Well this ought to give us some new insights into what now appears to have been a bit of projection by funnywoman Chelsea Handler in 2011, when she ripped into Serbian defense minister Dragan Sutanovac not only for his Serbian name, but for daring to do what everyone else including Handler was doing at the time — criticizing tragic but out-of-control singer Amy Winehouse. When the Serb dared to join the party, he was condemned for his Serbness by Handler — and reminded of his nation’s collective guilt for a fictitious genocide of Muslim soldiers.
Earlier this month the Handler episode of Lisa Kudrow’s celebrity genealogy show — “Who Do You Think You Are?” — aired, and according to Kudrow was a favorite among TLC executives and staff.
In addition to the epidemic American ignorance on matters Balkan, and the entertainment industry’s lockstep with politics and media on that score, the half-Jewish Handler appears to have had two additional disadvantages keeping her from ever becoming that one in a million who gets a clue on the Balkan wars.
Between the German soldier in her and the Jewish sucker ( ‘If someone says they’re undergoing a holocaust, then they must be’), the poor girl didn’t stand a chance. As the report below notes, it isn’t clear if Handler’s grandfather supported Hitler, or simply went along to avoid a suspicious eye falling on his own family (and one notes that subsequently he was OK with his daughter marrying a Jew), but what we have here is yet another example of that cosmic phenomenon I’ve written of before, in which the pursuit of German supremacy and Serb-revulsion finds its way almost supernaturally into even the most disconnected German blood, wherever it may be residing.
The review by Yahoo! TV’s Caroline Kepnes is surprisingly substantive, pinpointing the episode’s tone-deafness, conflicted-ness, and non-substantiveness:
Witnessing Chelsea Handler’s awkward pursuit of intelligence regarding her grandparents’ Nazi ties on TLC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” made for a strange, crowded hour of television that left us uncomfortable and emotionally jet-lagged.
…Nazi history is wacky stuff for Chelsea to riff on! Hey, TLC: Pick. A. Tone.
It starts out okay, with Chelsea talking about being Jewish and German and having many siblings and being raised Jewish.
Chelsea maintains a wry perspective on her Jewish heritage, making fun of her background (and all backgrounds) on her E! talk show “Chelsea Lately” and in her comedic memoirs.
In the book “Lies that Chelsea Handler Told Me,” for example, one of her “Chelsea Lately” writers notes that it’s not a “productive morning in the writers’ room” if Chelsea hasn’t “made a 9/11 or Holocaust joke (and I’m talking about the Jewish Holocaust, not the Armenian Holocaust).”
She will joke about anything, really, and it’s unclear whether she’s holding back here for personal or professional reasons.
…Her grandfather, who fought for Germany in WWII, had a green book with a swastika on top — yes, a swastika — and her grandmother kept memoirs that remain untranslated…Suddenly…you have to tread lightly when you talk swastikas, and now Chelsea’s in Germany learning that her grandfather worked for a very enthusiastic Nazi. There’s [also] a half-baked lesson on Hitler’s genius job-creating skills[,] and subsequent racism and hatred.
It’s just too tone-deaf. You can’t dissect the cultural impact of Adolf “I exterminated Jewish people” Hitler in a tiny segment.
Chelsea looks strained during a stilted conversation about the odds of her grandfather being a hater. How could she not? This isn’t chit-chat about vodka and one-night stands; this is, you know, HITLER. Slow. It. Down. This isn’t “The Amazing Race to the Concentration Camp,” TLC. Shame on you for rushing a girl as she tries to process her roots…
Anyway. Historians are pretty sure that her grandfather probably wasn’t a full-blown Nazi. Given his unremarkable record as a solider and evident disinterest in his swastika book, it seems that he kept his mouth shut and went with the flow for the sake of his family.
Chelsea is bemused by his noble reticence, given that she is famous for what she calls “a big mouth.” Ah, levity. But not for long. The Americans storm the beaches of Southern France, and Chelsea’s grandfather is taken overseas to America as a POW.
