Ruby Wax journeys to Vienna to uncover the stories of her parents’ Holocaust experiences
A comedian and mental health campaigner, Ruby has spent most of her life in a state of high anxiety and wondered for a long time if her ancestors also endured the same type of mental illness. Her mother had hysteria and her father was a violent man. Ruby had a theory that the reason she was constantly anxious was because of the way her parents were, but, why was there a reason behind her parents’ issues?
After finding a suitcase filled with old photos, Ruby ventured to Vienna, Austria. She met up with multiple historians and archivists who helped her translate languages and find her ancestors. The pictures opened up so many doors into her family’s past and unlocked information she didn’t even know existed.
Before beginning her journey to Vienna, Ruby narrowed down what she wanted to know about her ancestors. This is great advice for anyone starting their genealogical research; decide what you want to know. It sounds obvious, but you would be surprised at the number of people who hit brick walls in their research simply because they don’t know what they’re actually looking for. Ruby had three main things she wanted to discover: why her parents were manic and violent, who Ella and Salo were, and who the four people were in an old photo she found.
By the end of the episode, Ruby found out her parents were the way they were because of the things they experienced in the Holocaust. Her father was violent because he was tortured in prison and her mother endured Kristallnacht, a night of breaking glass and buildings being burnt down. Ruby also discovered Ella and Salo (names written on the bottom of a letter to her parents) were in fact her great aunt and uncle. Sadly, they were both killed in the Holocaust.
The most surprising information Ruby found out about her family, though, is that both her great grandmother and her great aunt were in mental institutions for being “agitated” – a dated term for mentally ill. “Knowing my ancestors now helps me understand myself,” Ruby said at the end of the episode, and while we hope your discoveries aren’t as distressing as hers, it’s a sentiment that anyone who has researched their family history can relate to.
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