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Beyond Sides Of History: A Series

Julie Lindahl and Rachael Cerrotti, pictured alongside photographs of their grandmothers. (Courtesy) MoreCloseclosemore
Julie Lindahl and Rachael Cerrotti, pictured alongside photographs of their grandmothers. (Courtesy)

Two women. One is the granddaughter of Nazis. The other is the granddaughter of a Jewish Holocaust survivor. In a transformative twist of fate, their lives have become linked.

Their story raises many questions: How are perpetrators and their families affected by violence, and what responsibility are they left with? What does it mean to be with someone in grief? How can we prevent repetitions of history’s worst crimes? How can we heal as a nation and a world?

WBUR explores this remarkable story in a multi-part collaboration from Kind World and Cognoscenti.


Part 1: The Secret

Julie Lindahl’s grandfather wears the dark coat in the foreground. (Courtesy of Julie Lindahl)
Julie Lindahl’s grandfather wears the dark coat in the foreground. (Courtesy of Julie Lindahl)

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Julie Lindahl always sensed that something was wrong. For decades, a devastating sense of shame left her red-faced in public.

In fact, the trauma that invaded Julie’s life was inherited — it took place largely before she was born — but it had lingering, generational impact. To understand it, she had to spend years unearthing a family secret.

“The feeling that my sister and I always had was that there was this corpse that was lying in the room that was covered over with a blanket, and nobody wanted to uncover it."

Julie Lindahl

She finally learned the awful truth: her grandfather had been a brutal SS officer during World War II. So Julie decided to track down his victims and to learn what really happened.

The quest would upend her life.


Part 2: Refuge

Self portrait of Rachael Cerrotti standing at the spot where her grandmother landed in Sweden after being smuggled from Denmark by a fisherman. (Photo by Rachael Cerrotti)
Self portrait of Rachael Cerrotti standing at the spot where her grandmother landed in Sweden after being smuggled from Denmark by a fisherman. (Photo by Rachael Cerrotti)

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While Julie was unearthing her family's past, Rachael Cerrotti was on her own mission to uncover history.

Rachael Cerrotti's grandmother, Hana, and her family pictured in Prague, 1939. (Courtesy of Rachael Cerrotti)
Rachael Cerrotti's grandmother, Hana, and her family pictured in Prague, 1939. (Courtesy of Rachael Cerrotti)

Her grandmother had been the sole survivor of her family during the Holocaust, and decades later, Rachael decided to track down the family who helped her grandmother escape.

Then, she moved in with them.

Danish farmers saved Rachael's grandmother. Decades later, Rachael started living on the farm of their descendants. (Photo by Rachael Cerrotti)
Danish farmers saved Rachael's grandmother. Decades later, Rachael started living on the farm of their descendants. (Photo by Rachael Cerrotti)

"I'm reading words that my grandmother wrote about this family from 1941, and it's like I could take those words and put them into my diary today about their descendants."

Rachael Cerrotti

For Rachael, history keeps circling back to the present.


Part 3: The Bridge 

Julie Lindahl and Rachael Cerrotti, pictured in Wellesley, Mass., Oct. 2017. (WBUR)
Julie Lindahl and Rachael Cerrotti, pictured in Wellesley, Mass., Oct. 2017. (WBUR)

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In the conclusion of our series, Rachael and Julie's lives become interwoven.

For years, both had been examining the ripple effects of the same war, the circles growing wider and wider.

Their circles collided in 2016 when Rachael’s husband heard Julie on the radio. Julie had written a piece for Cognoscenti, WBUR’s ideas and opinion page, and was interviewed about it on WBUR’s air.

Rachael Cerrotti, pictured with Sergiusz Scheller in Jerusalem, 2010. They were married in 2015. (Courtesy of Rachael Cerrotti)
Rachael Cerrotti, pictured with Sergiusz Scheller in Jerusalem, 2010. They were married in 2015. (Courtesy of Rachael Cerrotti)

Rachael emailed her, hoping to meet. Hours after she clicked send, tragedy struck.

Everything would shift in Rachael's life that day, and her relationship with Julie would take on unexpected significance.

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