The historian reminds Chelsea that back then, the Nazis warned soldiers that Americans would castrate them and use their bodies for science projects. Chelsea remarks what a long and horrifying boat ride that must have been for her grandfather. Yep.
She’s all smiles, though, upon seeing a picture of her granddad one month into his time in Iowa. He looks fuller in the face, happier. (Producers: Can we see the photo too? Why cut so fast?)
And no wonder. POWs were well-fed and and encouraged to have active private lives. Chelsea even spots her grandfather in the orchestra pit of a musical production in the POW camp.
Hitler put us in a bad mood, and we have to complain: “WDYTYA” needs more humanity — photographs of the elders, participant living relatives — and fewer rushed, generic quickie “educational” sidebars.
After talking about wretched conditions in Germany pre-Hitler, Chelsea remarks: “You can almost see why people got behind Hitler and supported him. I mean you can’t really blame them.”
Take a hint, TLC. That’s your cue to delve into her grandparents’ day-to-day life. Show us their life instead of steamrolling forward.
We get it when Chelsea deadpans upon returning to the States, “From the south of France to Iowa, I’m such a lucky girl.”
We feel ya, girl. That was a bumpy, poorly navigated ride and we’re queasy…
…In the episode, Handler, who was raised Jewish by her Jewish mother [sic: father] and non-Jewish father [sic: mother], confronted the dark secret her “very, very big, strong” German grandfather, Karl Stoecker, had avoided discussing for years — his Nazi past and role in the Holocaust.
“My German grandma definitely spoke about her life during the war way more than my grandfather did,” said Handler. “He never spoke about it.”
The 38-year-old comedienne discovered during the episode that before immigrating to the United States, her grandfather had been interred in a POW camp for years, probably in Montana. Prior to that, discovered Handler, he’d served as a Nazi soldier in Hitler’s army during World War II.
“When he went back to Germany, he was very eager to come and take his family and move them back to the United States,” said Handler.
Handler, who was raised in New Jersey, became emotional and broke down during the episode as she struggled to reconcile her Jewish upbringing to her grandfather’s Nazi past.
“My grandfather served in the Second World War as a soldier. Whether or not he agreed with Hitler, he was serving in the Germany army,” she said. “My father, I guess, made a deal with my mother when they had children that they were gonna be raised Jewish. So I connect with my Judaism, or the Jewish side of my family, more than anything else.”
One thing we’ll never know is if her grandfather was eager to move the family to the U.S. for the usual reasons — better life, family reunification, America representing the opposite of Nazi Germany — or because he had inside information that the U.S. was fixing to usher in theFourthReich. (Fighting communism having been merely a positive byproduct of our post-WWII fascism-friendliness, apparently, and ultimately just a pretext.)
The sentence about Karl Stoecker being in a prison camp “for years” is also of interest, as this reminds us that the POWs were at the disposal of the U.S. government for debriefing and interrogating, so as to gain information helpful in its rivalry with the Soviet Union and other European countries. So, he and the other German POWs would have been very useful to a government in the early stages of becoming the next Reich.
I’m not sure what is meant by POWs being “encouraged to have active private lives,” but clearly for the WWII Germans we imported — a lot more than just the “scientists” we supposedly “needed” — Washington’s arms were wide open. Such that, eventually, German priorities became priority in Washington, with the U.S. by the 1990s spearheading foreign policies that were originally spearheaded by Germany.
Lost in time: A historical family photo shows Karl and Elizabeth Stoecker, Handler’s maternal grandparentsCold hard facts: A historical document shows a photo of Handler’s grandfather being processed for unclear reasonsDear diary: Handler examines a notebook emblazoned with the Nazi swastika that purportedly belonged to her grandfather
Although I ultimately took a measured tone about Handler’s tasteless anti-Serb diatribe in 2011, defending the comedic aspect of her bit, my visceral reaction was, “Who the hell does she think she is?” Well, now we know. And so does she. Maybe henceforth she’ll be more careful about tossing collective ‘genocide’ guilt around, particularly if her grandpa, an actual Nazi soldier, might not be guilty in what was an actual genocide.
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