Hollywood actor Dustin Hoffman learned about the importance of his Jewish identity, after being raised without much knowledge about his family’s faith or religious identity, as he delved into his family history in a new episode of the PBS program “Finding Your Roots.”
The Oscar-winning actor, 78, became emotional as he found out from show host Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. about the difficult lives faced by his ancestors because they were Jewish.
Among the information Hoffman learned is the fact that his paternal grandfather, Frank Hoffman, was killed by the Bolsheviks during the Soviet Civil War after risking his life to get back to an area in modern Ukraine in order to save his parents from anti-Semitic pogroms. Shortly after, Hoffman’s great-grandfather Sam Hoffman was also killed by the Bolsheviks. Meanwhile, Sam’s wife and the actor’s great-grandmother, Liba, was arrested for reportedly trying to bribe an officer of the Soviet state security agency (Cheka). She was sent to one of the Soviet labor camps (Gulags), but survived the ordeal and eventually made it to the U.S. in the 1930s.
Dustin Hoffman said his great-grandmother was a “hero” for her resilience, despite all the persecution she and her family faced for being Jewish. He also expressed regret that he has only now learned about his family’s courage in the face of adversity.
“People ask me today, ‘What are you?’ I say, ‘I’m a Jew….’ I’m a Jew. They all survived for me to be here,” said Hoffman, who was visibly emotional.