On the occasion of Polish Grandpa and Grandma’s day, I wrote a reportage in which I talk to the grandchildren of famous people and ask them whether a great ancestor is a burden or a pride. In a conversation with a geneticist I also find out to what extent we inherit personality, talents and addictions from our parents and grandparents.
Anna Dziewanowska, great–granddaughter of Henryk Sienkiewicz – Polish writer and Nobel Prize winner- tells me that an ancestor’s fame can be a nuisance. Her and other descendants often had to take a pummelling for their grandfather – that he was a chauvinist and a bore. But there are funny moments too: “Did your grandfather write Reymont’s* Peasants?” she once heard in school.
Emma Ferrer, granddaughter of Audrey Hepburn, says that for a long time she did not reveal to anyone that her grandmother was famous. At first she was not aware of her popularity either. “When you are little, you do not understand what fame is. But when you see a familiar face on bags sold at the airport and find with surprise: ‘Oh, hey, it’s my grandmother!’ you begin to understand,” she says.
Gottfried Wagner, descendant of Hitler’s favourite composer, badmouths his great–grandfather, then elegantly puts me off (‘… an online interview? Nein, nein…’). And then he refers me to his books, where he describes how he found a giant portrait of ‘Uncle Wolf’ hidden in the attic, which Hitler was casually called in the family, plus an original copy of ‘Mein Kampf’ with a special dedication.
Władysław Reymont was a Polish writer and a Nobel Prize winner for the novel ‘Peasants’