Posted by on August 7, 2013 in Ancestry.com Site, Who Do You Think You Are?

ACOM-ChelseaHandler

 

…and Finds a Closer Connection to Her Heritage.

Born to a Jewish father and German mother, comedienne Chelsea Handler has always embraced her Jewish side. But she also has fond memories of her maternal grandfather, Karl Stöker, “a strong and loving man.”

Although he never talked about his experiences, she knows Karl served in the German army in WWII — Chelsea and her siblings even joked that he had been a Nazi. But she’s afraid it might actually be true.

Now is her chance to find out: What kind of allegiance did her grandfather have to the Nazi party?

Her brother’s prior family research has yielded three fascinating documents to get her started: Karl’s birth certificate, a 1966 memoir written by their grandmother and a small green booklet with “Leistungsbuch” and a swastika on the cover that belonged to Karl.

Chelsea heads to Karl’s birthplace, Bochum, Germany, and discovers the translated memoir offers a remarkable window into her grandparents’ lives. She learns that Karl had a good job as a draftsman at Flottmann Werke in 1936, but there’s a catch: the factory was owned by a known Nazi enthusiast. Did Karl share his boss’s fervor for Hitler’s party?

The booklet reveals more details about Karl: he participated in a voluntary sports program run by the SA, the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party. But she still doesn’t know the truth about his feelings regarding Hitler’s party.

Karl’s service records from the German Military Records Office in Berlin offer heartening insights: he did not enlist but was drafted three weeks after the war began. Plus, his assignments to lower-tier units and lack of promotion aren’t signs of an enthusiastic solider or ambitious party member.

Records also reveal a “tremendous stroke of luck” that brings Karl from the brutal Eastern Front, where his unit would be destroyed, to the south of France. And, in a remarkable twist of fate, leaves Chelsea face to face with one of her grandfather’s possible captors.

Chelsea’s quest to understand her grandfather ends in Algona, Iowa, where Karl was taken as a POW. Here she finds a man transformed: playing violin and looking healthy in photos from the camp.

In the end, Chelsea concludes of her grandfather’s experiences in the war, “Whatever he saw ended up ultimately making him a good man,” one who loved his brood of Jewish-American-German grandchildren and a country he adopted as his own.

 

It’s been an amazing journey, to Iowa.” – Chelsea Handler

 

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Research Notes from our ProGenealogists team:

Sometimes the best sources you can find for your family tree are within arm’s reach. They might be in a shoebox in your attic or in long-neglected files and piles at your mother’s house.

For Chelsea Handler, family documents—including a Leistungsbuch that had belonged to her grandfather and a memoir written by his wife—provided the foundation for researching her grandfather Karl Stöcker’s life.

ACOM-StackOfOldBooksBefore you start scouring census records and ordering copies of birth certificates, find out what your family has already accumulated.

Look for original documents, photographs, letters, diaries, heirlooms, and the like. Ask aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives what items they might have.

Family Bibles might record birth, marriage and death details for generations. Newspaper clippings about marriages and deaths often get saved and can provide names of extended family members. Photographs can be gold, especially if they’re labeled. Studio portraits should include the name of the photographer, which can help pinpoint family residences. Letters and diaries provide a greater understanding of what family members experienced during their lives, as well as events happening around them.

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MaryJosephineHannonAfter you’ve gathered your home sources, use a scanner or the free Shoebox app by Ancesty.com to create digital copies.  You can then attach your documents to the individuals in your free online family tree and easily share them with other family members. You can also search for home sources uploaded by other Ancestry.com users*. Who knows, your cousin might have posted a photo of your great-grandfather you have never seen.

* The Mary Josephine Hannon image is for display purposed only and not related to the Handler story.

 

 

 

Learn more about Chelsea’s journey or watch the full episode on TLC.com. Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Tuesdays 9|8c on TLC.

 

Previous Who Do You Think You Are? Episodes from Season 4:

 

 

About Kristie Wells

Kristie is Ancestry's Global Head of Social Media and Customer Engagement and is responsible for developing and managing the company's social media and social business offerings worldwide. She works with a team of community managers and social content developers to help educate Ancestry's existing customers, inspire new family historians and expand awareness into new social audiences and communities. She has a deep love of family history and is currently trying to break through the brick wall of her Christophier line (that we all know is really the 'Christopher' surname) and to one day prove - or disprove - the baron line of the Wells family. It shall be done.

