Ilya.
-It used to be a market square before the war.
And all the Jews were collected here in the market square.
They were driven out of their houses,
out of their homes in March 1942,
-and this is the place where the selection took place.
I've got evidence translated into English.
"As soon as the Nazis arrived in Ilya,
"they showed extreme cruelty toward the Jewish population.
"They soon started going from home to home,
"searching for every man, woman, and child.
"They removed them from their homes
"and forced them to run
"to the designated central locations in the market."
-That's where we are.
"The Germans started picking out from amongst the Jews
"a few professional people that they felt were still needed at the time
"This selection was done by a local Belarusian.
"Everyone on the spot understood and there were no illusions of the fate of the people who were not selected.
"During the Soviet time they had established a huge freezer
"for fruit and meat products,
"and next to it was a deep hole in the ground to store the ice."
"This ice-storage area was used that day
"for the mass burial of 900 Jews from Ilya,
"men, women, children, and babies alike.
"All the Jews selected to be killed in the market
"were taken to this site.
"On both sides of the entrance stood SS men armed with machine guns.
"As soon as the people arrived,
"they were ordered to remove their clothes and run inside,
"where they were shot from all sides,
"and fell directly onto the frozen pit.
"This was the last walk of most of the Jews of our town
"on this day of slaughter.
"The murderers then poured oil onto the walls of the building
"and set it on fire."
"The local Christian population later told us that,
"for many hours, they could hear from afar the screams and anguished cries
"of the wounded who did not die from the bullets.
"Thus ended Ilya, a Jewish community
"with centuries of a glorious history."
Tamara has found an eye-witness, Alexander Gavrilik
who was a child at the time of the massacre.
HE SPEAKS IN HIS NATIVE LANGUAGE
-After they were burned,
the air here in Ilya was so heavy in the course of several months
after the massacre, it was difficult to breath.
HE SPEAKS IN HIS NATIVE LANGUAGE
-So, the Jews were marched along this street from
the market. He remembers exactly that they were walking along
this street and we are going exactly the same way, the same path
and we are very close now to the place.
So you see this place is a bit higher than the rest of the area
-and that shed was standing right here.
Jews were driven to this place, shot here and buried.
made to approach the edge of that pit
in small groups, two or three people,
and they were shot and fell down into the cellar.
-The next two or three and the next, and the next.
I'm glad that I got to see, witness, acknowledge...
..what happened to my family here
and pay my respects at their final resting place.
I am glad that I got to do that.
And that...moment is worthwhile.
I mean, these people were no threat. They were nothing.
It's just the ravings of a madman who decided that Jews didn't
fit into the way he saw the human race.
That's just his opinion.
But it caused a genocide and...
..everyone said, "Yeah, OK."
Maybe I'm getting too philosophical now, but...
that's what fear can whip people into.
You make people afraid enough
of something completely manufactured,
and you can drive them to become murderers,
And I always want to look at the...
When there are pictures, I always want to see the faces of the people that were doing the killing.
Lisa now knows the full story of what happened to
her great-grandmother during the Holocaust.
But she still wants to find out about Yuri,
the man who sought out her family in New York
to tell them of the massacre.
Now I think I'm just going to look for Yuri Barudin.
I'm going to look him up online and see if I can find anything about
his visit who he is, anything.
OK. I'm going to try Batory and Barudin.
Never heard that name before.
Gerry said he was from Gdynia.
OK, "List or manifest."
"Employed on the vessel as members of crew."
I don't know if that's him, but it's the...
The last name's right.
Poland, the Batory.
He's crossed out.
What does that mean, I wonder?
It says, "Discharged February 4, 1950, Gdynia."
He's the only Barudin.
Well, it's the only Barudin.
The ship's manifest states that Yuri was discharged in Gdynia.
So Lisa is heading there in search of more information.
So we're going to, we're going to go to Poland.
We'll go to Gdansk to get to Gdynia.
I keep trying to make a joke, "Gdyn-you know!"
Yeah, so we can see if there's any information we can get
on Yuri Barudin, or Boleslaw.
