Famous Celebrities Who Have Spoken About Their Family Ties With the Holocaust

 Steven Spielberg, Mila Kunis, and Gene Simmons.
Steven Spielberg, Mila Kunis, and Gene Simmons.

The Holocaust was Nazi Germany’s deliberate genocide of European Jews that left 6 million murdered. With millions of people affected by the Holocaust, there’s a good chance you or someone you know has family connections to those who passed away or those who survived during that devastating time. With a number of Jewish talents in Hollywood who you may have found in 2024 movie releases, many famous celebrities have shared the stories of their family ties with the Holocaust.

Steven Spielberg in Austin Powers in Goldmember
Steven Spielberg in Austin Powers in Goldmember

Steven Spielberg

American filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s connections to the Holocaust go way beyond the boundaries of his World War II movie, Schindler’s List. Aish reported that in the biography, Steven Spielberg: A Life in Films, Spielberg’s father lost an estimated sixteen to twenty relatives who were from the Ukraine and Poland. He recalled that his parents would educate the blockbuster filmmaker on the Holocaust through many dinner talks:

In a strange way my life has always come back to images surrounding the Holocaust. The Holocaust had been a part of my life, just based on what my parents would say at the dinner table. We lost cousins, aunts, uncles.

In fact, Spielberg’s exploration of the Holocaust came full circle when he courageously delved into its horrors in Schindler’s List. Arguably the best film of Spielberg's and one the best of the ‘90s, he told the true story of German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who saved more than a thousand Polish-Jewish refugees at the time. The Jurassic Park director wanted to make a movie “that would confirm my Judaism to my family and myself.” Beyond Schindler’s List, Spielberg is also the founder of the Shoah Foundation which archives testimonies of Holocaust survivors.

Mila Kunis speaking on Vanity Fair
Mila Kunis speaking on Vanity Fair

Mila Kunis

During the Nazi occupation in the Ukraine, where Mila Kunis was born, 900,000 Jews were murdered. While speaking to Britain’s The Sun in 2012, the That 70’s Show actress revealed that her grandparents were Holocaust survivors:

My whole family was in the Holocaust. My grandparents passed and not many survived.

Kunis also made sure to mention that her upbringing in the Ukraine was not a pleasant one. She remembered seeing anti-Semitic graffiti in her school in Chernivtsi and her school friend going home crying after someone put a swastika sign on the back of her seat. The Black Swan actress made sure to mention that while Russians weren’t allowed to be religious after the Holocaust, her parents made sure to remind her of her roots:

After the Holocaust, in Russia you were not allowed to be religious. So my parents raised me to know I was Jewish. You know who you are inside.

Gene Simmons interview on Sky News Australia
Gene Simmons interview on Sky News Australia

Gene Simmons

Florence Klein, the mother of Kiss frontman and former Jingles celebrity judge, Gene Simmons, apparently almost never spoke to her son about her experiences in the Holocaust. But according to The Times of Israel, the Israeli-born musician got some answers by reaching out to a German newspaper about his mother two years after her death.

On the 75th anniversary of the then-19-year-old Klein’s liberation at the Mauthausen camp, Simmons was given 100 pages of what happened to his mother during the Holocaust. Here was her statement to the former Restitution Office in Koblenz:

In November 1944, I was brought to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. I lived there in block no. 21 and worked in the fields, gathering potatoes outside the camp. I wore old civilian clothes with a white oil (paint) cross painted on the back, in a camp surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by the SS.

Klein was transferred to the Venusberg sub-camp of the Flossenburg concentration camp in January 1945 and then arrived at Mauthausen two months later. Simmons found his grandmother’s name, Ester Blau, in the documents that said she died in the Nazi gas chambers. While reading the documents, the “Detroit Rock City” singer discovered something else important about his mother:

She was strong. She fought all of this on her own.

Lisa Kudrow on The Comeback
Lisa Kudrow on The Comeback

Lisa Kudrow

In Lisa Kudrow’s celebrity genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are?, she wanted to find answers to what her dad taught her growing up about their family ties with the Holocaust. The television star traveled to Minsk, Belarus for her episode, where she discovered almost the entire Jewish population of Belarus was murdered at the hands of Nazis.

One of them was Kudrow’s great-grandmother, Meri Mordejovich, who was among Jewish citizens who were ordered to march to a storage building, forced to remove their clothes and enter the building where they were shot. The Nazis then threw oil on the walls and set the building on fire. According to Kvellar, here is the reaction the former Friends actress had in the episode:

The people were stripped, shot and burned. Hearing the details made it worse because you conjure up an image of what it must have been like for them.

The one who broke the news at the time to Kudrow’s grandmother about Meri Mordejovich was their cousin, Yuri Barudin. Long believed to have died, the Easy A actress went on Ancestry.com to discover that Cousin Yuri was alive! Kudrow got to meet him and his grandchildren who then connected with her dad.

Josh Gad speaking on Once Upon a Studio
Josh Gad speaking on Once Upon a Studio

Josh Gad

Known for his work in the Frozen series, which are two of the top-ranked Disney Animation movies, Josh Gad is the grandchild of Holocaust survivors. This year on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Beauty and the Beast actor posted on Instagram a family photo with his grandparents who, during the Holocaust, were separated from their parents and put into concentration camps:

For nearly half a decade and the remainder of their youth, they would be forced to work for their oppressors while surviving on nothing but scraps of bread. They would be tortured and humiliated and branded like cattle. Only by sheer strength and will power would they both manage to escape the Nazis on their respective death marches. Throughout their lives, they would always say the familiar words (“never forget”).

At the end of Gad’s post, he delivers a powerful reminder about being two generations away from a world where Jews were targeted "for nothing more than their identity and faith." He concluded with a takeaway message we should all hold dear:

It is my prayer on this day that we can build a world that learns from its lessons.

The families of each of these celebrities dealt with unspeakable tragedies during the Holocaust, but survived and showed resilience. Through each story told, A-listers help keep the memories of their ancestors alive. Each survivor’s story helps future generations understand the depths of the atrocities that occurred in the world.

Make sure to take a look at our streaming schedule so you’re updated on the latest movies and TV shows these celebrities are in.