Harry Potter‘s Daniel Radcliffe recently learned the story of the anti-Semitism his great-grandfather dealt with — and it brought him to tears.
In a forthcoming episode of the BBC show Who Do You Think You Are?, a series in which celebrities learn more about their ancestry, Radcliffe learns about his great-grandfather, Samuel Gershon, a British Jew who owned a jewelry business in Hatton Garden, London. In 1936, Gershon’s shop was robbed, and police accused him of faking the robbery. Why? Because he was Jewish. The police report said, “Jews are so frequently responsible for the bringing down of their own business premises.”
After learning of this, Radcliffe says, “There’s a lot to dig into in that one sentence. It’s very jarring to see being a Jew to be taken as a piece of evidence in itself.” Tragically, Gershon then died by suicide. “You want to just reach into the past and just go, ‘Whatever you’re going through, you have so much to offer the people who are around you still,'” Radcliffe says. “‘You have so much to give to them. And, they still would all have loved you.”
The episode is set to air on July 22, 2019, but we decided to do a little more digging into Radcliffe’s family history. Because, why not?
Here’s the report from the Dundee Courier reporting on Samuel’s death:
It reports he was in “ill health” after the burglary, and was “terribly affected” by what had happened.
In The London Gazette from November 16, 1937, there’s an entry of Samuel Gershon (who had already died) and his brother getting a date for a bankruptcy hearing:
A couple months later, on March 15, 1938, their bankruptcy was declared:
Who Do You Think You Are? has aired on the BBC since 2004. There have been numerous episodes featuring celebrities learning about their Jewish background — Jessica Biel discovered she’s a little Jewish, Lea Michele uncovered her Greek-Jewish roots, Lisa Kudrow learned she lost a lot of her family in the Holocaust, and more.
Even before the show, Radcliffe had spoken about his Jewish heritage.
“We originated in Russia and left because of the pogroms. I don’t know if the story is true, but supposedly my great-great-grandfather was on a ship from Russia bound for America. It stopped off in London, and he thought, ‘oh, that was quick’ and got off. He went to work in a textile factory and married the owner’s daughter,” he explained in 2016.
But, Radcliffe — born to a Jewish mom and Protestant Irish dad — wasn’t raised Jewish but is “proud to be Jewish.”
“Just for the record, I’m not one of those awful people who runs around shouting about being Irish on St Paddy’s Day. I’m certainly not religious. But I’ve always had an awareness and pride about those two cultures and histories. And I always felt a little bit different from most people around me,” he said.
Ready to get into some #genealogy?
His mom, Marcia, was born in South Africa but raised in England. Her dad is Jewish and South African, and her mom was born in England (she’s the daughter of Samuel Gershon, above!). Marcia’s parents divorced in South Africa in 1958, and soon after, she moved to Essex with her mom. Marcia decided to use a version of her mom’s last name – Gresham — instead of her dad’s last name, Jacobson. (More details here.) Daniel’s middle name is Jacob — perhaps a nod to “Jacobson.”
And, guess what? When Daniel Radcliffe published poems under a pseudonym at age 17, he used the name “Jacob Gershon.”
The more you know!
Image of Daniel Radcliffe in header by Thomas Kronsteiner / Staff / Getty Images