Comedian and actress Magda Szubanski wants to better understand how world events have shaped her family. Tracing the lives of two ancestors, she discovers how both were forced to make grim choices and suffered the devastating consequences of war.

Magda was born to Polish father Zbigniew Szubanski and Scottish mother Margaret McCarthy. The family emigrated from England to Australia when Magda was five. Magda wants to find out about her Irish Catholic Grandfather, Luke John McCarthy who died before she was born.

Her mother’s father is a man full of contradictions: famous for a sense of humor but also a terrible temper, said to have suffered from shellshock fighting for the English in WWI, yet a member of the anti-English IRA. Tracing his history in Dublin, Magda uncovers a life of poverty and hardship as the circumstances surrounding his involvement in the war are revealed.

In the second part of her story, Magda explores the other side of her family. During WWII and the Nazi occupation of Poland Magda knows that her father fought for the resistance, in a secret unit. However, there are still many unanswered questions. What is the full story behind his covert missions and how did he survive the savage final days of the war? Traveling to Warsaw to meet one of the men who fought alongside her father, Magda hopes to uncover the truth.

Tune in to SBS ONE at 7.30pm on Sunday night to find out what Magda discovers…


  1. John Jacoby

    Very interesting and emotional programme. I only wish that I could get the help Magda did in locating her past family.
    My G-grandfather, Julius George Henry Jacoby, claims in the English census’ to have been “born abroad, naturalised British subject, no naturalisation found, born in Canada, born in Westminster and the whole family missing in one census in between.
    He seems to have told alot of porkies down the line stopping me from finding my true heritage before 1875 when he married in London.
    John Jacoby

  2. Lynda Moore

    I just watched the web extra online. This story of Magda’s Italian sculptor grandfather was so much more interesting than the constant war related stories that seem to always be a part of WDYTYA programs. All that shell shock victim footage has been used in other programs, in the British series.
    While our ancestors who fought and died for their countries and their causes, are worthy of being remembered, those who made contribution to the Arts, though perhaps less well documented, surely were perhaps more significant a part of history, simply in that their achievements were the result of personal drive, rather than the collective consciousness of “doing their bit”
    Lynda Moore

  3. Judy Henry

    Hi, I have not been able to get one of your ancestor’s name out of my head, her name was Margaret Ford Lamont, my mother’s name is the same and was born in Glasgow 6th September 1929, her fathers name was George Lamont, a saddaler by trade. I don’t know much about the family tree. Wouldn’t it be funny if there was a connection. I really love this show.

  4. Pamela Cary

    Hi, I too was born to a Polish father, Alexander Kurgan, and Scottish mother, Agnes Wilson Cheslin, and have felt an affinity (privately) with Magda. I too have struggled with a weight problem and enjoy a good laugh.

    Both my parents have been dead for many years now. I recently came across a short family history my eldest sister wrote and would like to share it here. I hope that Magda also reads it.

    Our Dad was born on 08/DEC/1915 in Tursko-Male, Poland to Valentin Kurgan and ? Swan (Polish?). He had 2 live siblings at the commencement of World War 11, Jan and Angela (Polish ?). The family lived in Lvov.

    Dad re-inlisted in the Polish Army in 1937 after already having served a compulsory two years National Service, so that he could complete his training as a gunsmith. When war broke out he was transferred to a cavalry unit, where he fought until captured by the Germans and sent to a prison camp.

    Dad remained in Stalag 8 for four years until 1944 when he and a friend escaped. Unfortunately his friend was killed in the attempt, but Dad escaped and joined the American Army where he served for the remainder of the war. After Germany’s surrender Dad was one of the Polish guards sent to guard the courtrooms at Nuremburg during the trials.

    After his discharge in 1946, Dad returned to his home in Lvov, but was unable to find any of his immediate family alive. His parents and young sister, Angela, had disappeared and his brother, Jan, who had fought with the Polish Underground, was missing. Unable to find his family Dad wondered Europe until 1949 when he immigrated to Australia.

    For many years Dad tried to trace his family through the international Red Cross, but to no avail. The only information he ever discovered was that his sister’s name was listed in Geneva as a refugee after the war, so at least she survived the war.

    I have not been able to locate any information on my Dad’s family through, but remain hopeful with new data bases coming on line all the time. I originally signed up for a month and only the other day signed up for a year. It has been great fun researching both my husband’s and my family history. Thank you.

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