Making your TV viewing decisions easy

Andrew Denton features in news season of Who Do You Think You Are

NewsKevin Perry

7:30pm Tuesday 8 July on SBS ONE.

Broadcaster Andrew Denton is perhaps best known for his in-depth interview series ‘Enough Rope’ and his inquisitive mind, but now is his chance to investigate his own story in the premiere episode of the new Australian series of Who Do You Think You Are? which begins at 7:30pm Tuesday 8 July on SBS ONE.

A generation ago Andrew’s family anglicised their name from Ditkofsky to Denton, a decision taken to keep members safe at a time of entrenched racial intolerance.

Andrew’s father, author Kit Denton walked away from his Jewish ancestry when he married a catholic woman and became a proud atheist.  For these reasons Andrew Denton’s knowledge of his Jewish roots until now has been scant.  

History is written by many people and it can take centuries but when stories are recorded and passed on through generations they will eventually come out. After the searing fire of the Holocaust, despite the intensity of that heat, not everything was, nor can everything be burnt. – Andrew Denton

The sixth series cast of Who Do You Think You Are will also feature Rebecca Gibney, Jacki Weaver, Richard Roxburgh, Amanda Keller, Adam Goodes, Lisa McCune, and Paul McDermott.

On the trail of his ancestors, Andrew’s journey takes him to London where he learns of his great grandfather’s stand against anti-Semitic street thugs. He then journeys to the district of Grodno in what was the Russian Empire, now Belarus to find out more.

Andrew is excited by the prospect of meeting descendants of his Great Grandfather who fathered twelve children. He finds none – instead the horrors of the Holocaust crash down on him.

In Suchowola, across the Belarus boarder in Poland Andrew meets with 91 year old Jan Guzowski. Jan recalls a period of happy co-existence and intermingling with the Jewish population. When Andrew asks Jan if he ever crossed paths with any of his ancestors the answer is blunt and unequivocal. “Nyet. They were all deported.”

In June 1941 the invading German army arrived in Suchowola, followed by the Gestapo and SS troops. The Gestapo forced the Jews to pile all their sacred Torah scrolls and books in front of the synagogue and burn them. In January 1942 The Nazis began to clear the Jews out of Suchowola ghetto and transport them to the death camp in Treblinka.

At Treblinka Andrew learns of the atrocities of the death camp.. Of the 800,000 people who passed through the gates of Treblinka only 67 escaped and survived the war. Only one is alive today and Andrew meets the sole survivor of Treblinka, Samuel Willenberg. Samuel shares with Andrew some of the horrors he bore witness to as a spared forced labourer.

Andrew Denton discovers that despite the Nazi's best attempts to eradicate his family, one branch remains alive in Israel. There for the first time he discovers that his family is believed to be traced back to the medieval scholar Rashi who in turn is believed to be a descendant of King David, a revered figure in Judaism and hero of the famous story of David and Goliath.

What Andrew’s journey reveals is the power of writing, the role of books and the connection his family had and have to writing, over many generations.

“The thing I see really clearly is that what ties all this together is the books. My father actually was a writer, my grandfather wrote a book, Hanna wrote so beautifully that short passage for the Yizkor book. All these Rabbis wrote these books and that’s why this family history exists. It’s all books, books, books – that seems to ring true for my family.” - Andrew Denton

Who Do You Think You Are? is produced by Artemis International and Serendipity Productions for SBS.

Andrew Denton’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? airs 7:30pm Tuesday 8 July on SBS ONE.