16 Comments

Carol 

I applaud Chelsea Handler for having the courage to face what could have been very upsetting information. How many people have ancestors that lived in Germany during the Nazi regime? Seems no one ever acknowledges that. Anyone with brains knows that not every German was a super supporter of the Nazis. Anyone with brains knows that some ancestors had to have been Nazis. Your ancestors are interesting and have a connection to you, but always remember that their accomplishments and failures are not yours.

August 7, 2013 at 10:19 pm
Jeff Zupan 

I’ve given it three weeks and it’s obvious that the “one ancestor only” format is here to stay. I hate to say it, but I really don’t like it. To me, genealogy is about lineage, not just one individual. Although it is important to understand the life and times of each ancestor, and 43 minutes is hardly enough to do justice to any research, I would be much more interested in finding out more about the family as a whole.
To add to comments about previous episodes (here and elsewhere), I agree that having a multi-million dollar corporation with a full staff of professional researchers doing the actual work for the celebrity can be a bit misleading as to the amount of work required to come up with this information. I’d love to see a behind the scenes “special” about the ACTUAL research.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think WDYTYA is the best program on TV (and the only one on TLC that requires an IQ over 50 to watch), but I think the old format was much more informative about how to “do genealogy”.

August 8, 2013 at 6:14 am
Jeff Record 

@ Jeff – Agreed.

August 8, 2013 at 9:21 am
BEE 

“Can you imagine what the world would be like if they had won?”
That sentence sent chills through me.
I would never have “met” my third cousin online, and thanks to him, was able to correspond with first cousins of my mother in Eastern Europe – one who did forced labor in Germany, learning firsthand about my ancestors, and even receiving photos of people I never imagined were even alive, much less exchange information, since the last contact my mother had with them was around 1930.

August 8, 2013 at 1:21 pm
L. 

Would be nice to be able to do any kind of research, if the system would work for longer than a few hours a day. I bet the researchers for the program don’t have to deal with the issues that we, the paying public, have had to put up with for more than a month. I resent paying for something for nothing and paying for a celebrity to have their past researched for free for them. Try putting an everyday Joe on the show and watch the real joy that would bring.

August 10, 2013 at 1:10 am
scwbcm 

I found value in this episode and thought Chelsea showed courage in taking it on. She was exploring a serious topic and didn’t take it lightly. One of my favorite parts of these shows is the immediate family looking into something and working together. All three shows have shown family members working together. That doesn’t always happen but it adds the “average person” aspect for me. And I appreciate the researchers. The gentlemen on the beach added such a personal touch. The technology used right at the location on the beach was a great idea. I also thought the bridge provided by her family between the two sides was a great viewpoint

August 10, 2013 at 9:58 am
Melanie Ashby 

I am glad Chelsea’s story gave her an epiphany even though I still don’t think she got the full import of her meeting that WWII vet on the beach in France (A good move by the Historian to try to humanize the situation). I hope she got to spend more time with that gentleman – he was her living History ticket right there. I had mine – my father who was in Battle of the Bulge. :)

August 10, 2013 at 5:42 pm
Sherryl 

“Chelsea Handler Makes Peace With Her Grandfather’s Nazi Past”

Incredibly misleading headline – What she discovered was that her grandfather DIDN’T HAVE A NAZI PAST!

August 11, 2013 at 1:35 am
Angela Eisert 

I love actually pursuing the real story about my family. I am certain many others feel the same. Would’t it be fun to go to a conference and right before our very eyes “Who Do You Think You Are” or Oprah type action could appear. An experienced team of Genealogists could bring new thinking about our very own family. Professional Entertainers would not be the focus. Rather…the actual process of gaining an understanding about our folks would be shared. I believed many of us are starved for such information. What do you think?

August 11, 2013 at 4:15 pm
Crista Cowan 

Angela, Come by the Ancestry.com booth at any of the genealogy conferences we attend and you will find that we often do just that.

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