Helena Bonham Carter: ‘My extraordinary grandfather saved thousands of Jews’

Helena Bonham Carter: ‘My extraordinary grandfather saved thousands of Jews’

The Crown actress researched into her family history for new Channel 4 series, My Grandparents' War', which marks 80 years since the beginning of the Second World War

Francine Wolfisz is the Features Editor for Jewish News.

Helena Bonham Carter has researched into her family history for a new Channel 4 series, My Grandparents' War
Helena Bonham Carter has researched into her family history for a new Channel 4 series, My Grandparents' War

Helena Bonham Carter has praised her “extraordinary” family, after learning her grandfather helped thousands of French Jews escape the Holocaust.

Bonham Carter, 53, who is currently starring as Princess Margaret in The Crown, is one of four actors and actresses exploring their grandparents’ wartime stories in a new series for Channel 4, starting next week.

Sir Mark Rylance, Kristin Scott Thomas and Carey Mulligan also appear in their own episodes of My Grandparents’ War, which airs from next Wednesday.

Bonham Carter – who is of Jewish descent on her mother’s side – said she had become “evangelical” about digging into her past since appearing on the show, which commemorates the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War.

Her maternal grandfather Eduardo Propper de Callejon was a Spanish diplomat who defied his government’s orders and helped Jews escape the Holocaust during the Nazi invasion of France.

She also learned that her English paternal grandmother Lady Violet Bonham Carter, a mother-of-four and liberal politician, also fought anti-Semitism as a volunteer air raid warden.

Helena Bonham Carter’s grandfather Eduardo Propper De Callejón

Bonham Carter said: “It’s a great family. And I’m proud now to be able to share it.

“Part of me feels like this was just the beginning, because this whole thing was a gift for me.

“We were given a chance to go and explore and ask the questions and hear what really happened, and then have extraordinary surprises.

“The level of research, and the people that did the research, they were extraordinary in what they managed to dig up.

“For me, my family is extraordinary. I was born too late and they died too soon, so for me it was like I met them properly, and had a conversation with them, and I also want to carry on conversing with my mum.

“The conversations that I’ve started, I feel like there’s a lot more.

“I’m almost evangelical in saying that it’s one of the most important things I’ve done.

“I feel like every young person should go and interview their grandparents.”

Helena Bonham Carter and Social Historian Lucy Noakes discussing Helena’s grandmother, who was an air raid warden in London during the Blitz

The programme also sees Bonham Carter interview her grandmother, called Bubbles, at length.

She said: “I did, years ago, interview my mother’s mother for hours.

“All the women in our family never really do stop talking, and I’ve got hours of Bubbles, and she is actually in the documentary, but I do feel it should be part of the national curriculum.

“We should have all our children and grandchildren talk to [our] parents and there should be this handing down.

“What also struck me is that there is all this silence around trauma, so it needs time for people to make sense of it.

“It’s the time for people to speak and for us to find out.”

My Grandparents’ War starts on Channel 4 on Wednesday November 27.

Other celebrities you didn’t know (and they didn’t know) were Jewish!

TOWIE star and presenter Mark Wright discovered he has a long Spanish-Jewish lineage and that his nine-times great-grandfather was arrested and tortured during the Spanish Inquisition. Another of his relatives was burnt at the stake for being Jewish.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has described himself as a ‘one man melting pot’, after finding out he has Jewish roots thanks to his maternal great-grandfather, Elias Avery Lowe, a paleographer, who was a Russian-Jewish immigrant to the United States.

Actress Jessica Biel discovered her great-great-grandparents were Hungarian Jews who immigrated to Chicago in 1888, while a DNA test proved she was 8 per cent Jewish.

Game of Thrones creator George R R Martin found out he was nearly a quarter Jewish – or 22.4 per cent Ashkenazi Jew according to his DNA results – which was a surprise given that he thought he only had Irish and Italian roots. Experts have speculated his grandmother might have had an affair with a Jewish man.


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