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World Refugee Day

The World War II refugee story that inspires this mom and son

When asked how her family story has shaped her, Juno Englander, whose father fled Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia during the Second World War, answers without hesitation: "That one must never give up, that one must always see the positive." 

Today, Juno’s father’s spirit also inspires his grandson, film and television actor Lucas Englander. 

“He just tried as an individual to do his utmost to help people, or make a difference politically,” Lucas said about his grandfather, called Děda in Czech. “He was always intertwined in it, always helping, like taking refugees in the apartment, sharing everything."

Lucas’s acting and philanthropic work has now taken him full circle back to his family story. The actor, who grew up in Austria, is currently shooting an upcoming Netflix series,“Transatlantic,” which depicts othe efforts of the organization that became the International Rescue Committee to help people in particular danger escape Nazi-occupied France. Lucas is also an IRC Ambassador and speaks up for refugees worldwide, always keeping his family’s history close to his heart.  He knows how much difference open arms and a helping hand can make: “Every refugee brings their own life, their life experience, their own know-how, their own nation's history, and that is an enrichment.”

When forced to flee their home, refugees like Děda can only carry so much. But they also bring so many intangible gifts to their new communities: hopes and dreams, experiences and talents, traditions and family stories, resilience and determination. 

Juno and Lucas interviewed one another about their family’s history and how Děda’s spirit still inspires them to welcome refugees. This World Refugee Day, watch and share their story. 

Lean more about World Refugee Day 2022 and explore five ways you can welcome refugees

Read the full video transcript

Video Transcript

Juno: What would you like to change today?

Lucas: Wow. Big question. 

Lucas: What's the deal with your name, Juno? Who gave you the name? And why?

Juno: Well, it was because my father believed in the United Nations, in the power that this organization has. And he wanted me to be called UNO, United Nations Organization,

but also the number, the first, so to speak. And that wasn't possible at the time. You couldn't give those kinds of names like you can today. And then he said, 'Alright, but a goddess's name, that must be possible.’ And said 'Juno'. And that's how it came about.

Lucas: In the background, though, was —United Nations Organization.

Lucas: Can you tell me the story of our family?

Juno: Do I have all day for that? Okay. My father, your grandfather, started to work in the bank, but that wasn’t his thing. Then he —

Lucas: When? 

Juno: That was in the thirties. Then he wanted to study medicine, he did two semesters. But then it already started.

Lucas: In Prague or Vienna?

Juno: In Prague, at Prague University. But then the beginning of the war had already started.  And that's when he went to Vienna. And from Vienna via Sweden, via various countries to Moscow and then to America. 

Lucas: And when he was in America, there's also this one thing that moves me, especially considering this project that I'm doing right now. I find it so touching that he

helped other people who had to flee to come over to New York. He became part of an organization to help Austrian refugees.

Juno: But the reason he’s a hero to me, and maybe therefore to you, is that he just tried as an individual to do everything in his power to help people or make a difference politically. He was always intertwined in it, always helping, like taking refugees in the apartment, sharing everything.

Lucas: Do you feel like that stopped with him?

Juno: Well, then it was also somehow the end of these inter-European crises. Although there’s the Ukraine war. 

Lucas: All of a sudden something happens in Ukraine and I feel like I have to do something, like I must do something. People are coming from Ukraine, and immediately we open our doors. People invade Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and so on, or wars break out. The reason doesn't matter. Or natural disasters. But we don't open our doors. I'm just saying, there is nevertheless a larger picture of mankind, which we do not yet completely accept.

Juno: And that's why the work of organizations that support refugees, including those that rescued refugees from the high seas, was so incredibly important, to speak out against this and to say 'Hey everyone, they are humans, and they are refugees. 'And every refugee has a right to be accepted.' Yes.

Juno: Can you tell me about your project Transatlantic? What's the story?

Lucas: I'm not really allowed to say anything about it, unfortunately. I'm only allowed to say that it's about the time of the Emergency Rescue Committee which was founded by Varian Fry. One man. Somehow it all touches me very much all of a sudden.

Juno: Does it touch you because it's also in a way a connection to the eternal problems of fleeing, or having to flee? That's the story. That's what moves you so much.

Lucas: There are many things that move me. Varian Fry saw people, and because of that Varian Fry said: 'I have to go there, and I have to help somehow.'

Juno: So, there's a question, why is the message of Transatlantic important today?

Lucas: Because it happens constantly.

Juno: That's how it is, exactly. And it's about people's lives.

Lucas: Yes.

Juno: Why do a variety of voices and stories need to be seen in art?

Lucas: If art is not made for all people, then art is not for the people. Then art becomes a product of separation. We see this separation. And the notion is beautiful. That art is made for everyone.

I'm going to try to say this and then I'm going to take a break. Nina Simone said, when she was asked: 'Why do you do this?' She said something along the lines of: ‘Because when I'm here, then you know you're not alone.'

Lucas: What's the craziest thing Děda (grandfather) has ever done?

Juno: Oh man, there were many. But so the one that I liked the most, that was on the first of May. And he had a car that he’d bought secondhand, like an ancient Oldsmobile and it was open, and he had the whole car with all the flags of the world hanging all around, and we drove through the city and I really liked that.

Lucas: How has our family’s history shaped you, especially when facing difficult times?

Juno: Our story. Let's take the 'family story' with just you and me in it. That one must never give up, that one must always see the positive. That one should always see the good in people. Even in those that you call evil, so to say, always trying to get through the steel walls that they've built around them, looking for humanity there, and just not giving up when doing that.

Juno: What’s your favorite thing about me?

Lucas: Everything darling, you’re perfect. You always see life with a certain lightness. You see a situation, shit happens and then you just deal with it. And then you laugh about it.  When negative energy builds up you never direct it towards people in a personal way.It expresses itself more like a panic attack all over the world. It's more like, ‘What is all of this?’. But it’s never an insult to another person. I don't think you've ever insulted anyone in my life, except politicians who act, in a certain way, against human rights. 

Lucas: What do you particularly appreciate about me?

Juno: The depth, the incredible depth that you have. Showing vulnerability, sensitivity. Responding to people. Listening. Those are tremendously valuable things for me.

Juno: Under the campaign slogan "We bring more than we carry," we are speaking up on World Refugee Day. What does that mean to you?

Lucas: People who arrive somewhere that's not their home need the possibility to create an existence there, so they can become a part of society if they want to. It doesn't matter if it's for a short or long period of time, and through that, they enrich society as much as society enriches them. And that possibility is much bigger than the word 'refugee,' and the words 'I need your help.' Rather, these people can help us to do things and in many moments, they also know more than we do about certain things.

Juno: Every refugee brings their own life, their life experience, their own know-how, their own nation's history, and that is an enrichment.

Lucas: Of course.

Juno: What are you grateful for today?

Lucas: I’m grateful that I’m allowed to be here. I’m grateful that we’re here together. I'm grateful that it almost feels like I get to share this moment with you, that you get to come into a world that I often experience, in terms of being in front of the camera.