Daniel Radcliffe: Did antisemitism play a role in great-grandfather’s suicide?
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Daniel Radcliffe: Did antisemitism play a role in great-grandfather’s suicide?

Harry Potter star delves into family background for BBC One's Who Do You Think You Are?

Francine Wolfisz is the Features Editor for Jewish News.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 16/07/2019 - Programme Name: Who Do You Think You Are?  - TX: 22/07/2019 - Episode: Daniel Radcliffe (No. 1 - Daniel Radcliffe) - Picture Shows: **STRICTLY EMBARGOED UNTIL TUESDAY 16TH JULY 2019** Daniel Radcliffe - (C) Wall to Wall Media Ltd - Photographer: Stephen Perry
WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 16/07/2019 - Programme Name: Who Do You Think You Are? - TX: 22/07/2019 - Episode: Daniel Radcliffe (No. 1 - Daniel Radcliffe) - Picture Shows: **STRICTLY EMBARGOED UNTIL TUESDAY 16TH JULY 2019** Daniel Radcliffe - (C) Wall to Wall Media Ltd - Photographer: Stephen Perry

“Jews are so frequently responsible for the bringing down of their own premises,” a sombre Daniel Radcliffe reads from an aged police report, as he seeks to discover the real reasons why his great-grandfather took his own life following a robbery at his diamond business in 1936.

It’s a poignant moment in the Jewish actor’s journey of discovery, which features in the new series of Who Do You Think You Are?, starting next week.

In Monday’s episode, the Harry Potter star learns that his great-grandfather, Samuel Gershon, was an apparent victim of a night-time heist on his Hatton Garden business, amounting to a loss of £250,000 in today’s money – but without evidence of a break-in, police accused him of faking the crime for an insurance payout.

Gershon, who ran the business with his brother, Edward, had twice successfully claimed insurance for two previous break-ins in 1922 and 1932, while the company was in debt for the same amount that had been stolen, heightening police suspicion.

Whether an inside job or not, Daniel – who bears more than a striking resemblance to his great-great-grandfather, Louis – is visibly stirred by the suggestion that police were reluctant to carry out a full investigation because of antisemitic attitudes.

The 29-year-old actor, who is descended from Jewish-Russian and German immigrants through his mother, Marcia, is given an informant’s testimony within the case file.

It reads: “Dear Sir, one hopes the criminal investigation unit is taking into account the hypothesis that Gershon committed the robbery himself.

“In general terms – that he is a Jew – and that Jews are so frequently responsible for the bringing down of their own business premises and theft, so-called, committed in their offices.”

Daniel Radcliffe aged 13, in his family home, aged 13. Credit: Marcia Gresham

Placed into the context of 1936 – the same year as the Battle of Cable Street and the rise of the British Union of Fascists, led by Oswald Mosley – Daniel understands how such attitudes were not uncommon both here and across Europe in the years before the Second World War.

“It’s very jarring to see being a Jew to be taken as a piece of evidence in itself,” says Daniel.

Daniel aged 3, circa 1992. Credit: Marcia Gresham

The robbery attracted intense media scrutiny, with one newspaper report featuring an image of Gershon fainting and an accompanying article suggesting that he was “too ill to see the police”.

A fortnight later, still suffering from shock and anxious over whether the insurance company would pay out, Gershon tragically took his own life, aged 42.

Reading the note he left behind for his wife, Raie, Daniel weeps as he realises just how much love Gershon had for her.

Daniel’s parents Alan Radcliffe and Marcia Gresham with the youngster, aged 2. Credit: Marcia Gresham

“Doll, Darling,” it begins. “I cannot face bankruptcy after 22 years of trading, so I’m taking the coward’s way out, but I can assure you my angel, to leave a girl like you is more than a wrench.

“The loveliest, truest, and noblest wife and companion and comforter you have been to me in my trouble.”

At the height of his Harry Potter fame, Daniel with Alan and Marcia in New York City, 2008. Credit: Marcia Gresham / Vanessa Davies

Daniel reflects: “You want to 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… you have so much to give to them. And they still would all have loved you.”

Portrait of Daniel Radcliffe’s great-great grandfather, Louis Gershon, circa 1800s, whom Daniel bears a striking resemblance to

News of Gershon’s suicide also made the headlines, prompting Raie to change the family name from Gershon to Gresham just three weeks after his death, as a way of helping to protect their daughters.

Daniel adds: “A lot of very sad things have happened to my family, but I can’t be sad about it, because everyone was loved. Ultimately that means that, even if their time on earth ended prematurely and sadly, it was worth having.”

Who Do You Think You Are? airs on Monday, 22 July on BBC One, 9pm

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