Logan Lerman's Ancestors Barely Avoided Nazi Death Camps
Updated: Jan 2
Actor Logan Lerman likely wouldn't be here today if his Jewish ancestors hadn't fled Nazi-controlled Europe when they did. | BY MIKE BATIE
Many will recognize actor Logan Lerman from the epic war drama Fury, in which Lerman stars alongside Brad Pitt. Logan has a distinguished list of acting credits including (but not limited to):
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Percy Jackson & the Olympians
The Three Musketeers (2011)
Stuck in Love
3:10 to Yuma, Noah
The Butterfly Effect
The Vanishing of Sydney Hall
Logan has some serious acting chops, and I have to admit, this dude is my favorite actor.
Logan Lerman Almost Did Not Exist
What many may not be aware of, is that we almost didn't get to have the gift of Logan's incredibly talented performances on the big screen. If the sadistic Nazis had had their way, Logan's grandparents and great grandparents would have met their end in a Nazi death camp, which would have wiped out their posterity, including our boy Logan. Aw heil no!
The Lerman Family Under Nazi Persecution in Berlin
During the 1920s and 1930s, Adolf Hitler's Nazi party rose to power in Germany. These guys were a real bunch of racists hell-bent on watching the world burn in order to achieve their twisted goals.
The Nazis blamed the Jewish people for Germany's loss in World War I—and the resulting destruction of the German economy. While their blame game had no basis in reality, the Nazi thugs severely persecuted the Jews. During tough economic times, everyone wants a scapegoat to blame, and ethnic minorities such as the Jews were an easy target. Most German Jews—like Logan Lerman's ancestors—were loyal to Germany, assimilated into German culture, served in the German military, and were generally prosperous.
Logan Lerman's grandfather, Max Lerman, was born in Berlin, Germany during this period of the Nazi reign. Max was the son of Jacob Lerman and Erna Popower. The Lermans were descendants of Polish Jews who immigrated to Germany.
When Logan's grandfather (Max Lerman) was only six years old, Hitler was made chancellor of Germany and passed legislative acts that effectively made himself dictator of the country. Hitler outlawed all political parties except the Nazis.
Due to laws enacted by the Nazis, Max Lerman and his family were expelled from public schools, theaters, pools, parks, and more. The Lermans must have been alarmed to see or hear of the burning of books by Jewish authors (and whatever else the Nazis deemed "immoral" or "degenerate").
According to records, the Lerman family's last residence in Berlin may have been at Brunnenstraße 152. While visiting Berlin, I stopped by this address to see where the Lerman family I had been researching may have spent their final days in Germany. The street was apparently in an area where many German Jews lived prior to WWII. Since Berlin was so heavily bombed during the war, I'm not sure if the original building survived and the facade has been updated to the modern minimal fashion, or if the structure was entirely rebuilt after the war.
Max's mother (Logan's great grandmother), Erna Popower, standing at 5 feet 3 inches, was a hazel-eyed blonde of light complexion and born in Berlin. At the age of 21, she married Jacob Lerman (Logan's great grandfather). Together Jacob and Erna Lerman had two children born in Berlin: Bina Berta and Max (Logan's grandfather).
Jacob Lerman himself was born in 1897 in Poland. Standing at five feet and seven inches, Jacob had blue-gray eyes and likely dark hair. Jacob and his parents, Abraham and Rachel Lerman, had immigrated to Germany sometime after Jacob was born.
As the Nazis rose to power, they claimed to be racially superior to Poles and Jews—and Jacob was both. Many in Nazi-controlled Europe blamed Polish immigrants as a source of poverty and crime, and accused them of being job thieves. Sound familiar? History repeats itself, folks.
In 1938 the Nazis stripped citizenship from Polish immigrants to Germany born before 1914. To counter the expected flood of Polish Jew refugees streaming back into the country, Poland made a law stripping the citizenship of any Poles who had resided outside of Poland for more than five years. By these laws, Jacob Lerman now had no citizenship or legal rights in Germany, his country of residence, nor Poland, his country of birth. Or any country for that matter. He was now a stateless individual residing in a country that was hostile to him and his family because of their ethnic heritage.
It must have been sometime around this period in the 1930s that the Lermans were thinking it might be a good idea to get the hell out of Nazi Germany. Laws were passed that stripped German Jews of their citizenship, forbade Jews to marry or have intimate relations with Aryans (Caucasians with German or Nordic features).
Things really came to a head on 09 November 1938—known as Kristallknacht—Night of the Broken Glass. Hitler's Nazi thugs, dressed in plain clothes, stormed Jewish businesses and synagogues during the night, breaking windows, trashing shops, and setting fires. Sadly, some German citizens watched and/or participated in the violence. Jewish homes, hospitals, schools, and cemeteries were vandalized. Around 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken to concentration camps.
Kristallknacht was a major turning point that led to a larger exodus of Jews out of Nazi Germany. In order for the Lermans to leave the country, the Reich required them to surrender all properties and assets, and 90% of their money had to be surrendered upon leaving. This meant that Jews leaving the Reich would arrive in a foreign country, forced to start over with almost nothing.
At whatever point the Lermans decided to flee Germany, their options were limited. The United States, Canada, Mandatory Palestine, Cuba, and other countries had placed limits on the number of Jewish refugees they would allow into their countries—or had ceased allowing Jews in at all. Congressional bills to bring in Jewish refugee children were shot down in the United States, and polls at the time indicated that 60% – 70% of Americans were opposed to taking in Jewish refugee children.
