In Jojo Rabbit, the 2019 Oscar-nominated WWII dramedy, Scarlett Johansson plays the mother of a Hitler Youth member, who is secretly harboring a Jewish girl in her house. More recently, the A-list actress has discovered her own real-life connection to the Holocaust. Scarlett Johansson was born and raised in Manhattan, New York City. Her father, Karsten Johansson, is a Danish immigrant. Her mother, Melanie Sloan, is descended from an Ashkenazi Jewish family, and Scarlett Johannson takes after her religiously.
Scarlett Johansson’s Career
The Jewish actress got started young, off-Broadway, before taking on teenage roles in Hollywood like The Horse Whisperer. Her transition into adult characters came with Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation in 2003. Johansson starred in the romance opposite Bill Murray: a kooky match, to say the least. The same year, Johansson appeared in Girl with a Pearl Earring. These were both box office hits, and the two performances set Johansson apart as an artistic, A-list actress of her generation.
Throughout the mid-2000s, Scarlett Johansson became something of a modern muse to Woody Allen; he directed Johansson in Match Point, Scoop, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Johannson has also consistently juggled more traditional action roles in thrillers like The Island and in the Marvel Universe as superhero Black Widow. More recently, she earned praise for her lead performance in the tough divorce film, Marriage Story. This role marked her fifth Golden Globe nomination. But not all of Scarlett Johannson’s projects have been great career moves. Controversies surrounding whitewashing in Ghost in the Shell and the transgender erasure symbolized by her casting in Rub and Tug still affect Johannson’s reputation. Regardless, Johannson remains an in-demand actress who can balance her mainstream hot girl appeal with more indie fare.
Scarlett Johansson’s Jewish Family
Some aspects of Scarlett Johansson’s family life are highly publicized. She was married to actor Ryan Reynolds until their divorce in 2011. Soon after, she began dating the French ad exec Romain Dauriac, with whom she shares her daughter, Rose Dorothy Dauriac. Johansson and Dauriac were married briefly but divorced in 2017. In October 2020, Johannson married SNL‘s lovable Weekend Update star (and head writer) Colin Jost. This was a rare bit of happy pandemic news for the celeb couple. However, it was not until November 2020 that the public became aware of the other side of Johannson’s family: her ancestors.
On an episode of PBS’ Finding Your Roots, Scarlett Johannson learned about the branch of her family tree that was left behind during World War II. In 1910, Johansson’s maternal great-grandfather, Saul Schlamberg, emigrated from Poland to New York City and made his home in the city’s historically Jewish Lower East Side. Johannson is seen poring over this paperwork with host Henry Louis Gates; she shared the story that Schlamberg sold used to sell bananas down on Ludlow Street. But this prevailing immigrant’s tale takes a dark turn when Johannson is faced with new information: Saul’s brother Moishe and his ten children ended up in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942.
A testimony by one of Moishe Schlamberg’s daughters from the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Israel revealed that her siblings Zlata and Mandil, who were 15 and 17, both died in the Warsaw Ghetto. While processing this tragedy, Johansson starts to cry. “It’s crazy to imagine that Saul would be on the other side selling bananas on Ludlow Street,” she says, “and how different it would be being in America at that time. The fate of one brother versus the other.” Clearly, Johannson did not expect to learn so much about her mother’s family or to feel so emotionally connected to the material.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on January 6, 2021.