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Helena Bonham Carter's Grandmother was put in Hitler's 'Black Book'

Actress Helena Bonham Carter's grandmother spoke out with such fervor against fascism that she was put on Hitler's so-called 'Black Book.'

Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret in 'The Crown.'
Helena Bonham Carter in 'The Crown.' / Image via Netflix

English actress Helena Bonham Carter has starred in many critically acclaimed and well-loved roles. Many will remember her most from recent roles in the Harry Potter films, in The King's Speech, Alice in Wonderland, and portraying Princess Margaret in the Netflix hit series The Crown.

Helena Bonha Carter movie posters for The Crown, Harry Potter, The King's Speech, and Alice in Wonderland.
Helena Bonham Carter in various acting roles, including The Crown, Harry Potter, The King's Speech, and Alice in Wonderland.

Speaking of The Crown, Carter herself comes from an illustrious line, one that really angered the Nazis.

Helena Bonham Carter is the granddaughter of Helen Violet Bonham Carter, Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury, who was known as "Lady Violet" after her father became an earl.

Helena Bonham Carter's grandmother, Lady Violet Bonham Carter (Asquith).
Lady Violet Bonham Carter, the grandmother of actress Helena Bonham Carter.

Born on 15 April 1887, she was the daughter of Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith, 1st Earl of Oxford & Asquith, and Helen Kelsall Melland. Lady Violet was only four years old when her mother died of typhoid.

The great grandparents of Helena Bonham Carter, H.H. Asquith and Helen Melland.
Parents of Lady Violet: Herbert Henry Asquith and Helen Kesall Melland.

Lady Violet was 29 during World War I when she learned that her brother, Raymond Asquith, had been killed in action in the Battle of Flers–Courcelette.

Portrait of Raymond Asquith, brother of Lady Violet Bonham Carter.
Lady Violet's brother, Raymond Asquith, who was killed in action during World War I.

Lady Violet was close friends with Winston Churchill, and they indeed remained friends for life. She was politically active in promoting Churchill's Liberal Cabinet in 1908. Along with Churchill, Lady Violet spoke at a number of anti-fascist groups and rallies.

Portrait of Helena Bonham Carter's grandmother, Lady Helen Violet Bonham Carter.
Helena Bonham Carter's grandmother, Lady Violet Bonham Carter.

As she saw Hitler's rise to power, Lady Violet was outspoken against the rise of fascism, stating:

"In Germany, freedom as we conceive it seems to have perished in the last few weeks, in the twinkling of an eye, almost without a struggle, and given place to a nightmare reign of force...I can truthfully say that nothing within my political memory has ever moved me more deeply to horror and indignation than recent events in Germany."

Speaking out against Hitler and fascism with the fervor she did, she was placed on what has come to be called Hitler's 'Black Book,' which was a "Most Wanted" list of people that the Nazis would immediately arrest or execute upon a successful invasion and take over of Great Britain. Thankfully, the Nazis were unable to conquer Britain.

Helena Bonham Carter's grandmother Lady Violet was on a most wanted list.
Lady Violet was listed in Hitlers "Black Book," a "Most Wanted" list of the Nazis for who they would arrest of execute if they invaded Britain.

During World War II, Lady Violet volunteered as an air raid warden during the Blitz — the aerial bombing attacks that rained down on Britain by Nazi Germany's air force. Air raid wardens were a civilian defense force, ensuring neighborhoods were pitch black in case of an aerial attack, guiding people to bomb shelters, rendering first aid, fighting fires, and reporting damage.

Fires burn during the Blitz of London in World War II.
Lady Violet was an air raid warden during the Blitz, when Nazi bombs rained down on London.

Lady Violet also spoke out against her country's policies against refugees fleeing persecution and genocide. She even helped some escape. A Jewish woman, Mrs. Buchwald, had managed to escape to Britain with one of her children but was struggling to get her husband and her other son across the channel to join her in safety. She wrote a letter to Lady Violet pleading for help and got this reply:

"Dear Frau Buchwald, I have received your letter and I promise you that I will do all in my power for your husband and I am deeply touched by the photograph of your little boy. I have one myself, nine years. I have already been in touch with the organisation which is dealing with Jewish children here. I am thankful you are here safe with your little boy, but I know you must be tortured thinking of your husband and your other child."

The nine-year-old son that Lady Violet mentions is actress Helena Bonham Carter's father, Raymond, who appears to be named after Violet's brother who was killed in action during World War I. Lady Violet gave her name as guarantor for Mrs. Buchwald's husband and son, and they escaped to the United Kingdom just one day before the borders closed. Many other members of that family died in concentration camps.

Portrait of Lady Violet Bonham Carter, grandmother of Helena Bonham Carter.
Lady Violet helped Jewish refugees flee to Britain to avoid going to Nazi concentration camps. / Image licensed through the National Portrait Gallery. Photo by Howard Coster, 1937.

Lady Violet was active in politics and campaigning for women's rights. She served as President of the Women's Liberal Federation for eight years and was the first woman to serve as President of the Liberal Party from 1945 to 1947. Lady Violet passed away in London at the age of 81 on 19 Feb 1969.

Actress Helena Bonham Carter is well aware of her grandmother's incredible legacy. I'll end this with these wise words from the actress herself:

“Everyone should go pursue what their grandparents were about, whether they were part of a war or not. We carry what they did somewhere inside us. They have a lot to teach us."


About the Author

Storytelling binds generations. Films and family history are both powerful forms of storytelling that do just that. Family history research has been a passion of mine since I was a teenager. Having researched my own family tree extensively, I enjoy looking into the family trees of notable people. It gives me a sense of their background and what shaped them and their family into who they are today. To see their roots and where they come from is always inspiring. Being a history geek, I’m often in awe of the historical experiences of their ancestors and how they connect to the present day. I hope to inspire others to research their own family trees and find out where they come from by sharing interesting insights from the family trees of some of my favorite artists and entertainers.

— Mike Batie

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