Robert Rinder opens up about powerful moment from new documentary My Family, the Holocaust and Me

The barrister talks about his encounter with a 97-year-old Holocaust survivor in Belarus.

Robert Rinder

Warning: this article touches on subject matter that some readers may find distressing

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Robert Rinder has spoken about one of the most powerful moments on his new documentary series My Family, The Holocaust and Me, which begins on BBC One next week.

The documentary follows Rinder as he helps Jewish families who were affected by the Holocaust learn more about their ancestors, and one scene sees the barrister speak to a 97-year-old in Voranava, Belarus.

She tearfully tells him of her memories of seeing Jews – including some of Rinder’s ancestors – gathered by Nazis and led through Voranava before being shot, thrown into a ditch and covered with dirt.

She added that she could still see movement from the mound some time later, indicating that some were still alive underneath the dirt.

Shortly after their encounter Rinder delivers an extraordinary, emotional monologue at the site of the mass grave, saying, “I’ve seen so many things over the years… and it’s strange because on the one hand, it’s just a mound, a piece of nature, and yet it’s the most articulate expression of human evil I’ve ever come close to.”

He added, “In a piece of earth is a story we heard of people still alive, buried here and moving – it’s impossible to describe. That’s the most powerful, ugly, dark thing – this is the death of humanity, here.”

Rinder also emphasised the importance of naming the victims, including his relatives the Levin family.

Speaking to RadioTimes.com and other press he discussed the circumstances of the speech.

My Family, The Holocaust and Me with Robert Rinder
Robert Rinder with Noemie Lopian, whose mother escaped the Nazis as a child.
BBC/Wall to Wall Media Ltd/Mike Robinson

“I was listening to the testimony of that 97-year-old survivor who was the last hearing witness of what had taken place at that massacre,” he explained.

“And only I could understand what she was saying in Russian, and I understood every word. It was strange – what she said landed with infinitely more power if you understood it in the Russian, it doesn’t have the cushion of the direct or the indirect article.

“There’s no ‘the’, so she said ‘mound was moving for several days.’ And I won’t forget it, it had a power which sometimes comes back to me now.”

He continued: “But as we left the house, what David [Vincent, director] hadn’t told me is that we were going to go to the Soviet memorial. And I’ve been to many of them over the years and they’re usually just stone monoliths with very little on them… no mention of anything else, of what lays under that Earth.

“What I hadn’t been prepared for was what you saw on camera topographically – precisely the same mound, the same word that that woman had said just a few hours ago.”

Asked if he had planned his monologue in advance or whether it was a spontaneous speech, Rinder added: “I don’t know whether it was building up or not, but I can certainly tell you it wasn’t scripted. It was me, I think, perhaps articulating what that place was to me as best as I possibly could.”

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My Family, The Holocaust and Me begins on Monday 9th November at 9pm on BBC One. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide.