HolocaustJewish Culture

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Great Grandson Nicholas Tolkien is a Religious Jew

The famous author J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit, the lord of the Rings and more classics was known for his love for the Jews. The Nazi’s sent him a questionnaire wanting to know about his lineage and if it was ‘tainted with Jewish blood’. If he was a ‘pureblood’ with no Jewish lineage they would allow his books to be published in Germany. (Remember those shameful days?) He answered: “I understand you want to know if I’m from Jewish descent. I can only say that regretfully none of my forebears came from this gifted nation.”

If he was pained not coming from Jewish descent he would now be pleased to know that he has two Jewish descendants and one of them is an observant Jew who keeps Shabbat and Kosher.

This descendant that is garnering attention in the media lately is Nicholas Tolkien, a 27 year old playwright and director who produced a play currently being shown called ‘Terezin’ which describes life in the Theresienstadt concentration camp from the eyes of a child.

Nicholas is the son of Simon Tolkien who is J.R.R.’s grandson who still remembers his grandfather reading his books to him. When Simon grew up he married a Jewish woman named Tracy Steinberg. Nicholas grew up in London and was joined by his American grandparents.  His grandfather Mark Steinberg was the first to teach him about the horrors of the Holocaust. It wasn’t in the curriculum of his private British school.

Though he had a bar mitzvah he had no formal Jewish education. When growing up he started to read books of Judaism extensively and was enchanted by what he found in those books. Today he keeps Shabbat and Kosher and says that he keeps on learning more and more about his heritage.  He also visited Israel in the past.

Nicholas researched the Theresienstadt concentration camp for 5 years and he also visited there. He describes it as being “full of the ghosts of the past.”  The play he wrote about girls in the camo that survived only because of their courageous friendship, is based on stories he heard firsthand from survivors who were children in the camps and on the book “There Are No Butterflies Here”  which is a collection of poems and drawings from the children of the Theresienstadt ghetto from 1942-1944.

“It’s the obligation of those living to tell the story of those who died’, says Nicholas. “Unfortunately this generation has amnesia when it comes to the Holocaust. People just don’t want to think about it.”

Nicholas considers his observance of Mitzvoth a way to honor the memory of those many Jews killed in the Holocaust, Nicholas told Aish Hatorah in an interview. “The Nazis banned the Jewish Tradition. They forbade celebrating Hanukkah, they forbade keeping Shabbat. They cremated their bodies instead of allowing Jewish burial. In the Holocaust they tried to rob us of our Jewish traditions. Each time we keep a tradition we honor the memory of those who were murdered.”


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