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Fry explores his roots

by: Leslie Bunder - Last updated: 2006-01-26

Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry

For years, we have known Stephen Fry as a writer, actor and raconteur. His private life, has for the most part remained private, but in BBC 2's Who Do You Think You Are, we saw a side of Fry that has never been explored - his background and his Jewish roots.

Though, it is no secret that Fry is Jewish through his mother, not much has ever been revealed as to his origins. In the genealogy programme, Fry himself explored these roots and came away with a better understanding of his own past.
We discovered that Fry's maternal grandfather Martin Neumann, had left Slovakia, in 1920s with his Rosa, and their daughter Gertrude to take a job in Bury St Edmunds working as an agricultural advisor to a sugar beet factory.
Fry explored the work his grandfather did and in the process traced a journey that went from Austria to Slovakia.
He discovered that the building housed his grandfather's relatives and was entirely occupied by Jews who were removed by the Nazis and deported to Riga where they died. The building, today, remains occupied and one of the residents has dedicated a plaque to those who once lived there.
Fry, ever so grateful showed an emotional side that revealed both happiness that their names will not be forgotten but sadness for the reason why the names are there in the first place.
Over in Surany in what is now Slovakia, we discovered more about Fry's grandfather and meet a man who knew of the family and today is the last Jew in the area.
A synagogue that has been left to crumble is now being renovated and will offer a permanent memorial to the 600 Jews who were transported from the region to Nazi death camps.
At the end, we discovered what fate occurred to his grandfather's family.  Through a picture, Fry sought to discover more about his relatives, the Lamms. After research, he managed to get to find out names to people in that picture, but tragically discovered that they too like his relatives had perished during the War, this time in Auschwitz.
When finally returning back to Britain to show his family what he found out, it becomes apparent that for a simple trust of fate, if it wasn't for his grandfather Martin getting a job in the sugar beet factory, the life he now lives, might have ended up very different.
This certainly was a bold programme to make. Fry reveals a totally different side to his "stiff upper lip" persona.  His use of Mazel Tov to two boys near to Vienna's synagogue when they announced they were barmitzvah, brought warmth to the programme and a real feeling of Fry connecting with his Jewishness.
A heart warming story that was moving and delivered a story that was fascinating to watch.