Claims by incoming Republican Rep. George Santos that his grandparents “survived the Holocaust” as Ukrainian Jewish refugees from Belgium who changed their surname to survive are contradicted by sources reviewed by CNN’s KFile including family trees compiled by genealogy websites, records on Jewish refugees and interviews with multiple genealogists.
Santos, who has called himself “half Jewish” and a “Latino Jew” in media appearances, has claimed his maternal grandfather was originally from Ukraine and fled to Brazil to escape Nazism. In another telling, the New York Republican said his grandparents converted to Catholicism during the rise of Nazism in Belgium after fleeing Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union. In another telling, he claimed his family changed their name to survive Nazism.
CNN spoke to multiple genealogists who said there was no proof of the claims. Santos’ misrepresentations of his family history were first reported by The Forward on Wednesday. Records from the Holocaust Museum and the International Center on Nazi Persecution, which contain records on Jewish refugees, also show no mention of Santos’ grandparents.
Megan Smolenyak, an author and professional genealogist who helped research Santos’ family tree at CNN’s request, said in email, “There’s no sign of Jewish and/or Ukrainian heritage and no indication of name changes along the way.”
The incoming Republican lawmaker has faced scrutiny over his resume since The New York Times revealed on Monday that Santos’ biography appeared to be partly fictional. CNN confirmed details of The New York Times reporting on Monday, including that he may have misrepresented parts of his resume about his college education and employment history.
A lawyer for Santos declined to comment to CNN.
“I’m very proud of my Jewish heritage,” Santos said in an appearance from late November 2022 with the Jewish News Syndicate. “I’m very proud of my grandparents’ story. My grandfather fleeing, Ukraine, fleeing Stalin’s persecution, going to Belgium, finding refuge there, marrying my grandmother, then fleeing Hitler going to Brazil. That’s a story of perseverance. I’m so proud. I mean, I wish I could have met my grandfather.”
In another interview from earlier this year, Santos claimed that his grandparents survived the Holocaust.
“My grandparents survived the Holocaust, so these regimes of socialism, Marxism, they don’t work, and they’re followed up by a lot of hurt, and we’re seeing that currently and what’s happening in Ukraine with the Russians,” Santos said in a May 2022 interview.
But family histories from the websites MyHeritage and Geneanet and a Dutch periodical from the town the family emigrated from show his maternal grandparents, Paolo and Rosalina Devolder, were both born in Brazil. Records on FamilySearch, first reported by The Forward, also show Santos’ great-grandfather as living in Brazil.
While it is possible that his maternal grandparents returned to Europe and then moved back to Brazil, there is no evidence to support this. And there is no evidence that the family were Jewish refugees fleeing Europe.
Additionally, Santos’ ties to Ukraine were only added to his campaign biography sometime between April 2022 and October 2022, according to the Internet Archive’s WayBack Machine. His bio now begins: “George’s grandparents fled Jewish persecution in Ukraine, settled in Belgium, and again fled persecution during WWII.”
When the Ukraine-Russia conflict began in February 2022, Santos told Fox News digital that his ties to Ukraine were “very vague” and said it would be “disingenuous” to claim his relatives were at risk. But he added that his family later changed their surname to survive.
“It’s just very vague and faint,” said Santos’ of his ties to the country. “We don’t carry the Ukrainian last name. For a lot of people who are descendants of World War II refugees or survivors of the Holocaust, a lot of names and paperwork were changed in name of survival.”
But records dispute this assertion. The Devolder surname has been used by his mother’s family for generations, and the family has not changed it, according to family trees reviewed by the genealogists CNN spoke to.
Santos’ mother died in 2016, but her Facebook posts include Catholic prayers and posts about the Virgin Mary on Easter with no posts indicating Jewish heritage.
In a different appearance, Santos said his mother’s grandfather’s family converted to Catholicism during the rise of Nazism, though he specified he was not trying to claim to Jewish heritage.
“My grandfather grew up Jewish. My grandfather, during the Soviet issues, escaped to Belgium,” said Santos. “And then that was a great move. Met my grandmother, married, and crazy enough, the Nazis became a thing. And that’s when he said, ‘Oh my God, this is all over again.’ They converted to Catholicism, had their kids, raised them Catholic. And I’m Catholic, but that’s pretty much little history of my family into Judaism.”