During this period, the city of Shanghai in China was under Japanese occupation, and no visas were required to enter. The Lermans and a number of other Jews took advantage of this and fled to Shanghai, where they formed a Jewish community in the midst of the Chinese city. The Lermans were among the few lucky ones who were able to escape with their lives—just a few years later, the Nazis began deporting Jews from all over Europe to death camps such as Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Sobibór. In all, the Nazis murdered six million European Jews.
By fleeing Europe when they did, Logan Lerman's ancestors avoided being murdered in Nazi death camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, pictured above. In this image, Jews just arriving by cattle car train are being selected by Nazi officials for one of two forms of murder: 1) to be worked and starved to death, or 2) sent directly to the gas chamber. Most women, children, and the elderly were sent directly to the gas chamber to be murdered upon arrival.
The Lermans As Refugees In Shanghai
The Lermans, along with 23,000 other Jewish refugees in Shanghai, were forced to live in the Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees, also known as "the Shanghai Ghetto," an area of one square mile that was one of the most densely populated and poorest areas of the city. Charities aided the inhabitants with food, clothing, and shelter.
The Lermans Head to America
After the war, the United States had a major shift in attitude and policy, and recognized a moral obligation to help Jewish refugees in the aftermath of the Holocaust. The Shanghai Ghetto could never be a permanent home, and the Lermans set their sights on America.
Max Lerman, along with his mother Erna, and sister Bina, arrived in the United States entering port at San Francisco aboard the SS General M.C. Meigs on 02 June 1948. They apparently came to the United States about eight months ahead of their father, likely due to the cost of passage and the ease of getting refugee women and children into the states first.
The ship in the photo above is the the one that brought Logan Lerman's grandfather and great grandmother to San Francisco. This image was taken in the late 1940s, around the same time the Lermans arrived at port in San Francisco aboard the same ship.
Jacob Lerman arrived in the United States later on 21 February 1949, arriving at port in San Francisco aboard the ship General W. H. Gordon. Jacob was lucky to leave Shanghai when he did, for just seven months later, the communists took over Shanghai and residents of 34 different nationalities had to evacuate the city.
Jacob and Erna Lerman settled their family in Los Angeles, where the family tree has firmly placed its roots. In Los Angeles, their daughter Bina married Kurt Schoenstein (surname later changed to Sherman), who she had met while in Shanghai. Jacob and Erna's son Max worked hard to establish a successful medical prosthetic business that is still in the family. Max's grandson—Logan Lerman—grew up in Beverly Hills and got into acting at a young age and has gone on to star in high profile roles with the likes of Brad Pitt, Luke Evans, Emma Watson, and Russel Crowe.
Some of Logan's Jewish Ancestors Fled to Mexico
Logan's grandmother, Neja Schwartztuch, was born in Mexico City to Russian Jew parents, who had fled to Mexico to escape the Nazis. Her parents were Abraham Schwartztuch and Zisla Gomer, who were from the Berdychiv region of Ukraine (what was then Russia). The family eventually immigrated to the United States and settled in the Los Angeles area, where Neja met and married Max Lerman. The name Schwartztuch was later simplified to Schwartz.
Jewish Refugees On His Mother's Side
On Logan's mother's side, his grandfather, Jacob Goldman, along with his Polish Jew parents, Aaron and Blanche, fled Poland during Nazi persecution and settled in California. Also on his mother's side, Logan is descended from Jewish great grandparents and great-great grandparents of Russian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, and Polish descent. His Lazareck family line first went to London, then later settled in Canada for a while before finding their way to California.
Logan's Family Migrations Out of Nazi-Controlled Europe
Above is a map showing five of Logan's main ancestral family lines and how they fled Europe and traversed the globe until they all converged on the Los Angeles area, where Logan's family resides today.
Lessons Learned from the Lerman Family Experience
As time marches on and the events of the holocaust move further into the past, it becomes easy for future generations to forget the lessons of history.
Recalling the experience of the Lerman family, we can remember to avoid blaming groups of people (ethnic, religious, etc.) for complex problems such as the economy or job market.
We can remember to have compassion on refugees fleeing persecution or war zones.
We can remember that while we may all be different, we are equals as human beings, and that we should treat each other as such.
We must remember the power of words. The Nazis labeled the Jews as "invaders," "thieves," and "enemies," establishing in the minds of their followers that the Jews were "other." The Nazis also described the Jews as animals, variously referring to them as "vermin," "rats," and "cockroaches." By brainwashing their followers into viewing the Jews as being "other" and "animals," the Nazis dehumanized the Jews so that atrocities could be inflicted upon them. This is a huge red flag if you see any government, political, or religious leaders using similar language today.
If we can remember the past and keep family stories such as these alive, we'll be in a better position to avoid repeating the atrocities of the past. Remembering the past will help us identify these problems in our day as they arise in their earliest stages, so we can stand up against it before it spirals out of control.
Logan Set to Star in a Nazi Hunting Series for Amazon
In addition to already playing a role fighting Nazis in Fury, Logan is set to star in Hunters, a series which follows a group of Nazi hunters living in New York City in the 1970s as they root out Nazi war criminals living in the US under false identities. Well isn't that a big F-you to Hitler! A Jewish guy—our boy Logan—is alive today to play the role of a Nazi hunter because his ancestors escaped their evil genocide.
"...but right now, these moments are not stories. This is happening. I am here...I can see it: this one moment when you know you're not a sad story. You are alive...and in this moment I swear, we are infinite."
—Logan Lerman as Charlie in The Perks of Being A Wallflower
About the Author
As a genealogist and family historian, I enjoy researching my own family tree and the trees of others. It gives me a sense of someone’s background and what makes them who they are today. To see their roots and where they come from is inspiring to me. I’m often in awe of the experiences of their ancestors and how they connect to the present. 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 notable figures.
Have a question? Comment? Shoot me a message using the contact form on the About page.
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