Chelsea Handler discovers grandfather's Nazi past (Video)
Chelsea Handler showed her emotional side on a TLC reality show after learning that her grandfather was forced to serve in the military of Nazi Germany during World War II and was once a prisoner of war.
The 38-year-old E! talk show host and often crass comedienne was raised Jewish. She was born to a Jewish father and Mormon mother, who was a native of Germany. During an episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" that aired on Aug. 6, she learns that her maternal grandfather, Karl Stoecker, served his military service under the command of Adolf Hitler but was "definitely not a Nazi enthusiast."
"So that was reassuring," she said. "If anything, he was just kind of a participant of a movement ... that was a terrible time, but at least he wasn't at the helm."
Handler travels to Germany, France and a POW camp in Iowa to learn about her grandfather's involvement during the war. More than six million Jews and scores of people of other religions were killed, by command of Hitler, during the Nazi Holocaust.
Handler visits her grandfather's hometown in Germany, where a researcher tells her that he worked as a draftsman in a factory owned by "one of the biggest Nazis" of the area. She also learns that he was forced to join a Nazi "sports" program that served as a type of pre-military training.
She then meets with an official at Berlin's military archives and learns that Stoecker was forced to join the Germany army. He was drafted in 1939, three weeks after the start of World War II, and was promoted three times. The employee said this signals he was not a high-ranking soldier.
"I can confirm to you that he wasn't a member of the SS [Schutzstaffel - Hitler's protection squadrons], not a Nazi Party member and not a member of the SA [Sturmabteilung - the Nazi party's original paramilitary wing]," the official tells Handler, adding: "That is not necessarily a clean bill of health."
He says that Handler's grandfather served on Germany's front line with Russia before being moved to the south of France, where he and his unit were captured by American troops. Handler then flies to the latter country to talk to an American war veteran on the beach where the soldiers surrendered.
"I'm very happy that we're going to the south of France, just because I brought a bikini," she jokes.
After the capture, the German soldiers were imprisoned in Camp Algona in Iowa. Handler travels to a museum that is located on the former POW camp. An official shows her mug shots taken of her grandfather when he entered the camp in 1944 as well as a photo of him playing in a camp orchestra.
She concludes that he must have enjoyed his time in the United States, as he ended up moving his family there. Stoecker, who converted to Mormonism, died in 1990 and is buried in Los Angeles, where Handler lives. Her mother and his daughter died in 2006.
"To look back and see his character, I know that he was a really good dad and he was a great grandfather to us and all of these experiences that shaped him were probably adding to that," she says.
Watch a clip from "Who Do You Think You Are?" with Chelsea Handler. The show airs on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on TLC.