And it would be nice to know what happened to this...to Yuri.
I just... It's worth a shot.
You know, like, the people we saw in Ilya,
they're burdened with the memories of what they witnessed
and it would be the same for Yuri,
if he were to live a long life and I hope he did.
I hope he got married and had a family
and carried on. I hope... I hope that's what happened.
But my father...
You know, and Gerry remember thinking that he died.
Lisa's come to the state archives in Gdynia
to look for any records on Boleslaw Barudin.
My name is Chris, Krzysztof Dzieciolowski in Polish,
-but call me Chris. It will be easier.
-OK, thank you. I'm Lisa.
'I mean, what we have found here?'
This is, um... this is a registry card
for the people who were coming to Gdynia and settling down.
So as we can see, this is his surname, Barudin.
This is his name, Boleslaw.
Why change it to Boleslaw from Yuri?
Or why did he...
Why did his family in Brooklyn know him as Yuri?
When living in Poland, you wouldn't like to be...
Yuri is a typical Russian or Belarusian name.
OK, he needs his name to be Polish if he's living in Poland.
Yes. Then we can read this document further on
and it says that he's married.
SHE GASPS Where? Where?
-This is the name of his wife.
-And we know that they had a son.
Andrezj, who was born on May 16th of 1949, here in Gdynia.
He'd be today, what? 59.
Oh, my gosh.
He could still be here.
Yeah, he could still be here.
Aren't there censuses or voter registration or...?
Or look in a phone book, see if he's still here!
-This is a nice phone book from 2002.
Barudin! SHE GASPS
In 2002! Could he still be alive? That's...he's old.
SHE GASPS That's him. It's him.
YOU should call.
I think you should call.
-If he doesn't speak English...
-But if he went to America...
OK. All right, so I should call.
You think it's OK for me to call?
Oh, my gosh.
PHONE RINGS It's ringing!
Hello, is this Boleslaw?
It's... it's Tomek?
Tomek Barudin? OK.
You're speaking with... My name is Lisa Kudrow.
Yes, mm-hmm. Is that your...?
Oh, that's your grandfather. OK.
Is he, um... Is he...here?
Yeah. That's his house. Right. And then you answered.
Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh!
Um, my father met your grandfather
a long, long, long time ago...
..and I think we're related.
So I wanted to meet him, cos my father...
The family wanted to know whatever happened to him.
I'm in Gdynia.
OK, great. All right.
See you soon.
All right, bye.
Oh, my gosh. He's alive.
That's...I can't believe it.
I was actually fantasizing that,
"Wouldn't it be great if there was finally, like,
"A happy story in all of this, and he were alive?"
But I thought, "It's impossible." It's so great.
-Thank you very much for your phone.
I'm so excited to meet him.
I'm so happy I have something happy to tell my father and Gerry.
SHE GASPS They, oh...
They were certain he was dead.
Now I'm going to find him
and finally give my father a survivor's story that he didn't know anything about.
-What a surprise.
Hi. I'm Tomek Barudin.
Oh, my... We're related.
-Nice to meet you. Yeah, come on.
-Let's have a seat.
-I prepared a wonder for you.
Oh, my gosh.
I'm a little overwhelmed. I'm excited.
I have to try not to get overwhelmed.
And here is the... Here is the Boleslaw Barudin.
Oh, it's so nice to see you.
It's so good to meet you.
Oh, my gosh.
It's good to see you.
My father remembers meeting you - him and his cousin Gerry.
He was about 14.
That's my grandmother, Grunia.
Oh, they took pictures?
Your mother was the sister? Half-sister?
HE SPEAKS IN HIS NATIVE TONGUE
Wow. He only saw them one time, right?
-Only one time.
Yeah, and then it was too dangerous to stay in contact.
You know, my father also remembers that you came,
and you were the one who told them what happened in Ilya,
to Meri and the Mordejovich family.
My father thinks that you were a witness.
Oh, they... they murdered everyone.
But how did he escape or survive?
HE SPEAKS IN HIS NATIVE TONGUE
HE SPEAKS IN HIS NATIVE TONGUE
Wow, that's risky.
-That's very brave.
-Yeah, that was...
I just had one more question
which is why he wanted to find them in New York?
HE SPEAKS IN HIS NATIVE TONGUE
He wanted to know anything.
-Yeah, anyone who...
-To find any family.
You know, my father and his cousin...
-for some reason, thought that he died.
My father is going to be so happy.
He won't stop crying. I know it.
'It's finally good. It's finally happy.'
SHE SIGHS It's such a relief.
'It was so good to see him and his family,
'his beautiful family!
'His son and his son and they're all nice.'
Thank you so much.
Mostly, I'm just glad that he had a family
and I got to meet him.
And now my father can call or email,
and they can be in touch.
This journey's been more than worth it, even the hard parts,
even... even before I knew that he was alive and well.
Alive and well.
And happy, yeah.
It's definitely worth it.
Yeah, I can't... I have to...
I can't wait to tell my father about it.
So, um, I can't wait.
Um... You'll have to check your email.
I met Yuri.
And his whole family.
Lisa's returning to Los Angeles
to tell her father everything she's learned on her journey.
She's arranged for him to speak with Boleslaw
for the first time in 60 years.
-Hi, my love.
My father is about to see Boleslaw and speak to him.
Since 1947 or 1948,
that was the last time they laid eyes on each other,
So this is really exciting.
-Yep. Now you see me?
Tell him that I remember him very well.
What I'd like to know is, does he remember me?
HE SPEAKS IN HIS NATIVE TONGUE
Oh, my God, is that wonderful, wonder...
What a wonderful man!
You may not know the story,
but when Boleslaw came to the house
and he met my mother, who is his aunt,
he felt very sorry for her,
because, you know, we didn't have very much money,
and he actually left 50 for my mother.
Tomek, look how a young sailor,
who was maybe 22-years-old, had such a good heart.
-That's very good.
OK, well, this has been very wonderful,
very touching for me.
-And all the best from us as well.
How many years ago was that that you saw him?
And then here he is, and you thought he was dead, and he's not.
It's too good to be true.
-That's all right, Dad. Oh!
-It was tough. It was tough.
It was tough. It's all right.
It's all right.
I just love that.
The kind of hardship and life-and-death struggles
that my father, grandmother, great-grandmother had,
it just never ended.
In some ways, it changes me,
cos I feel even more fortunate
to be the recipient of all the...
..of all the sacrifices that were made by everyone before me.
I do feel really lucky that I got to take this trip
and discover Boleslaw for my father.
And the other thing is, with all the...
tragedy and horror that I had to look at,
then you find Boleslaw,
who went through a lot himself
and is smiling and enjoying his son and his grandson
and his great-grandchildren, and...life goes on.
I mean that's the big take-away for me from this,
that life goes on, no matter what.
Since childhood, Lisa has known that her grandmother Gertrude had a tough life; two of her three children died in childhood, her husband died young, and her mother, Meri, perished in the Holocaust. Lisa's father Lee recalled hearing about Meri's death when a cousin from Europe, Yuri Barudin, visited him and Gertrude in New York in the late 1940s. The family never heard from Yuri again. 60 years on, Lisa is determined to find out what became of Yuri, and uncover the truth of what actually happened to her great-grandmother.
In New York, Lisa meets with her father's cousin, who provides her with crucial information about Yuri. In Belarus, Lisa travels to IIya, the village where her great-grandmother lived. Here she uncovers the awful truth of how Meri died. Although the Nazis destroyed much of the evidence, Lisa unearths documents and eyewitness testimonies describing what happened to her great-grandmother and the other Jews of Ilya in March, 1942. Later, while visiting the memorial to those who died, Lisa pays her respects and finds it hard to hold back the tears.
Intent on finding out what happened to Yuri, Lisa travels to the Polish city of Gdynia, his last known residence. Here, she discovers a heart-warming story that she cannot wait to tell her father.