Joe Manganiello on his great-grandmother's escape from the Armenian genocide
In the latest episode of "Finding Your Roots," which aired on Feb. 7, actor Joe Manganiello encounters revelations about both his paternal and maternal branches of the family.
Some discoveries are brand new: He learns his dad's grandfather was a mixed race Black man. Others, like the incredible hardship that his great-grandmother endured in the early 20th century, he was familiar with — but he didn't know the extent of what she faced.
Speaking to host Henry Louis Gates Jr., Manganiello says his maternal great-grandmother, Terviz “Rose” Darakijan, survived the Armenian Genocide, during which over 1 million ethnic Armenians were murdered by the Ottoman state.
Darakijan survived, but her entire family — her husband and seven out of eight children — were slaughtered by Turkish soldiers in 1915.
“The Turks came into her home in 1915 under the guise of World War I and tried to enact the genocide that they had begun,” Manganiello says. “They shot her husband dead, shot her. She laid on the ground, pretended that she was dead while seven other gunshots that went off, which were her seven children.”
Her infant was left to die after the attack. Darakijan, still with a bullet in her, took the baby on her back and swam across the Euphrates River to safety. Tragically, her baby drowned in that crossing.
Darakijan "lived in a cave" with other refugees, Manganiello says, before being picked up by German soldiers.
She later became pregnant by a German soldier in a refugee camp and had a "very blonde, half-German child,” the actor says. That child, Sondra, was Manganiello’s grandmother.
With the help of DNA evidence, the "Finding Your Roots" team identified Sondra's father as Carl Wilhelm Beutinger and shared the names of his own parents: Johan Heinrich Beutinger and Catharine Friederike Reischle.
"Wow! Look at that," Manganiello says as he looks at his family tree. "That's incredible."
When he sees a photo of Sondra's father, Carl, Manganiello exclaims, "Whoa!" and instantly notices the family resemblance.
"It looks like me if I had a coat on,” Manganiello says, looking at the picture of his German ancestor. “Gosh, that’s weird.”
As he learns more about his great-grandfather, the 46-year-old marvels at being able to learn about his ancestors.
"I feel like a time traveler. This is something out of some science fiction novel," he says.
The nature of Beutinger and Darakijan’s relationship, the show's host says, could not be defined. But Beutinger had a wife and family in Germany when he met Darakijan in Turkey.
One of Beutinger's sons later became a member of the SS, the Nazi’s elite forces, during WWII.
Manganiello remarks on learning his grandmother's half-brother's Nazi status, especially in light of the siblings' father's relationship with an Armenian genocide victim.
“The idea that a genocide was carried out under the veil of WWI against the Armenians and his father had relations with a woman who survived that, after all that she went through ... (He) returned home, and then his son joins the SS.”
In response, Gates remarks, “You have two genocides in your family tree."
The actor says, "That's right, and it's on either side."
"Victim and perpetrators ... that’s a heavy thing to ponder,” Gates acknowledges.
As Manganiello puts it, “It's just mind blowing.”
Afterward, Gates shares the names of Darakijan's parents and adds another branch to his Armenian family tree.
Hearing their names sparks a moment of gratitude in Manganiello.
"This is one of the great gifts of my life, to be in a position sitting across the table from someone who is even more obsessed about history and genealogy than me and then to live in a time when this is all possible and to find out these answers ... What an amazing time to be alive," he says.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com