Robert Rinder's My Family, the holocaust and me 'breaks' viewers

Viewers are left ‘broken’ as Robert Rinder hears woman, 97, tell how his Jewish relatives were shot and buried alive in a ditch by the Nazis – as she recalls ‘the mound was moving for several days’

  • TV star Robert Rinder travelled to Voranava in Belarus to find out more about the fate of his realtives in BBC documentary My family, the holocaust and me
  • He meets Helena Sheshko, 97, who was a child when his family, Jews from the Lithuanian town of Dieveniškės, were killed in a shallow ditch in May 1942
  • One viewer said the lady’s account of what she had heard was ‘heartbreaking’ as three million viewers tuned in to watch the first of the two-part documentary
  • BBC film saw Rinder meet second and third generations of three families affected by the Holocaust as they hunted the truth about their relatives

Viewers watching television judge Robert Rinder learn how members of his family were mercilessly shot and buried alive by Nazis in a shallow grave during the Second World War have said watching his emotional BBC documentary left them ‘broken’. 

The first episode of his two-part programme My Family, the Holocaust and Me, aired on BBC2 on Monday and saw Rinder travel to a small town in Belarus to meet one of the few people still alive who remembers a day when nearly 1,800 Jews were killed by Nazi soldiers and locals.

Re-tracing the Levin family on his grandfather’s side, Rinder travelled to Voranava in Belarus, where he had a ‘heartbreaking’ conversation with 97-year-old Helena Sheshko, who vividly remembers the moment men, women and children were rounded up and killed, or buried alive, in a trench in the town in May 1942.  

In her native Russian, she recounts how the mound of earth was ‘moving for several days’. Rinder called hearing her talk of the atrocity ‘the most profound moment of my life’.

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Television judge Robert Rinder travelled to Voranava in Belarus for the BBC documentary My family, the holocaust and me to hear about the fate of his family on his grandfather’s side. His journey took him to a mass grave on the outskirts of the town of Voranava where members of his family were killed for being Jewish

Rinder meets Helena Sheshko, who was a child when his family, Jews from the Lithuanian town of Dieveniškės, were killed in a shallow ditch in May 1942 at the hands of German soldiers and locals from the town

Speaking Russian, Shesko told Rinder that many were buried alive and the mound of earth ‘moved for days’; the mass grave remains as a memorium to those lost

Viewers watching the TV judge meet up with the elderley lady, who recounted her horrifying childhood memories of the massacre, said the two-part documentary had left them ‘broken’

Some three million viewers tuned into the first episode of the programme, which saw Rinder meet second and third generations of three families affected by the Holocaust as they hunted the truth about their relatives

Some three million viewers watched the documentary, which follows second and third generations of three families affected by the Holocaust, with many taking to social media to say the lady’s account had been extremely difficult to watch. 

Rinder told how his family on his grandfather’s side, the Levins, were forced to move to Voranava in 1941 from their home in the Lithuanian town of Dieveniškės. 

Sheshko recalls how on the early summer’s day she heard screaming, machine gun-fire and the sound of the ‘earth moving’ as hundreds of people were slaughtered by Nazi soldiers.   

Viewers watching at home took to Twitter to say how emotional they found the meeting between Rinder and Sheshko, particularly their tearful embrace. 

@Gilana25 wrote: ‘Very moving and hard to watch. Thank you for making this. Your comforting the old lady in Belarus was my personal breaking point.’ 

@parko1967 added: ‘All the stories were heartbreaking, the woman from Belarus at the end telling the story of the mass killing was especially so. To have lived and carried that horrific murder of innocents all her life is unimaginable.’ 

@Luda_6550 wrote: ‘Thank you, my family had similar death as yours shot in one grave in Belarus. We all carrying the trauma of our families. Bless you for making such touching programme.’ 

People took to Twitter in their droves to thank Rinder for making the programme, saying of Helena Shesko: ‘To have lived and carried that horrific murder of innocents all her life is unimaginable’

 Moving: Viewers watched as the TV star made his way to the grave that remains in the town

 He told viewers that the site was the ‘death of humanity’ before breaking down in tears

@grizzbear60 said: ‘Totally agree that those special moments with the lady in Belarus was one of the most heart rendering parts of your documentary.’ 

@danpom wrote: ‘The scene with the women in Belarus talking about how the ground was still moving just got me emotional, what our people went through just because they were Jewish breaks my heart.’

Speaking to the Mirror about making the film, Rinder said: ‘I was listening to the ­testimony of the 97-year-old who is the last hearing witness of the massacre and only I and the fixer could understand what she was saying in Russian.

‘What she said landed with infinitely more power if you understood it in the Russian – ”mound was moving for several days”. 

‘It was without question the most profound moment of my life and I’m certain it always will be.’   

The second part of My Family, the Holocaust and Me with Robert Rinder airs on Monday at 9pm on BBC2

WHAT WAS THE HOLOCAUST?

The Holocaust was a genocide committed by the Nazis between 1941 and 1945 across Europe. As part of Hitler’s Final Solution, what was known as Shoah in Hebrew, the six million Jews and millions of other minorities were murdered.

Studies have also revealed that the true death toll could be as many as 20 million people. Many victims were kept in concentration camps and ghettos across Nazi-occupied Europe.

One in six Jews killed in World War II died at Auschwitz concentration camp after being brought to the camp across Europe by train. 

In the five years that Auschwitz was open, an estimated 1.1 million people were killed at the concentration camp. 90 percent were Jewish and the rest were a mix of Romany people, Soviets and Poles. 

January 27, 1945 is the day the Auschwitz concentration camp in modern-day Poland was liberated by the Soviets. 

With the Soviets arriving nearly eight months before the war ended, many had been sent out on a death march and 7,000 sick and dying people remained. 

Rinder was praised on social media for his concluding speech during the first episode of the documentary, as he looked on at the mound of earth where the massacre took place, saying ‘death of humanity is here’.

After the programme aired, he tweeted: ‘Last night over 3 million people from every community, age & background, from every region watched a programme about the Holocaust. The usual hate on social media was silenced. This is why we are a great nation. We ALL understand: The responsibility to defeat evil starts with us.’

In 2018 on Who Do You Think You Are? Robert learned seven of his relatives were slaughtered in Nazi concentration camps, with his grandfather, Morris Malenicky, the only member of the family to survive the war. 

The second episode of My Family, the Holocaust and Me with Robert Rinder airs on Monday at 9pm on BBC2

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